Horse Racing Betting Strategy: Jump vs Flat Racing

Horse Racing Betting Strategy: Jump vs Flat Racing

Should you bet on jumps racing or Flat racing? That really depends what you're into, but we've got a guide to help weigh up the options.

At first glance, National Hunt racing – or jumps racing – and Flat racing would not appear to be hugely different. The races are on turf, the furlong poles are the same distance apart and the winning post is still the winning post.

The only difference would seem to be the fact that in jumps racing horses have to jump over obstacles. However, it is not quite that simple.

Shorter Distances

Distances in Flat races are markedly shorter than those in jumps races, with the minimum trip for a Flat race being just 5f (1000m) and the maximum being 2m4f (4000m) - that being the distance of the Group 1 Ascot Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

In jumps racing, the minimum distance is just under 2m, with races over hurdles sometimes exceeding 3m and races over fences, the larger obstacles, ballooning to more than 4m - the most famous chase in the world being the 4m2.5f Aintree Grand National.

What this means for horse racing is that Flat horses are generally speedier than jumps horses; they tend to be smaller and stockier, with larger hind-quarters (behinds), while jumps horses are taller and leaner.

Longer Careers

In Flat racing, horses begin their careers aged two or three, generally racing for two to three years, before being retired to stud. Geldings, male horses that have been castrated, are most likely to race beyond the age of five, and some mares do too, but it's very rare for a stallion to be still racing past the age of four.

This means that when it comes to betting on horse racing, jumps racing can often be easier to crack as jumps horses race a lot longer, providing more form in the book to be analysed.

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5 Horses Who Won In Their Teens

  1. Sonny Somers - Winning twice over fences in 1980 aged 18, he's the oldest racehorse to win in Britain or Ireland.
  2. Megala - the John Bridger stalwart won at Lingfield aged 15 in June, 2016, becoming the oldest winning Flat horse of the post-war era.
  3. Victory Gunner - Passing away aged 20 late in 2018, the popular chestnut won a handicap chase aged 15 in March 2013, and raced on until he was 17.
  4. The Tatling - A Group 2 winner in his prime, he won his 146th and final Flat race aged 14 at Wolverhampton in December, 2011
  5. Earthmover - Trained by champion Paul Nicholls, he won the Cheltenham Festival's Foxhunter's Chase aged 13 in 2004, and won a final chase aged 14.

Horses racing under National Hunt codes begin between the ages of three and five and can still be winning in their teenage years. They might not run as often during a season, but will race more across their lifetimes. The catch is: that jumps racing has many more variables, and hard-luck stories, than Flat racing.

The Obstacles

There are two different types of obstacles in jumps horse racing; hurdles and fences. Races over fences are called chases - short for steeplechases - and hurdle races are called, hurdles.

Hurdles are smaller and less solid than fences, so horses can jump them more easily, and a lot quicker - the best barely break their stride to clear them. Betting on horses in hurdle races is therefore quite different to betting on chases.

When trying to pick a horse to win in a chase, previous jumping performances are more crucial to examine than they are for hurdles.

To throw a spanner in the works; in France and Germany, and at Cheltenham and Punchestown racecourses in Britain and Ireland, there are cross country courses. Races on these tracks are called cross country chases, they have a wide variety of different obstacles and generally have an emphasis on skill and stamina.

There are also 'jumps' races without any obstacles; National Hunt Flat Races, or bumpers, are for young horses having one of their first races. They run on a hurdles course, but with the hurdles taken out, to gain experience.

Different Weights

Horse racing uses the weight of a jockey and saddle to handicap horses, creating a more level playing field. This is easiest to understand in handicap races, where the weight a horse carries on its back directly relates to its official handicap rating:

  • For example: A horse rated 120 will carry 9lbs (4kg) less than a horse rated 129

In other races, weights are linked to a horse's age, or the number of wins it has had in a certain timeframe. On the best form websites, the race card will show you what the conditions of the race are.

These systems are the same in jumps and Flat racing, but the weights and ratings are all lower in Flat racing.

Different Seasons

What dictates a lot of punter's horse racing preferences is the seasons they are run during. If you like racing in the summer, then Flat racing is the one for you, as that is when the majority of Flat racing - and ALL the biggest races - take place, like the 2,000 Guineas, the Derby, and Royal Ascot.

If you like go racing in the winter, wrapped up, probably in tweed, then jumps racing is where you will find the most interesting betting.

There are Flat and jumps racing all year round, but the core season for jumps racing is mid-October to the end of April, and for Flat racing it's March to October - that's when there's Flat racing on the turf, during the winter it all switches to all-weather surfaces.

Going Descriptions

Perhaps the biggest variable between jumps and Flat racing is the differences in the going descriptions. Flat racing largely takes place during warmer months, when the turf is largely dry, while jumps racing is in peak during the winter, when anything could happen with the weather.

Flat racing also has the option of racing on all-weather courses; artificial, or sand-based, surfaces that can be raced on regardless of the weather - they are hard to freeze over, hard to waterlog and don't ever get too firm from heat.

It's important to remember these differences when looking at ground descriptions as 'good' for a jumps race might not be the same surface as 'good' on the Flat. That becomes even more important when looking at horses that race on the Flat and over jumps.


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