What is a novice in horse racing?

In horse racing, we use the word ‘novice’ similarly to how we use it elsewhere: someone that is new to something, or inexperienced. Having said that, the term ‘novice’ refers to something more specific under National Hunt racing rules.


In National Hunt racing, a ‘novice’ is a horse that has yet to win a race in its chosen discipline before starting the current season. The amount of attempts the horse has made doesn’t matter. A novice can also refer to an inexperienced racehorse which has not run in a particular number of races, as defined by the horse racing authority.


Where do rules apply?


According to the Rules of Racing, on the Flat, a novice is any horse that is eligible to run in a novice, novice auction or median auction novice race. So, it can’t have won more than twice or run more than twice.


For National Hunt racing, a horse cannot have won a race related to its selected discipline – jumping hurdles or fences – before the start of the current season. National Hunt racing takes place throughout the year, so the ‘current season’ officially starts the day after the end of the previous season in late April.


So, a horse that hasn’t yet won a race over hurdles before late April is a ‘novice hurdler’. Similarly, a horse that hasn’t yet won over fences is a ‘novice chaser’.


What are the categories of novice racing?


Novice racing is divided into Flat Novice Races and National Hunt Novice Races.


Flat novice races are designed for those early in their careers and with limited racecourse experience. Those with a previous win under their belt will usually be required to carry a weight penalty. It’s possible for horses to lose their novice status on the Flat after just one race, because horses are no longer novices if they win a Class 1 race (which includes Listed races and any race at a Group level).


As we’ve mentioned, a horse may take part in a novice hurdle or chase so long as they haven’t won a race in the same discipline previously. Novice hurdlers and chasers can remain novices for longer than Flat novice racers, but if they win in the current season, they lose their novice status.


There is an exception made for those who gain initial success in the final months of the season, between the 1st of March and 30th April, who are referred to as ‘second season novices’ until the end of the following October. Top tip: following these novices can be worthwhile as they have slightly more experience.


Is novice racing still an event?


Although these horses have yet to hog the headlines, they still make for very exciting events. Some of the biggest races in the jumping season are in the novice category! There are novice events in the horse racing here at Newbury Racecourse, our 100-year-old venue which combines heritage with everything a modern sporting and events venue can offer. Don’t miss out!