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One of the attractions of racing in Britain is the variety of course. Tracks in the United States run right-handed and are flat and oval in shape so the only differences are the surfaces.
In Britain courses differ by direction, topography and shape so there are six different combinations. Tracks are right or left-handed, flat or undulating and oval or round. Very few courses have three common features so horses are faced with different challenges.
Each animal’s breeding and physicality will determine the suitability of each type of course and that makes for more interesting and varied racing on the flat and over jumps throughout the racing year.
Horses for courses is a popular and pertinent saying and it expresses the tendency for horses to run better on some tracks rather than others. Course form is a key factor in assessing a race for betting purposes. Some horses act better on tracks going from right to left and others display better form on left-handed tracks.
The direction of a course must be taken into account when establishing the relative merits of each horse. Races bring together horses proven on different types of track so the suitability of an animal to the direction, topography and shape of a course is an important part of selecting horses. Cheltenham is a right-handed track so the major championship races in National Hunt racing are run going right.
However, Kempton and Sandown, which stage some of the major trials, are left-handed tracks.
A horse that is suited to the nature of a track might beat a potentially better horse who cannot handle the nature of the course. The Grand National is run at Aintree where the track is right-handed and the course is flat and rectangular in shape. Three of the five Flat Classics are run right-handed and the other two are run on a straight course.