For horseracing’s speed merchants, the QIPCO British Champions Series Sprint category comprises three races over the minimum distance of 5 furlongs (1,000 metres), the Betfred Temple Stakes (Haydock, 26 May 2012), King’s Stand Stakes (Royal Ascot, 19 June 2012) and Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes (York, 24 August), and four races over 6 furlongs (1,200 metres), the Diamond Jubilee Stakes (Royal Ascot, 23 June), Darley July Cup (Newmarket, 14 July), Betfred Sprint Cup (Haydock, 8 September) and the finale on QIPCO British Champions Day, the QIPCO British Champions Sprint Stakes (Ascot, 20 October).
All seven races are open to horses aged three years and up, with the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes also open to two-year-olds.
The Mile (1,600 metres) category starts with two races for three-year-olds only, the QIPCO 2000 Guineas (Newmarket, 5 May) and the St James’s Palace Stakes (Royal Ascot, 19 June), and two races for four-year-olds and older horses, the JLT Lockinge Stakes (Newbury, 19 May) and the Queen Anne Stakes (Royal Ascot, 19 June).
The last three races pitch the three-year-olds against their older rivals in the QIPCO Sussex Stakes (Goodwood, 1 August), the Shadwell Joel Stakes (Newmarket, 28 September) and the big one, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on QIPCO British Champions Day (Ascot, 20 October). With prize money of £1million, it is Europe's richest mile race.
With races ranging in distance from 1¼ miles (2,000 metres) to 1½ miles (2,400 metres), the QIPCO British Champions Series Middle Distance category is the most important of all, full of hugely valuable, iconic contests.
The Investec Coronation Cup (Epsom, 1 June, four-year-olds and up, 1½ miles) and the world famous Investec Derby (Epsom, 2 June, three-year-olds only, 1½ miles) are followed by the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (Royal Ascot, 20 June, four-year-olds and up, 1¼ miles).
Thereafter the age groups clash in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes (Sandown Park, 7 July, 1¼ miles), the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (sponsored by Betfair, Ascot, 21 July, 1½ miles), the Juddmonte International (York, 22 August, 1¼ miles) and Britain's richest ten furlong race, the £1.3m QIPCO Champion Stakes (1¼ miles), at Ascot on QIPCO British Champions Day (20 October).
In the QIPCO British Champions Series Long Distance category come the stamina-sapping races for horses that can stay the trip - the "stayers".
The Sportingbet Yorkshire Cup (York, 18 May) over 1¾ miles (2,800 metres) and leads on to the big one, the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot (21 June) over a mammoth 2½ miles (4,000 metres). Both these races are for four-year-olds and up, but the three-year-olds can take them on in the Artemis Goodwood Cup (2 August) over 2 miles (3,200 metres), the Weatherbys Insurance Lonsdale Cup (York, 23 August), also over 2 miles, and the Stobart Doncaster Cup (14 September) over 2¼ miles (3,600 metres).
The three-year-olds have their own race with the Ladbrokes St Leger (Doncaster, 15 September) over a distance just in excess of 1¾ miles (2,900 metres). Then it’s all about QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on 20 October and the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup over 2 miles (3,200 metres).
Fillies & Mares
The very best fillies (female horses up to the age of four) and mares (those aged five and above) may sometimes take on their physically stronger male counterparts at the top level of racing, but they also have their own Group 1 races over a mile and middle distances so that they can prove their ability against their own sex.
The QIPCO British Champions Series Fillies & Mares category starts with three races for three-year-olds only – the QIPCO 1000 Guineas (Newmarket, 6 May) over a mile (1,600 metres), the Investec Oaks (Epsom, 1 June) over 1½ miles (2,400 metres) and the Coronation Stakes (Royal Ascot, 22 June) over a mile.
The three-year-olds clash with the older fillies and mares in the four races that follow - the Etihad Airways Falmouth Stakes (Newmarket, 13 July) over a mile; the Markel Insurance Nassau Stakes (Goodwood, 4 August) over 1¼ miles (2,000 metres); the Darley Yorkshire Oaks (York, 23 August) over 1½ miles; and the finale on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on 20 October, the QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes, also over 1½ miles.