There’s no such thing as an easy horse race. Even a 1km sprint can take a considerable toll on both horses and riders. However, there are varying grades of difficulty in horseracing, affected by factors like the race distance, strength and size of the field, use of weights, characteristics of the racetrack, weather, and of course race distance.
Here’s our pick of the world’s five toughest horse races.
The Belmont Stakes
At 2400m the Belmont Stakes is run over a modest distance relative to the other races in this list. However, what makes this race so tough is the immense pressure applied to contestants. Run over a dirt track, the Belmont Stakes is the third leg of the American Triple Crown, and therefore the race that has crowned some of the greatest champions in the history of horse racing. Not only is the race watched by packed stands, but it also attracts a television audience of up to 22 million people, making it one of the most widely viewed racing events on the planet.
The Melbourne Cup
The Melbourne Cup may not be the only handicap run over 3200 meters in Australia, but it’s certainly the toughest. Australian horses competing in the race are typically coming off a winter spell, while foreign contestants have usually travelled immense distances to compete in the race. Competitors then have to run the race, under weights, in front of massive crowds at Flemington Park. Throw in a large field of world class horses travelling at full pace, and you have Australia’s toughest horse race.
The Ascot Gold Cup
The Ascot Gold Cup is the UK’s toughest flat race. Run in midsummer at the Royal Ascot meeting, the race covers a distance of 3700 meters over Ascot Racecourse. It’s not just the length of the race that is challenging. With a sizeable pot, and a reputation as the most important race of the entire meeting, it draws top quality fields comprising some of the best stayers in the world who ensure the race is run at a relentless pace.
The Grand National
The Grand National is easily the toughest thoroughbred horse race in the world. Run annually at Aintree racecourse in Liverpool, the race requires entries to cover a distance of just over 7 kilometers on their way to the finishing post. Not only is the race distance brutal, but the horses are required to jump over 30 obstacles. To cap it off, competitors carry handicaps of up to 67kgs for their two circuits of the course. Needless to say, many contestants fail to complete the race.
The Mongol Derby
The Mongol Derby is the Le Mans of horse racing, and if you want a cue to how tough it is, consider that it’s derived from the horse messenger system set up by Genghis Khan. Unlike the Australian Derby, which takes place over 2400m and produces a winner in under 4 minutes, the Mongol Derby is run over a staggering distance of 1000km. Competitors in the race spend up to 14 hours a day in the saddle, and it typically takes 10 days to compete the course over the Mongolian Steppes. The race is so tough that multiple horses are used over the course, with individual horses only required to travel 40km at a stretch.
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