What’s the difference between Group 1, Group 2 and Group 3 races?

In Great Britain, Ireland and elsewhere in Europe, Flat racing features many different levels, or classes, of competition. Group 1, Group 2 and Group 3 races, collectively known as Group races – or Pattern races, since their status is reviewed annually by the European Pattern Committee, which was formed in 1971 – represent the highest levels of competition.

At the very highest level, Group 1 race represent a pure test of class and, as such, are run without penalties or allowances other than a sex allowance, which fillies and mares receive when racing against colts and geldings. In Britain, Group 1 races include the so-called ‘Classics’, namely the 1,000 Guineas, 2,000 Guineas, Oaks, Derby and St. Leger, which, of course, are contested exclusively by three-year-olds. Nevertheless, the British Flat racing calendar also includes numerous other races of major international importance, catering for different age groups, over different distances, throughout the racing year.

Immediately below the championship standard of Group 1, but still significant internationally, Group 2 races in the calendar include the Dante Stakes,Great Voltigeur Stakes and Lonsdale Cup, all at York, the Lancashire Oaks at Hayock and no fewer than seven races at Royal Ascot. Another step down from the top tier, Group 3 races are mainly of domestic importance and, in Britain, include the likes of the Craven Stakes at Newmarket, Chester Vase and Cumberland Lodge Stakes at Ascot, to name but three. Group 2 and Group 3 races differ from Group 1 races insofar that weight penalties may be given to certain horses based on success in previous Pattern contests within a certain timeframe.

What is ante-post betting?

Ante-post betting is akin, in many ways, to a commodity futures contract, in which an investor agrees to buy or sell a particular commodity at a future date. Ante-post is an compound adjective, consisting the prefix ‘ante’, meaning ‘before’, and the noun ‘post’, in the sense of starting post or, in other words, the point at which a race begins. So, ante-post betting is simply betting on the outcome of a race before the runners are confirmed. It may not be for everyone, especially not cautious, risk-averse punters, but it can be tremendously rewarding.

Declarations are not finalised until 10am a day, or two, before raceday, so bookmakers may offer ante-post prices a few days or, in the case of major events, such as the Derby or the Grand National, several months in advance. To continue the commodity futures analogy, the price (i.e. the odds) and the amount (i.e. the stake) are fixed at the time an ante-post bet is struck, but beyond that there are no guarantees.

In the worst-case scenario, the horse may be withdrawn from the race in question at, or before, the final declaration stage, in which case the stake money is lost. Likewise, if the odds on offer for the selected horse skyrocket after an ante-post bet is struck, punters reap no benefit. Of course, the reverse is also true; if the odds contract sharply, as the result of other horses being withdrawn (for which, incidentally, no Rule 4 deductions are made) or subsequent events, an ante-post voucher can start to look extraordinary value for money.

What is the Cheltenham Festival?

Held annually over four days in March, the Cheltenham Festival is often described, justifiably, as the ‘Olympic Games of National Hunt racing.’ The Festival programme, which was extended from three days to four in 2005, nowadays consists of 28 races, including 14 at the highest Grade 1 level, in all the disciplines of jump racing. The undisputed highlight of the week is the ‘Blue Riband’ event, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which is the feature race on the fourth and final day. The other ‘defining’ events over the four days are the Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase and Stayers’ Hurdle, although the latter nowadays co-stars with the intermediate chasing championship, the Ryanair Chase, inaugurated in 2005, on day three.

The popularity of what is, after all, the biggest horse racing festival staged in Britain, is undeniable. The average attendance over the four days is 65,000, an estimated 15-20% of which is made up of Irish spectators, who make the annual pilgrimage to Prestbury Park, on the northern outskirts of Cheltenham, in the foothills of Cotswolds.

Indeed, horses trained in the Emerald Isle have dominated the Cheltenham Festival in recent years. Since 2016, the Prestbury Cup – that is, the trophy awarded to the nation with the most wins over the four days – has, bar a 14-14 tie in 2019, gone exclusively to Ireland, including by a record score of 23-5 in 2021. Unsurprisingly, Willie Mullins, who is reigning champion trainer on both sides of the Irish Sea, is also the leading trainer in the history of the Cheltenham Festival, with a eye-watering 103 winners to his name at the last count.

Who has the reigning champion jockeys and trainers?

In Great Britain, horse racing under the Rules of Racing, as administered by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), is staged under two codes, Flat and National Hunt. As the name suggests, Flat racing features no obstacles at all, while National Hunt racing, with a few exceptions, features obstacles in the form of hurdles or fences. Unsurprisingly, each code has its own jockeys’ and trainers’ championship, which is decided by the number of winners ridden, or the total prize money won, during a set period.

On the Flat, the champion jockey title is awarded to the jockey who rides the most winners in a ‘window’ between the Guineas Festival at Newmarket in early May and British Champions Day at Ascot in October. The champion trainer title in that sphere, though, is awarded to the trainer who wins the most prize money during the whole of the calendar year. At the time of writing, the respective reigning champions are William Buick, who won his second consecutive jockeys’ title in 2023, and John and Thady Gosden, who became the first licensed partnership to win the trainers’ championship.

Under National Hunt Rules, the champion jockey and trainer titles are awarded based as the same parameters as on the Flat, but the set period for both championhsips is the whole of National Hunt season, which runs from early May until the aptly-titled Jumps Finale Day at Sandown Park in late April.Again, at the time of writing, the respective reigning champions are Harry Cobden, who won his maiden jockeys’ title in 2023/24, and Willie Mullins, who became the first Irish-based trainer to win the British trainers’ championship for 70 years.

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