What is a turf course? Everything you need to know

March 2nd, 2022

You’ve probably gathered that many horse races take place on grass. Others, it seems, take place on turf. Or are they one and the same?

Horse racing lingo can be confusing, so let’s clear up the definitions with a quick primer on turf courses and grass racing.

What is a turf course?

A turf course is simply a racing surface comprised of grass, as opposed to dirt or synthetic materials. The length of the blades (and the varieties planted) can vary from course to course, but the key ingredient is always grass. Racing writers often shake up their vocabularies and refer to turf as grass, lawn, sod, etc., but all the terms mean the same.

Turf racing is the primary racing surface for many major racing nations, including England, Ireland, and France. In the U.S., where dirt racing is supreme, turf courses are typically installed inside the primary dirt or synthetic ovals.

Since grass is a living and growing plant, turf racing can be seasonal. In New York, for example, turf racing isn’t conducted during the winter. And care must be taken to protect the turf course from damage; racing during wet weather, when the ground is soft, can cause horse hooves to dig divots in the course.

How does turf racing differ from dirt racing?

While individual races can obviously defy overall trends, turf races are generally regarded as kinder to late runners than dirt races. Many turf races unfold in slow early/fast late fashion, so the ability to accelerate strongly and run a fast final quarter-mile is important.

Saving ground is also considered pivotal over the typically tight-turning U.S. turf courses. Some jockeys shine when riding on grass, and the jockey stats provided by Brisnet Ultimate Past Performances can help point out jockeys who win at exceptionally strong rates (above 20%) on grass.

What are the ratings used to describe turf course conditions?

In North America, a standard turf course is labeled firm. But rain can change the condition of the course, prompting other descriptive labels to be assigned.

Hard (extremely firm), good (drying out), yielding (wet), and soft (very wet) are other turf course ratings you may come across. For more information, check out our introduction to track conditions.

Which North American racetracks have turf courses?

According to the 2021 American Racing Manual published by The Jockey Club, the following North American racetracks have turf courses installed:

  • Aqueduct: Features two turf courses; the outer course is one mile, while the inner course is seven furlongs.
  • Belmont Park: Two turf courses; the Widener Turf is 1 5/16 miles, while the inner turf is 1 3/16 miles.
  • Belterra Park: Seven-furlong turf course.
  • Canterbury Park: Seven-furlong turf course.
  • Churchill Downs: Matt Winn Turf Course measures seven furlongs.
  • Colonial Downs: Measures from 7 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/8 miles, depending on the position of the inner rail.
  • Delaware Park: Seven-furlong turf course.
  • Del Mar: Seven-furlong turf course.
  • Ellis Park: One-mile turf course.
  • Evangeline Downs: Seven-furlong turf course.
  • Fair Grounds: Seven-furlong turf course.
  • Fort Erie: Seven-furlong turf course.
  • Golden Gate Fields: Nine-tenths of a mile turf course.
  • Gulfstream Park: Seven-furlong turf course.
  • Hawthorne: Seven-furlong turf course.
  • Horseshoe Indianapolis: Seven-furlong turf course.
  • Keeneland: 7 1/2-furlong turf course.
  • Kentucky Downs: 1 5/16-mile, pear-shaped turf course is the only racing surface at Kentucky Downs.
  • Laurel Park: Seven-furlong and 254-foot turf course.
  • Lone Star Park: Seven-furlong turf course.
  • Louisiana Downs: Seven-furlong and 50-foot turf course.
  • Meadowlands: Seven-furlong turf course.
  • Monmouth Park: Seven-furlong turf course.
  • Mountaineer: Seven-furlong turf course.
  • Parx Racing: Seven-furlong turf course.
  • Penn National: Seven-furlong turf course.
  • Pimlico: Seven-furlong turf course.
  • Remington Park: Seven-furlong turf course.
  • Sam Houston Race Park: Seven-furlong turf course.
  • Santa Anita: Main turf course measures seven furlongs; secondary downhill turf course hooks up with the main course for a total distance of about 6 1/2 furlongs.
  • Santa Rosa: Seven-furlong turf course.
  • Saratoga: Two turf courses; the Mellon Turf is one mile and 98 feet, while the inner turf is seven furlongs and 304 feet.
  • Tampa Bay Downs: Seven-furlong turf course.
  • Turf Paradise: Seven-furlong turf course.
  • Woodbine: Two turf courses; the outer turf course is 1 1/2 miles, while the inner turf course is seven furlongs.

Advantages of betting turf races

In North America, turf races tend to attract large, competitive fields with many viable win contenders. As a result, turf races can represent excellent betting opportunities, trigging big payoffs for bettors who correctly decipher exotic wagers like the trifecta and superfecta.

So what are you waiting for? Pick a track from the list above and start handicapping turf races today!