There are two very different forms of horse racing in Britain: The Flat; and National Hunt. The Flat is, as one might imagine, conducted on the flat, while National Hunt is racing over jumps.
Because softer ground is better for jumping horses, National Hunt racing mostly takes place during the wetter months of winter – the season begins at the start of October (though it isn’t until the Cheltenham Gold Cup is run in November that the season can really be said to get going) and ends with a meeting at Sandown Park in April. The flat season starts with the Lincoln Handicap, which is usually at the end of March or the beginning of April, and ends at the beginning of November with the Doncaster November Handicap.
There are many differences between flat racing and National Hunt, and each has its aficionados. Flat racing is mostly very fast over quite short courses, so that sprinters are rewarded. National Hunt, on the other hand, has longer distances as well as jumps and the horses that do well there are bred for endurance. Stars of flat racing tend to have larger forequarters, and to reach their peak between three and five years old; a good National Hunt horse may not get to that point until the age of seven or even ten.
There is also a difference in venue. There are courses that stage both flat racing and jumps, but most go for one or the other. Probably the best-known jumping courses are Cheltenham (because that’s where the Cheltenham Gold Cup is run) and Aintree, home of the Grand National; others include Haydock Park, Sandown and Newbury. Well-known flat race courses include Epsom (the Derby), Ascot (famed or notorious, depending on one’s point of view, for the outrageous fashions on view on Lady’s Day), York and Doncaster.