Which are the most valuable races in Britain?

The most valuable horse races in Britain naturally include some of the most prestigious, and most coveted, contests on the horse racing calendar. Traditionally the fourth Classic of the season, the Derby Stakes, or Derby, for short, run over a mile-and-a-half at Epsom, is currently the most valuable horse race run in Britain, with a total prize money of £1.62 million. Elsewhere on the Flat, the Ebor Handicap, run over a mile-and-three-quarters at York, has received a massive boost in prize money since Sky Bet took over sponsorship of the race in 2018 and now has a total prize fund of £1 million; it is, in fact, the most valuable race of its kind, not only in Britain, but in the whole of Europe.

In 2020, two Group One races at Royal Ascot, namely the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, run over a mile-and-a-quarter, and the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, run over six furlongs, were due for an increase in prize money, to £1 million from £750,000 and £600,000, respectively. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, prize money at the Royal Meeting was amended, such that all eight Group One races were run for £250,000.

Generally speaking, National Hunt racing is less lucrative than Flat racing, in terms of the prize money on offer. Nevertheless, while not quite on a par with the Derby, the Grand National, run over four miles and two-and-a-half furlongs at Aintree, offers total prize money of £1 million, making it the most valuable steeplechase run in Europe.

What factors govern the field size in horse races?

Obviously, the field size of any horse race depends, first and foremost, on the number of horses declared to run. Depending on the nature and timing of the race in question, declarations to run must be made by 10.00am one or two days before the race. However, for safety reasons, the number of runners in any race is limited according to the size and configuration of the racecourse on which the race is run; the Derby at Epsom, for example, has a safety limit of 20, while the Wokingham Stakes at Ascot has a safety limit of 30 and the Grand National has a safety limit of 40.

At the declaration to run stage, if the number of declarations exceeds the safety limit, horses are eliminated to reduce the field size. Horses are eliminated in a specified order, starting with the lowest weighted, in handicap races, or the lowest rated, in Listed or Pattern races, with a ballot if necessary, to restrict the number of runners to the maximum field size. If the number of declarations exceeds the safety limit and is 18 or more, another strategy is to divide the race into two, or possibly more, divisions.

Another consideration is the stabling capacity of the racecourse, which cannot be exceeded if every horse is to have its own stable on arrival. If the declarations for all races at a fixture, including divisions, exceeds the so-called ‘field size limit’, horses are eliminated, race-by-race, as previously described, until those that remain can adequately be accommodated at the racecourse.