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Flat Racing vs. National Hunt: What are the Main Differences?

September 13, 2016

- Grant Whittington

If you are new to horse racing and keen to get started by placing wagers, it is important to understand exactly what you are dealing with. After all, the sport can be deceptively diverse and complex, leading to misunderstandings that may be initially lost on newcomers or casual observers.

More specifically, it may appear at first glance that there is little or no difference between National Hunt (commonly referred to as jump) or flat racing. While the two may share some universal similarities, however, it is imperative that all parties involved take the time to understand the subtle differences that exists between the two.

At the Bethut, we are often asked about these differences, so here is a quick breakdown of these and how they impact on your experience…

Fundamental Differences and Distances

On a fundamental level, there are practical differences between flat and national hunt racing that require consideration. The first of these is the presence of jumps and hurdles in the latter, while the former are ran on flat course and across far shorter distances. Hunt races are therefore a far greater test of a horse’s calibre and durability, while flat meetings remain a test of pure, unadulterated speed.

This also changes the typical betting experience, as jump races and steeplechases are notoriously more difficult to predict. In contrast, flat races are usually easier to judge depending on the runners and the jockeys on show.

The Impact of Seasonality

There is also the issue of seasonality, as while some exceptional prevail the National Hunt season generally takes place during the wetter, winter months. This is because the soft ground is generally kinder to jumpers during this time, minimising the risk of injury and ensuring that participants can compete fairly. Conversely, flat races tend to unfold during the warmer, winter months, which explains why we are currently experiencing a transitional period between these two entities.

Prestige and Value

While the National Hunt season usually closes with the coveted Gold Cup, as a general rule it is viewed as being less prestigious than the flat racing alternative. Aside from the aforementioned Gold Cup and the Aintree Grand National, the total earnings and prize funds are dwarfed by the summer flat race meetings. This means that there is typically a wider market for flat race betting, although your own tastes will determine how you utilise your stake money!

So there you have it; a selection of the main differences between flat and National Hunt racing. It is important to understand these, and ensure that you factor them into the decisions that you make both as a fan and a bettor.

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