Home » Horse Racing » The differences between US and UK horse racing

The differences between US and UK horse racing

Horse Racing

Horse racing has a long and illustrious history and continues to be one of the most popular sports around the world. Thousands upon thousands flock to racetracks each and every year for an opportunity to experience one of the most exciting sporting spectacles going today. The sport has managed to sustain its popularity in the UK over the course of centuries with significant racing events having been documented all the way back to the 1700s. However, the acclaim of the sport is not just limited to this little island. Australia, Ireland, France, Japan, South Africa all celebrate the sport of kings but perhaps the country that most resembles the UK’s admiration for horse racing is that of the US. Horse racing in the states carries its own long standing history and traditions but it also has a number of noticeable differences that set it aside from the version of the sport we see here in the UK. Today we’re taking a look at what those differences are and how they make horse racing across the pond so unique.


We’re starting off with the most obvious difference which is that of the track, in particular, the direction horses race around the track. All horses in the US will run counterclockwise on an oval track whereas in the UK there are both counterclockwise and clockwise courses in a variety of shapes. Racetracks are believed to have been made this way in the US because of a man in the 18th century named William Whitley who had an objection to certain British horse racing traditions. As a result he created the first counterclockwise track in Kentucky as a means of demonstrating America’s independence and the country has stuck with it ever since. The difference in racetracks doesn’t end there though and the surfaces vary as well. In the US, the vast majority of tracks feature dirt or some form of synthetic surface whereas in the UK almost all are set with turf with the notable exceptions of Chelmsford, Kempton and Wolverhampton which are all-weather tracks.

Race types

One of the reasons horse racing has managed to remain one of the most popular sports around the world today is its ability to innovate and this is also true of race formats. In the UK, the two most common types of thoroughbred race are National Hunts and flat races, the most famous of those being the Grand National that takes place every year in April. In the US however they took their innovations a bit further. The States often favour flat races with all three of the famous US Triple Crown races (Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes and the Kentucky Derby) being flats but they also have two other types known as Harness and Quarter racing. Harness racing involves a standardbred horse pulling a cart with a driver in it around an oval track for approximately a one mile length while Quarter racing is a much faster affair where horses running at extraordinary speeds over very short distances along a straight track that stretches for roughly one or two furlongs. This is by far the most popular version of races in America with over 3 million quarter horses registered to race.


The differences aren’t just limited to the track as there is plenty of variation in the fan experience as well. Nowhere is this more evident than in the betting practices of either country. Accessibility to betting for punters in the UK is second to none with the advent of mobile betting making it much easier for fans to have a flutter on a day at the races. UK Best Betting sites 2024 will always have odds available for the biggest races in the United Kingdom. By comparison, the US is a lot stricter in the way they operate. The US are somewhat restrictive in their practice because gambling laws differ from state to state. Only 25 states allow online sports betting and as a result the majority of betting that takes place on the races happens at the track itself. There’s also a contrast in the way that they bet as well. Several states in the US use a pari-mutuel system whereby the winnings are shared among a pool of bettors. This may change soon enough as there has been a significant move towards loosening restrictions on betting in the US to allow for more online gambling as well as the introduction of fixed odds in certain locations.

Prize money

Perhaps the most significant difference between the two countries though is the scale of winnings. By no means is the UK stingy with its winnings with the Grand National boasting a prize fund of £1 million but even so, it bears little comparison to $3 million purse at the Kentucky Derby, or the $6 million purse at the Breeder’s Cup. Granted these are the higher-profile events in the US but jockeys, owners and trainers still often take home more money throughout the year as well. The Uk might feature the more storied and prestigious events on the racing calendar, but the US has them beat when it comes to financial incentives.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top
Share via
Copy link