Understand the races

Flat and Jump Racing

France Galop organises racing in France on the flat and over jumps. Flat races don’t take place on a flat track, but on a track without jumps. Thoroughbreds start racing at the age of two years old, or sometimes three or four years old. There is no age limit, but it is very rare to find a horse older than 10 years old at the races.

Course de chevaux
At flat race at Chantilly racecourse.

Depending on their attitude, their maturity and their past performances, thoroughbreds are positioned in races corresponding to their aptitudes. At the end of their career, sometimes as a three-year-old for the very best, they retire to stud as stallions for the males, and broodmares for the females.
The major flat races in France take place at Longchamp, Deauville, Chantilly, Maisons-Laffitte and Saint-Cloud, all in close proximity to Paris, and managed by France Galop. These sport does however take place across the whole country, from Strasburg to Mont-de-Marsan and Saint-Malo to Cagnes-sur-Mer.

Jump racing (also known as National Hunt Racing) also takes place throughout France, making up a quarter of the racing calendar. There are three types of jumps, hurdles, steeplechase, and cross-country.

Hurdles are small obstacles that consist of soft branches that horses can brush through when going over them, and they are easily jumped. Steeplechase fences require more effort. They are placed across the track at different places, and are bigger in size.
Water jumps require a longer time in the air, while chase fences are in the form of hurdles, but only bigger and more unyielding. This necessitates the horse not to touch them, so they will have to jump higher. There are also banks that requires the horse to be balanced jumping up and down from them.
There are less cross-country races than hurdle or steeplechase ones, and they need a lot of technical skill and experience. The jumps are obstacles that would be naturally found in the countryside, including mounds and banks that require specific training and a lot of agility. These tracks sometimes leave the racecourse bounds and can cross roads, fields and water!

Steeple-Chase
A steeplechase race at Auteuil, runners jumping the “Rail ditch & fence”.

Jump racing is run over longer distances than the flat, and the large majority of horses that run in these races are specialists, trained specifically for this discipline. The horses also carry more weight than their flat counterparts because the jockeys are heavier, as they need more strength to be able to guide their mount.