An introduction to the sport of Horse Racing
A beginner’s guide to some basic aspects of horse racing. Common terms, racing categories, and more explained for the horse-illiterate.
Let’s face it: the world of horses and horse racing can be confusing sometimes. Very confusing. Horse people are a special species unto themselves, and can sometimes sound to the casual listener as though they are speaking a different language entirely. For someone new to the world, using a word in the wrong way can lead to an embarrassing predicament. It takes time to learn, and there may be stumbles aplenty on the road, but the journey is well with it. For those readers who want to walk that road, keep reading for a beginner’s guide to this wonderful world.
So, where to begin?
For today, let’s focus on the world of modern Thoroughbred racing. The history lesson can wait, for now.
Modern Thoroughbred racing has two major categories: steeplechasing, and flat racing. Steeplechasing is arguably the more dangerous of the two, as it involves horses racing over fences arranged on a racetrack. These fences typically are made of brush, but depending on the racecourse can also be made of other materials. One of the most famous steeplechases is the Grand National, run annually at Aintree racecourse in England. As for flat racing, just remove the jumps.
Now, flat racing can be broken down further. Flat races are run at a number of distances, over a few different surfaces, at several different levels. Confused yet?
First, the different levels. Claiming races are the bottom level, in which qualified individuals can purchase the horses running, for a set price – generally speaking, the same price applies to all the horses in the race. Allowance races are the next level up, and are often a testing ground for horses just starting out. Next are the big leagues, the stakes races, which are themselves broken into levels. Non-graded stakes races are a step above allowance races; graded stakes races are the crème de la crème. Grade three is the lowest level of graded stakes races, grade two is mid-level, and grade one races are the highest level.
Now, all of these levels are run on different surfaces: dirt, synthetic, or turf. Horses often have a preference for one type of surface over the other, though synthetic and dirt surfaces are the most similar and a horse who prefers dirt is often also comfortable on synthetic. Running on turf, aka grass, is not for every horse. But it goes vice-versa, as well. Sometimes a horse will thrive running on turf after only being a mediocre racehorse on dirt. It just depends on the horse’s personal preference.
Next, we come to the different distances at which races are run. It should be noted that the term “furlong” is a distance measurement equivalent to one-eighth of a mile. Races are typically run at distances ranging from five furlongs to twelve furlongs, or 5/8 of a mile to 1 ½ miles. Races are run at longer distances, but in the United States those are rare. Just like human competitive runners, horses may prefer some distances over others, and it may take some time to figure where a particular horse’s strengths lie.
Finally, a few terms, explained.
Sire: the father of a horse. Also, when it is said that a horse is by so-and-so, that means that so-and-so is the father, or sire, of that horse.
Dam: the mother of a horse. For the dam’s side, it is referred to as a horse being out of so-and-so.
Colt: a male horse who has not yet reached maturity; a male horse is referred to as a colt up to and including the age of four.
Stallion: an uncastrated male horse aged five and up.
Gelding: a castrated male horse, regardless of age.
Ridgling: a male horse with one or more undescended testicles, or when one testicle has been incompletely castrated.
Filly: a female horse up to and including the age of four.
Mare: a female horse aged five and up.
Hope that helps to clear up the muddle a little. Welcome to the world of horse racing.