The longest ‘official’ horse race – or, in other words, the longest horse race run under the Rules of Racing, as defined by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), on a pay-at-the-gate enclosed racecourse – remains the Grand National. Historically, the advertised distance of the Grand National was four-and-a-half miles. However, in 2013, for safety reasons, the start position was moved forward 90 yards or so, away from the grandstands, thereby reducing distance between the start and the first fence and, consequently, the overall race distance.
For the next few years, the advertised distance of the Grand National was four miles and about three-and-a-half-furlongs but, in 2016, was reduced again, to four miles and about two-and-a-half furlongs. The latter reduction came not because of any change to the National Course, but because of a change in the methodology used by the BHA to measure race distances on National Hunt racecourses. Nevertheless, while nowadays run over an accurately-measured 4 miles, 2 furlongs and 74 yards, the Grand National is still, far and away, the longest race in the British racing calendar.
In Britain, a Pattern race is a thoroughbred horse race in the upper echelons of the sport, in terms of prestige and value, although the Pattern is different for Flat and National Hunt racing. For Flat racing, the European Pattern Race system – which, as the name suggests, covers not only Britain and Ireland, but France, Germany and Italy – was introduced in 1971. For the first time, Pattern races were arranged, by importance, as Group One, Group Two and Group Three races. In Britain, Group One includes the five ‘Classic’ races and other major international races, such as the Eclipse Stakes and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Group Two includes international races of lesser importance, such as the Great Voltigeur Stakes, and Group Three includes races mainly of domestic importance, such as the Craven Stakes.
By contrast, the National Hunt Pattern, which was introduced in 1969, covers Britain alone. In 1989, under the auspices of the Jockey Club, the National Hunt Pattern was completely overhauled to create the series of Grade 1, Grade 2 and Grade 3 races that form the basis of the current Pattern. Unlike the European Pattern Race system, which creates a seasonal structure for non-handicap races, the National Hunt Pattern includes several important handicap races, not least the Grand National, itself, at Grade 3 level.
Both Pattern systems are under constant review and both Group and Graded races can be upgraded, or downgraded, from one season to the next, as necessary.
Jump racing, also known as National Hunt racing, is the code, or discipline, of horse racing that involves negotiating obstacles, usually in the form of hurdles or fences. Some jump racing does, however, take place on specialist ‘cross country’ or ‘bank’ courses, on which some of the obstacles are more akin to those typically found in open countryside. In Britain, with the exception of some National Hunt Flat races, all jump races are run over an ‘official’ minimum distance of at least 2 miles, although on certain racecourses the advertised distance may be slightly shorter. However, the longest jump race staged in Britain is, unequivocally, the Grand National, nowadays run over 4 miles 2 furlongs and 7 yards, at Aintree Racecourse in April each year. Since the advent of so-called ‘summer jumping’, which began in 1995, jump racing is staged throughout the year, although the National Hunt season ‘proper’ lasts from mid-October to late April or early May.