The 5 Biggest Races in Scotland

Crowd Racing take’s a look at the Biggest Races in Scotland, if you think we have missed one of your favourites then please let us know!

Horse racing in Britain is in rude health, with major meetings and big race days consistently drawing huge crowds. Much of that success is unquestionably down to the quality of equine action on show, with a huge number of prestigious and notable races being held all around the country, all through the year. A good number of those big races are held in Scotland, and we’re going to give you a rundown of five of the best.

Our list covers both flat and national hunt racing, and takes a large number of factors into account when judging which races can be called Scotland’s biggest. Those include the prize money on offer, the quality of the races (are they group races on the flat or graded races over obstacles), the history of the race and how much prestige is attached to winning. All of the following races, then, rate consistently highly in all of those areas.


The Biggest Races in Scotland


The Scottish Grand National

Scotland’s equivalent of the similarly named staying contest at Aintree, the Scottish Grand National attracts almost as much attention North of the border. Held at Ayr, the Scottish National is a grade three steeplechase open to horses aged five and over. It takes place over a distance of about four miles and includes 27 fences which, in a notable difference to the Grand National, are all standard national hunt obstacles.

The race was originally known as the West of Scotland Grand National when inaugurated in 1858 and was run at a now-defunct course near Houston, Renfrewshire. That version of the contest took place over just three miles but included 32 jumps, which were mostly stone walls. In 1867, the race moved to Bogside Racecourse in Irvine, where it would be extended to three and 7/8 miles and would eventually adopt its current title in 1880.

It was in 1965, when Bogside closed, that the race ultimately found a home at Ayr and would reach its current length. The race has gone from strength to strength at Scotland’s premier track and is now one of the biggest races in Scotland, boasting a purse of over £215,000 in 2018; a far cry from the 1867 edition of the race, where the winner got £100.

Crowd Racing have launched the Tartan Crowd to work with trainer Lucy Normile and target this historic race. We are keen to have a runner in one of the biggest races in Scotland, and if you would like to join that journey please click here for more information.

Biggest Races in Scotland - The Tartan Crowd

The Ayr Gold Cup

One of the biggest races in Scotland is to be held towards the end of each flat racing season, the Ayr Gold Cup is a handicap open to thoroughbreds aged three years old or over. The Gold Cup is held over a distance of six furlongs and is the feature race of the three-day festival held in September which is named after it. The Gold Cup was first held all the way back in 1804, when it was won by a horse named Chancellor, with the same runner going on to repeat the success the following year.

In honour of that inaugural double triumph, there is now a restaurant at Ayr Racecourse named for the horse. Chancellor is not the most successful runner in the history of the Gold Cup, however. That honour is reserved for the Duke of Montrose’s horse, Dazzle, who won the race on three occasions in the 1870s.

Held on a Friday until 1992, the race is now the crowning glory on the Saturday of the three-day festival and has become one of the richest sprint handicaps – if not the outright richest – in Europe. Winning connections of the race, after all, pocket well over £100,000.

The Premier Kelso Hurdle

One of only a trio of national hunt races in Scotland to have been given grade two status, the Premier Kelso Hurdle is arguably the biggest race held at the beautiful Kelso Racecourse in the Scottish Borders, making it one of the biggest races in Scotland, for sure. The late February or early March race is open to horses aged four years and over, is run over a distance of two miles and two furlongs, and features a total of ten flights of hurdles.

The race was first run back in 1990 as a listed contest but was eventually promoted to grade two status in 2003. Since then the prestige and the prize money of the race has gradually continued to grow, to the point that in 2018 the race was due to award a total purse of over £35,000. We say due to, however, as unfortunately the contest was abandoned due to bad weather.

Thanks to a combination of that improved prize money and a higher profile, the Premier Kelso Hurdle has begun to attract a better standard of horses in recent years. Notable winners of the race in the recent past include the likes of Knockara Beau, Clever Cookie and Le Prezien. 

The Firth of Clyde Stakes

On the flat, there is just one race held in Scotland which has been given group status and that is the group three Firth of Clyde Stakes at Ayr. The Firth of Clyde Stakes is open to two year old fillies and is run over the six furlong trip at Scotland’s premier racecourse.

Sponsored by bookmaker William Hill for the past few years, the race takes place during the Ayr Gold Cup Festival and is currently part of the stellar Gold Cup Day card. Established far more recently than the race with which it shares that day, the Firth of Clyde Stakes was first held in 1986 as a listed race. It continued at that level for close to two decades, before being promoted to a group three in 2004.

Now one of the biggest races in Scotland, the Firth of Clyde Stakes was worth over £70,000 in 2018 and will attract some of racing’s biggest horses, trainers and jockeys. Only three jockeys in history, however, have won the race more than once. Those riders are Frankie Dettori, Kieren Fallon and Paul Mulrennan, with each having tasted Firth of Clyde Stakes success on two occasions.

Scottish Champion Hurdle

Another of the trio of grade two national hunt races held in Scotland, the Scottish Champion Hurdle is open to horses of four years of age and older. The race is run at Ayr, over a distance of about two miles and features a total of nine flights of hurdles.

Scheduled to take place each April, the race is very much in the thick of the national hunt season and has an impressive history. It was first run back in 1966, when it was a listed race and was won by a horse called Blue Venom. The race was promoted to grade two status in 1991 and in 1994 was moved to Scottish Grand National Day from the day before. Over the years, the race has been won by some massive names in the national hunt game.

The legendary Sea Pigeon, for example, was successful twice in the race and a number of outstanding horses have used the race as a springboard to Cheltenham Festival glory. Those include Alderbrook, who won the 1995 Champion Hurdle at the festival after previously winning one of the biggest races in Scotland and Captain Christy who won the 1973 Scottish Champion Hurdle before winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup as a novice chaser


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The 5 Biggest Races in Scotland

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