Horse racing is often described as a ‘sport of kings’ and rightly so, but behind this glamorous façade lies an industry of injuries, drug abuse and, most horrifically of all, the slaughter of horses. These beautiful, intelligent animals are forced to sprint at speeds that can cause them serious injury and even death, whilst spectators sip mint juleps in the grandstand and cheer on their favourite runner.
While a horse race isn’t actually divided into leagues, races are generally separated into age and gender groups to create a competitive balance between runners. These groups are known as handicaps and are based on the official rating (or ‘handicap’) of each individual horse, which is determined following its previous performances. This means that, in theory, a horse with a lower rating should be able to win a race more easily than one with a higher rating, and therefore receives lower weight in the betting.
The white plastic rails that mark out the track on a racecourse. A horse running close to the rails is said to be ‘on the rails’ or ‘against the rails’. Running ‘on the rails’ can help a horse to keep a straight line in a race finish and is particularly important for a horse that has ‘grabbed the rails’, meaning that it has manoeuvred its way to a position very close to the inside rail.
A group of races which, together with Grade 1 events, make up the top tier of racing, both on the Flat and over jumps. The major championship races on the Flat such as the Derby and the Gold Cup at Cheltenham are both Group 1 races, while the leading National Hunt races in Britain are also Grade 1 races.
A surcharge collected from bookmakers, based on their turnover or gross profits, which goes towards prize-money, improvements to racecourses and other areas such as scientific research. This is collected by the Levy Board, which is responsible for all British horseracing.
The racecourse where a horse race is held. Most racecourses have grass courses but some have a concrete surface or are entirely indoors.
When a horse is being backed it is said to be ‘under wraps’, meaning that the bookmakers are not aware of its chances in the race and, consequently, it is a good bet to place. A horse that is under the radar and is not being backed is called an outsider.
The course followed by a horse and its rider during the running of a race. A horse that has a ‘good trip’ is described as having had a trouble-free race, while a ‘bad trip’ refers to an unusual difficulty encountered. This could include racing wide or being boxed in by other horses. A rider can only complete the race if they cross the finish line on their horse and, to do so, must follow every aspect of the prescribed course (including jumping any hurdles if there are any). The term also refers to how a horse is ridden, for example, ‘on the rails’ implies that the horse is running closely with the other runners.