What is a Classic?

In British horse racing, the term ‘Classic’ refers to any one of the five oldest and most prestigious races in the Flat racing calendar, namely the 1,000 Guineas, 2,000 Guineas, Derby, Oaks and St. Leger. Unsurprisingly, all the Classic are classified at the highest Group One level and are contested only by three-year-old horses; the 1,000 Guineas and Oaks are restricted to fillies, while the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St. Leger are open to both sexes, excluding geldings.

The final Classic of the season, the St. Leger, run over a mile-and-threequarters at Doncaster in September, is also the oldest, having been inaugurated in 1776. The Oaks, run over a mile-and-a-half at Epsom in June, was inaugurated in1779, followed by the Derby, run over the same course and distance, also in June, a year later. The 2,000 Guineas and 1,000 Guineas, both run over a mile at Newmarket in May, were later additions to the calendar, being staged for the first time in 1809 and 1814, respectively. Indeed, the ‘Classics’ were not known as such until 1815.

The 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St. Leger constitute the so-called ‘Triple Crown’, last won by Nijinsky in 1970, while the 1,000 Guineas, Oaks and St. Leger constitute the so-called ‘Fillies’ Triple Crown’, last won by Oh So Sharp in 1985. In either case, the three races are staged over a mile, a mile-and-a-half and a mile-and-threequarters, on three different racecourses, over the space of five months, so winning all three requires an outstanding performer.