Do horses still race on hard going?

Officially, the state of the ground, or going, on a racecourse is described by one of seven descriptions, ranging from ‘heavy’ at one extreme to ‘hard’ at the other. However, British Horseracing Authority (BHA) guidelines suggest that Flat courses should aim to provide ‘good to firm’ going and National Hunt courses should aim to provide ‘good’ – and never faster than ‘good to firm’ – going, wherever possible.

Even allowing for the vagaries of the British weather, it is possible that a long, dry spell can produce going officially described as ‘firm’ or even ‘hard’, especially in the absence of watering. Bath Racecourse, situated high on Lansdown Hill, 780 feet above sea level, is a case in point insofar as it has no watering system and can produce rattling hard going during a dry summer. Under such circumstances – which are virtually unknown elsewhere – underfoot conditions must be monitored to ensure the course is safe for racing.

Of course, Bath Racecourse exclusively stages Flat racing but, for National Hunt courses, if the going is officially ‘hard’, it must be described as ‘hard (unraceable)’ and racing must be abandoned. Thus, while ‘hard’ still exists as an official going description, horses rarely, if ever, race on going faster than ‘firm’ – which, itself, is rare enough on most British racecourses – for welfare reasons.