US Racing vs UK Racing – What’s The Difference?

Horse racing is one of the most popular sports in the world and takes place prominently in several countries including in the USA, UK, Ireland, Australia, France, South Africa and Japan.

Racing in the UK & Ireland is particularly popular with hundreds of thousands of spectators flocking to the Cheltenham Festival for the Gold Cup, Aintree for the Grand National and many of the other popular races and meetings. These races attract huge wagers from punters looking for winning tips on British racing throughout the jumps and flat season.

In the US, the Triple Crown includes the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes and each also attracts huge crowds. However, there are some noticeable differences to races that take place within the US and those in the UK.


US racetracks are all left-handed. This means that horses run counter-clockwise around the track every time. However, in the UK, racetracks can be eight left or right handed. 

Some horses are better suited to running either clockwise or counterclockwise. This is due to more weight being put on the inside legs and so their performance is somewhat dependent on muscles on this side of their body. Therefore in the UK, trainers can select horses who they believe will perform better based on the track direction. 


One of the most noticeable differences between US & British racing is the surface.

In the US, the vast majority of tracks have either a dirt or synthetic surface. Although dirt tracks are the most common, synthetic surfaces can withstand drastic weather changes as they are made up of various synthetic materials such as recycled carpet, rubber and silica sand.

If you watch racing from the UK and Ireland, you’ll generally see horses running on grass. This makes for a much more attractive picture, especially in the summer months. However, there are still some all-weather courses in the UK such as at Lingfield, Kempton Park, Wolverhampton, Southwell and Chelmsford City.

Race Distances

Horses in the UK have their stamina put to the test in many National Hunt races which are over 3 miles long. However, races in the US are generally a lot shorter with the longest flat race being the Belmont Stakes which is run over 1m4f.

Prize Money

Generally, the prize money offered to jockeys, trainers and owners in the US is substantially greater than in the UK for the most prestigious events. 

In the UK, the Grand National, which takes place annually at Aintree racecourse and attracts millions of spectators both in person and on television, has a prize pool of £1 million. Just over half of the pool goes to the winner and is the largest prize in UK racing currently.

However, in the US, prize money can be several millions of dollars. The Breeder’s Cup Classic is an example with the winner pocketing a cool $5 million.