The Differences Between Horse Racing In The UK And US

Horse racing is an incredibly popular sport around the world, with major race meetings happening in countries like France, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, and Hong Kong. Horse racing is also a favourite pastime in both the United Kingdom and the United States.

Although there are many similarities between the sport on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, there are many differences as well. In this article, we’ll discuss the most important ones.

Types Of Races

Just like many other sports, horse racing was imported into the United States by settlers from Europe. However, whenever this happened, the rules and format often changed slightly to meet the tastes of the people in the new world.

For example, when the card game poker arrived in the US, players there created their own variations of the rules like Texas Hold ‘em and Omaha hi-lo. These games, along with many other poker variants have since found their way across the world.

The same is true for horse racing. In the UK, there are two main types of thoroughbred horse racing: flat races and National Hunt (steeplechase) races. The Grand National is perhaps the most famous National Hunt race of them all, attracting the attention of the entire country in April each year.

However, in the US, thoroughbred racing is almost exclusively restricted to flat racing. Some of the biggest races in the US are the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. Together, these three make up the US Triple Crown.

There are other types of horse racing in the United States too, including:

  • Endurance racing – This kind of race began in California during the 1950s. Races take place over long distances of typically 50 to 100 miles, though during multi-day events, it can be even longer. They’re not held at a racetrack, but rather in the countryside.
  • Quarter horse racing – The American Quarter Horse is a specific breed unique to the United States. The name comes from the horses’ ability to sprint short quarter-mile distances and can reach speeds of up to 55 mph.

    They’re typically very muscled around the hindquarters, which gives them the power they need to sprint. Quarter horse racing takes place on quarter-mile straight tracks, much like a drag race between cars.

Horse Race Betting

Betting on horse racing is popular all around the world. For most people, it’s hard to separate the two concepts since they’re so intertwined. There are some major differences between the betting markets in the UK and the US, though.

In Britain, it doesn’t matter where you are in the country, you can bet on sports in the same way, with the same companies. This includes horse racing, football, or cricket.

The sports betting industry goes hand-in-hand with the gaming industry. The latter has very similar rules to sports betting and enjoys uniformity across the country. For example, playing games like poker on Mac, PC, or mobile is also possible throughout the UK, regardless of where you are.

In contrast, in the US, each state sets its own rules regarding sports betting. Until 2018, federal law prevented most states from operating bookmakers, though some exceptions were made for horse racing. Today, thirteen states allow online sports betting, with some of these also allowing online poker games like Texas Hold ‘em and Omaha hi-lo.

This patchwork of legislation means that users often can’t use their bookmaker’s app to bet on horse races when they travel to another state, making it complicated for fans of the sport.

In the UK, bookmakers typically offer fixed odds for their horse racing bets, while in the US a pari-mutuel system is used. This is because the Professional and Amateur Sports Protect Act, which banned most sports betting until 2018, made an exception for pari-mutuel wagers. Pari-mutuel bets are pooled together and the winners share the stakes in the pool.

Dress Code

Often called “the sport of kings”, horse racing has kept its glitz and glamour in most places around the world. In the UK, The Queen and many other members of The Royal Family own several racehorses and attend events throughout the year.

The height of their involvement comes with Royal Ascot, an annual horse race meeting where The Queen attends on each day and her arrival is part of the pageantry of the event.

At Royal Ascot, certain enclosures see one of the strictest dress codes enforced, requiring men to wear top hats, and even restricting shoe colours. At almost all horse racing events in the UK, dress codes are respected, with sportswear and trainers typically banned.

In the US, dress codes are typically much less strict. Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby takes place, doesn’t allow garments that are torn or frayed but allows denim (unlike many UK venues). More exclusive suites, enclosures, and clubs typically are stricter dress codes still.

Prize Money

Some US horse races have eye-watering prize purses to be shared among winning horses. For example, the 2017 running of the Pegasus World Cup saw $12 million paid out to entrants. The following year, this rose to $16 million but declined to $9 million in 2019.

The Kentucky Derby, which is the biggest horse race on the US calendar, has a total prize purse of $3 million, with the winner receiving $1.86 million.

In contrast, the UK’s Grand National shared £1 million ($1.3 million) among the top-10 finishers of the race. Significantly less than what’s on offer across the pond.