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Horse racing, coming round bend on track

What different surfaces do racehorses work on? Are they different depending on where in the world you compete? How can the going make a difference to performance? Find out more right here

All horses will have optimum conditions on which they perform at their best – this could be a particular course, distance, type of going or surface. Track specialists are an essential aspect of horse racing and, while a Thoroughbred’s pedigree can help determine his likelihood of success within a race, the underfoot conditions also play an obvious part – and the advantages of various conditions are transferrable to other equestrian disciplines beyond racing, too. Besides ground-dependent horses, there’s also the matter of taking into consideration the surface that competitions take place on – broadly speaking, equine pursuits happen on one of these three types.


Another name for grass, all of the premier events in the UK and Ireland both on the flat and over jumps take place on this natural surface. As grass grows, ground staff have to water the courses to maintain them. Competition on turf is weather dependent, so if the underlying surface is frozen meetings may be abandoned. Ground on turf courses is determined by how far a going stick can be pushed into the turf. This leads to a description that can lead to anything from firm to heavy, with Ireland using yielding to indicate going that’s between good and soft. National Hunt horses tend to prefer softer going to coincide with the traditional jumps season of October to April, while flat horses usually like firmer surfaces, which are encountered most during the summer months.


Synthetic surfaces have been developed to ensure horse racing, equestrian events and training can take place throughout the winter months. There are different types of these, best known by their use in all-weather flat racing…

  • tapeta The surface on which the Northumberland Plate – the big staying Heritage Handicap at Newcastle – has taken place since 2016, tapeta is a mixture of fine silica sand, wax and rubber fibres on top of porous asphalt. Going for races on all-weather surfaces ranges from fast to slow, with standard in between. Here’s a video of the tapeta surface in action: com/embed/pRR14ylpP50
  • polytrack Meanwhile, like at Kempton Park for the September Stakes won by Enable en-route to her second Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe victory in 2018, polytrack is similar. One key difference is that carpet fibres, and even plastic insulation, is added into the mix for use in colder climates
  • fibresand This is used at Southwell Racecourse and has superb draining qualities, which makes it perfect for winter racing. Cushion Track is a popular equestrian surface and can be laid over tarmac using a familiar mix of sand and elastic, synthetic fibre


Particularly popular in the USA, British punters are able to bet on US racing as usual throughout the year because many of the major events across the Atlantic take place on dirt. All three Triple Crown races stateside are held on this surface. Provided the going isn’t sloppy, dirt races are, on average, run at a faster pace than those on artificial surfaces or turf. Ground varies from fast or wet fast to good, muddy and even slow. It’s also used in the Middle East, however perhaps the most famous race to take place on dirt is the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

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