What US Fans Can Expect When Attending a Horse Racing Festival in Europe

UK Horse Racing” (CC BY 2.0) by Paolo Camera

The differences between horse racing in the US and Europe become even more apparent once you’ve attended an event in both regions. So, if you are planning a trip to watch a major horse racing event in Europe such as the Aintree Festival in Liverpool, the Cheltenham Festival in Gloucestershire or Queen Elizabeth II’s favourite, Royal Ascot, here are a few things you should know in advance.

The tracks

In the UK, Ireland and mainland Europe, most of the top horse racing tracks have a grass surface. The tracks were traditionally built on natural parkland, and although the surface is managed throughout the year, it is still very natural and affected heavily by the weather. As a result, the surface can range from being hard and dry to wet and muddy – and everything in between. The condition of the surface (known as the “going”) will suit some horses better than others. This can affect the outcome of the race as well as the ante-post horse racing betting markets. There are some all-weather tracks in the UK and other European countries, but the biggest races are held on grass.

The culture

While a visit to a race in the US can feel like out a day out at the farm, a day at the races in the UK can feel like a much more upmarket event. People often dress up in expensive suits and dresses (especially on Ladies Day), drink champagne and indulge in fine-dining. Horse racing has long historical connections with royalty and the upper classes and this can still be felt at events in the UK and France. It can also be harder to view the action as the crowds are often further from the action than in the US where it is easier to get up close to the horses. However, there are tickets available at a range of prices to suit all so the events are still very accessible. Just remember to check the dress code for your particular zone.

Race dynamic

The style of racing in Europe is different from the US. In the US, races tend to be flat-out demonstrations of speed, while in the UK, Ireland and Europe, the challenging surfaces can lead to more tactical races where the jockeys will pace the horses throughout the race and strike with a burst of speed in the final stages. In longer steeplechase races such as the Grand National, stamina is vitally important, although the horses still need speed to win the run for the post.


The changeable surfaces and tactical racing style makes betting a little more complex too. Knowledgeable bettors will understand which courses, distances and surfaces will suit which horses and make their betting decisions accordingly. Despite this, there have been many horses over the years, such as the legendary Irish-trained horse Arkle, who have dominated in all conditions across different events.

UK Steeplechase Race” (CC BY 2.0) by Paolo Camera


Racing on both sides of the Atlantic can be fantastic to watch, and the different cultural and geographical identities only help to make them even more fascinating.