Seeing a race you have bet on get abandoned can be annoying, especially if you have done a lot of research before placing your bet, or if you thought you had found some really good hidden value.
It’s usually a simple case of having your stake returned, so there is no monetary loss to the bettor, but if you want to start factoring in opportunity costs then it’s a real pain.
But how often are horse races abandoned in actuality, and are abandoned meetings more likely to occur in flat racing or jumps?
Using data from the British Horse Racing Authority going back to 1995, we can take a deep dive into the question of abandoned horse racing fixtures and find the answers to these questions.
The COVID-19 pandemic will skew this data of course if we include 2020, but we can examine the data in a few different ways to get a decent reliable average figure.
The final thing to point out, is that while the data we are working from shows how many fixtures were abandoned (or partially abandoned) it does not show the individual number of races that were abandoned.
To keep things simple then, we will stick to fixtures that were fully abandoned, not just partially, and not worry too much about the odd individual race.
Average Number of Abandoned Racing Fixtures
If we go right back to 1995 and look at abandoned race data up to the end of 2022, the lowest and highest number of abandoned fixtures across both disciplines was just 21, occurring in 2011, and 806 occurring in 2020.
That’s a pretty wide range, but as already alluded to, 2020 was not your typical year, so to get a more accurate average we should probably remove 2020 along with 2001 which saw the foot and mouth crisis cause the abandonment of far more fixtures than normal.
The chart below shows the data without those two years included:
If we add all of these totals together, we get 1,843 fully abandoned fixtures across the 26 years we are looking at.
This gives us an average of 70.88 abandoned fixtures in total per year, and this seems like a pretty fair calculation too, since 14 of those years had fewer than 70.88 abandoned fixtures and 12 of them had more.
If we had added 2001 and 2020 back into the mix that number would have skyrocketed to 102.75, which would be way off the norm if we look at each year’s total abandoned fixtures individually:
You can see that only 4 of the now 28 years had more than 102.75 abandoned fixtures, and interestingly, two of them were 2010 and 2012, flanking 2011 which boasts the lowest ever number of abandoned fixtures.
Next, lets look at flat racing and jumps racing in comparison.
Flat Racing vs Jump Racing: Abandoned Fixtures
Being a much safer style of racing given that there are no fences or hurdles to jump and potentially trip over, flat racing has far fewer abandoned fixtures than jumps.
That said, the trends for races getting abandoned in both categories do tend to follow each other over the years, apart from one or two exceptions, which you can see in the graph below taken from the British Horse Racing Authority:
So if there is a rise in abandoned jumps fixtures, there will likely be a rise in abandoned flat races as well for that year too.
Some weather events effect one discipline harder than others though, for example the ‘big freeze’ of 2010, which saw Britain hit with some of the coldest temperatures in decades, had a much bigger impact on jumps racing than flat racing.
This was partly because of where the temperatures were coldest (in areas with lots of National hunt courses), and partly because jumps racing is around 3 times as dangerous as flat racing, so perhaps courses that have both flat and national hunt courses could still safely run flat races but not jumps.
The reasons for trend lines between disciplines not following each other on individual years will be down to probably quite specific factors, but one thing that is indisputably true, is that flat races are much less likely to be abandoned that national hunt races.
If we ignore the freakish year of 2011 which saw zero flat fixtures abandoned and just 21 jumps fixtures, then the lowest number of abandoned fixtures in a year for flat racing across our sample size is just 3 (in 1995 and 1996), while the lowest number of abandoned fixtures in jumps racing is much higher at 34 (2015 and 2017).
Why do Fixtures Get Abandoned?
Now we have crunched some numbers, we can have a little look into why races get abandoned in the first place.
It’s not quite a single reason answer, but an overwhelming number of abandoned races occur due to the weather.
A flooded track is no good for horses to run on, for example, as it would be unsafe and not present a particularly entertaining race to watch either.
Equally, if the ground was too hard due to a drought and high temperatures it would not be safe for the horses to run on as their legs and feet are delicate. This goes for frozen ground too.
It’s not just the ground that can be adversely impacted by the weather of course, a thick fog or driving snow which impairs the vision of the jockeys (and horses) could equally cause a race to be abandoned, as could excessively high winds which can actually be just as dangerous for spectators.
These are the general reasons why races get abandoned, but there have been a few particularly notable years for abandoned races that had nothing to do with the weather at all.
2001 – Foot and Mouth Outbreak
Younger readers might not remember this, but 2001 was a devastating year for British farmers, costing the economy over £8billion as a whole.
Foot and mouth disease spread across the land at an alarming rate, and the government had to step in to get it under control.
Men in hazmat suits burned the corpses of over 6 million slaughtered animals throughout the countryside in a successful effort to stop the disease, and it also meant that horse racing had to stop for a time to help slow the spread.
Certain parts of the country were hit harder than others, but all racing was put on hold for a short time including the postponement of several big meetings, resulting in a total of 228 abandoned meetings for the year.
2020 – COVID-19 Outbreak
We all remember lockdown don’t we?
It wasn’t just horse races that were abandoned in 2020, pretty much every sporting event on the planet took a hiatus until the virus was under control; in fact, there was controversy in the UK when Cheltenham Festival was allowed to go ahead just before the lockdown rules came into effect.
Away from the rights and wrongs of what should and shouldn’t have happened though, the pandemic did eventually put paid to horse racing in the UK for a time, causing a total of 806 races to be abandoned that year.
When you consider that 10,000+ races were run the year previous in 2019, 806 abandoned races might not seem like that much of a big deal, but it is the highest number on record by far, with the previously discussed foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 being the closest.
Abandoned Racing Fixtures on the Decline?
We might have expected to see a long term trend here, for example the number of abandoned fixtures increasing or decreasing significantly over time to give us some idea of where things might be heading.
In fact, things are fairly stable.
While there has been a very gradual decline over time, the drop off from 1995 to 2022 (excluding 2001 and 2020) is only around 8 fixtures per year.
That’s across the whole time period, not each individual year, so you could say that if our average number of 70.88 abandoned fixtures were to reduce by 8 every 25 years, it would take around 221 years to reach zero abandoned fixtures.
Of course, this would never happen because there is no single factor causing the gradual decline, although some would say that global warming is one of them.
It would explain why there were fewer fixtures called off due to bad weather, but the change is not significant enough to be able to draw any real conclusions in this area.
It might well be completely random, and if we fast forward another 25 years and zoom out further to look at a larger sample size of 50 years worth of abandoned fixtures, we might find that trend line going gradually up instead of down.