Types of horse races are run on two different tracks: turf (grass) and dirt not including the newer synthetic tracks. Each type of track is described based on the conditions of the day and the running times they produce. For example:
Dirt track conditions are usually labeled fast; wet-fast; good; slow; muddy; sloppy; heavy; or frozen, according to an article by WetCapper.com. Fast tracks are dry tracks that allow horses to run at their best, resulting in their fastest times. Wet-fast tracks have moisture on the surface, but are still firm enough to produce fast times. Good dirt surfaces are dry or drying but produce slower times than a fast track, and slow surfaces are deep, drying surfaces that still produce slow times. A muddy track is deep and wet, usually produced after a rain. A sloppy track is covered in enough standing water to create splashing when a race is run. A heavy track is very deep and wet, tiring to run on, and produces the slowest times. A frozen track contains frozen moisture and can be extra hard and thus fast, but often slippery and dangerous.
Turf track conditions are labeled firm; good; soft; yielding; or heavy. Firm courses are dry with only a slight give, and yields fast times. A good turf surface has a little more give and moisture but is still relatively firm. Soft turf courses are fairly wet with substantial give but no standing water. Yielding courses are very wet and deep, producing slow times; heavy courses are waterlogged and very deep, producing the slowest times of all.
Horses that run well under certain conditions may fare poorly in others. In general, horses do best in dry conditions, but wet or unfavorable conditions can make unlikely champions of particularly light or hardy animals. Take, for example, little Mine That Bird, who came from dead last to win the 2009 Kentucky Derby on a sloppy track.
Thoroughbreds can start running at two years of age as juveniles. Colts and fillies (so-called until they reach five years of age, when they become horses/geldings and mares) start in shorter flat races known as dashes and sprints; they’ll run these short courses until around late September of their two-year-old year. Two-year-old horses in these shorter races are still developing and tend to be slower, slimmer and not as strong as older horses. Young horses run as fast as they can for as long as they can and have rarely learned to conserve energy, according to a YouTube video by Today’s Racing Digest.
Longer Derby types of races (for colts and fillies) and Oaks races (for fillies) are limited to three year olds, horses who are still developing and growing quickly, and are new to longer distance racing. By the fourth year horses will spend their lives running in longer flat races, vying for position and status in the world of claiming races, allowance races, stakes races, and graded stakes races. For more information on these terms, have a look at our blog post on “Types of Horse Races – Claiming Races, Allowance Races, Stakes Races and Graded Stakes Races.”
Steeplechases are longer types of horse races, open only to mature and fully-developed horses, which are run over long distances and various obstacles. These may include hedges and water jumps, and are designed to replicate older courses in which the field raced across the English countryside from one church to another, aiming for a church steeple and crossing all hurdles and obstacles in their path. Steeplechasers tend to be powerful animals, and must be talented jumpers as well as endurance runners. Some horses that do well on flat tracks won’t do well in steeplechases, and vice versa. It is the job of a good trainer to determine a horse’s talents and ensure that he is placed in racing categories that best suit his or her strengths.
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