It's Chock-full O' Drugs, followed closely by Stalker, with Old Levis fading fast!
—Commentator, The Simpsons
In which men (mostly) wear multi-coloured outfits and see how fast they can ride equines. Historically, the three Grade 1 races which comprise the Triple Crown of American Thoroughbred racing (the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes) are the totality of public knowledge about the sport.
A frequent complaint against American Thoroughbred racing is that accomplished horses are generally retired from racing early (usually after their third year) to breed with other horses that raced well, in hopes of creating even better racehorses. The reasons are complex but generally involve a bit of financial calculus, comparing the all-but-guaranteed profits to be had on a horse (especially a stallion) in the breeding shed versus the honor and glory to be gained (at risk) on the racetrack. The most famous horse of recent days to continue racing into his fourth year was Curlin, whose bankroll at the track (over ten million dollars) is the greatest ever earned.
Another critique is that American Thoroughbreds are excessively inbred. Several breeding lines are especially popular, particularly that of Northern Dancer, a Canadian champion who is the grandsire of the great Storm Cat, and Seattle Slew (the only horse to win the Triple Crown while undefeated), through his son A.P. Indy.
PETA hates this sport, claiming that the horses in question are too young to be competitively racing.
Thoroughbred racing is also popular in Australia, England and (increasingly) in Latin America and Dubai. English racing differs from American racing in several ways: the races are more likely to be on turf (grass); they tend to be longer, horses generally have longer racing careers, and fillies/mares are more often matched against males than they are in the U.S.
Other types of horse racing include the steeplechase (racing on a turf course with regularly-spaced jumps), Quarter-Horse racing (very short sprints for horses who maintain their best speed at distances of a quarter of a mile), and harness racing (Standardbred horses trotting or pacing while attached to sulkies: light vehicles in which the driver rides).
General Notes on Horses
- An entire (uncastrated) male horse 4 years of age and under is a colt; an entire male horse older than that is a stallion. An entire male horse used for breeding is commonly called a stud.
- A castrated male horse of any age is called a gelding. A male horse with one or both testicles undescended is a ridgeling. Ridgelings are often gelded before they enter training but not always: the famous stallion A.P. Indy is a ridgeling. Ridgelings can also be known as rigs.
- A female horse under 5 years of age is a filly; an older female is a mare.
- This system is apparently different from Australian classifications, where entire male horses of 3 years of age and under are colts, and female horses of 3 years of age or under are a filly.
- Thoroughbred horses in the Northern Hemisphere have a universal birthdate of January 1 in the year they were foaled. (In the Southern Hemisphere the date is June 1). Most horses are actually born between mid-January and early June.
- Thoroughbreds may begin racing in the late summer/early fall of their 2nd year.
- The average Thoroughbred is 16 hands high at the withers. A "hand" is a standard unit of measure for a horse and equals four inches; the withers are the highest point of the shoulder, just before the mane. Thoroughbreds tend to be light-boned and heavily muscled, and some say this is the result of a breeding program which has favored speed over durability and consequently created a fragile horse.
- Thoroughbred coat colors are bay (any shade of brown with a black mane and tail and black lower legs), dark bay/brown (very dark brown without much distinction of color between the main body and the darker points), chestnut (a range of shades from brown to red with no black at the points), and grey (a base body color that resembles black but shades increasingly to white as the horse ages). Black Thoroughbreds are uniformly black, though they tend to bleach faintly 'rusty' when exposed to sunlight. White Thoroughbreds exist but they are rare. More fancy colors (Palomino for example) exist but are both rare and less popular, since the assumption is that breeders are breeding for color and not speed.
- Though grey Thoroughbreds are listed as "grey/roan," it is genetically impossible for a Thoroughbred to be roan.
- The governing body for Thoroughbred registration is The Jockey Club. In order to be registered as a Thoroughbred, a horse's sire and dam must be registered Thoroughbreds.
- All Thoroughbreds can trace their line to three foundation stallions: The Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Barb, and the Byerley Turk.
- Thoroughbred bloodlines can be found in many of today's sport horse breeds, including the American Quarter Horse (the main breed used for Western riding) and Europe's warmbloods (used in showjumping, dressage, and eventing). Crossing Thoroughbreds with other breeds is also popular, to the point that Thoroughbred crosses may have their own name - for instance, a Thoroughbred/Quarter Horse cross is an Appendix Quarter Horse, and an Irish Draft/Thoroughbred cross is an Irish Sport Horse. Thoroughbred crosses are largely used in the English riding world, although Appendix horses have competed well in Western classes. In addition, many breed stud books allow registry of a horse if one parent is of the breed and one is a Thoroughbred, a testament to the impact Thoroughbreds have had on horse breeding.
General Notes on Types of Races
- Racing surfaces may be groomed dirt, grass (turf), or an artificial mixture of sand, wax, fibers, and other materal called "synthetic" or "all-weather".
- Synthetic surfaces run under various brand names (Pro-Ride, Tapeta, Polytrack, and others) and were originally designed to provide safer footing for horses. It is not yet known how effective they are.
- Racing surfaces are exposed to the effects of the weather. A dry but resilient dirt surface is called "fast" -- a damp track is "muddy" -- a very wet track with standing water over the surface is "sloppy." If a course is packed tight or excessively dry, it is "hard."
- Likewise on a turf course, the condition may be "firm," "soft," or "yielding."
- Some horses run better over a softer course than a firmer one; muddy track conditions also expose horses to having mud or water splashed into their faces from horses in front, which can startle them and put them off their game. Horses which prefer a wet dirt track to a dry one are called "mudders."
- Races are often grouped by age and sex. Races restricted to 2-year-olds are called "juvenile." Races restricted to females are "distaff." A race for three-year-olds of either sex is a "derby"; a race for three-year-old females is an "oaks".
- Very few races are restricted to males compared to those restricted to females.
- Races are also grouped by distance: A race shorter than a mile is a sprint. One and a quarter miles (the distance of the Kentucky Derby, among others) is a "classic distance." Races longer than that are sometimes called marathons and are relatively rare in American Thoroughbred racing.
- Races may be "flat" or over jumps.
- Races are organized by the track secretary and are grouped into general categories
- Maiden -- Entry is restricted to horses which have never won a race
- Allowance -- Entry is restricted to horses which meet certain categories (i.e. never won two races, California-bred, etc.)
- Stakes -- Entry is relatively unrestricted but owners must put up a "stake" - a significant starting fee - for the horse to enter
- Graded stakes - The highest level of competition. Stakes may be Grade I, II, or III (Group 1, 2, or 3 in English racing) with a corresponding increase in the amount 'staked' (and a corresponding increase in the prestige of winning or placing, as well as in the size of the purse)
- Special subtypes of races also exist
- Claiming - A horse entered in this race is ostensibly for sale, for an amount set in the race conditions. This equalizes the field, since an owner with an exceptionally good horse will not enter it against cheaper competition unless he or she genuinely wants the horse to change hands.
- Restricted - This race is open only to certain horses, generally those bred in a state other than Kentucky. Differ from allowance races in that restricted races may also be stakes.
- Invitational - This race is open only to horses which have been invited to participate. Generally these are high-level stakes races.
- Handicap - Each horse carries a varying amount of weight depending on age, gender, and past performance. Horses with a higher chance of success carry more weight.
- Weight-for-age - Horses of various ages may enter this race. Older horses will carry higher weights than younger.
- Match - a two-horse race, usually between celebrity horses to decide superiority (such as that between Seabiscuit and War Admiral). There have been no match races run between top-quality horses since 1975, when Ruffian suffered a fatal breakdown in a match race with Foolish Pleasure, which caused public sentiment to turn against match races.
- As a general rule, female horses entered into races against males will carry less weight (about ten pounds).
- The amount of weight carried by a Thoroughbred in a race ranges from 105-145 pounds. This includes the jockey, the saddle, and the jockey's equipment other than his/her helmet (which is typically well-padded and quite substantial). If the total is less than the horse's assigned weight, the horse will carry a special weighted blanket to make up the difference.
Important Races and Race Series
- The Kentucky Derby (1 1/4 miles)- "The Run for the Roses" or "The Fastest Two Minutes In Sports" - Churchill Downs, Kentucky - the first Saturday in May (the one everyone has heard of)
- The Preakness Stakes ( 1 3/8 miles) - Pimlico, Maryland - two weeks after the Derby
- The Belmont Stakes (1 1/2 miles) - Belmont Park, New York - three weeks after the Preakness
- These three races comprise the Triple Crown of American Thoroughbred racing. Only eleven horses have won all three - the last to do so was Affirmed in 1978.
- The Kentucky Oaks (1 1/8 miles) - Churchill Downs - the Friday before the Derby. Restricted to 3-year-old fillies.
- The Breeders Cup World Championships - late October/early November - location rotates
- Breeders Cup Classic (1 1/4 miles) - 3-years-old and up
- Breeders Cup Ladies Classic ( 1 1/8 miles) - 3-year-old females and up
- This race was formerly known as the Breeders Cup Distaff
- Breeders Cup Juvenile - 2-year-old males
- Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies - 2-year-old females
- Breeders Cup Sprint
- Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Sprint
- Breeders Cup Mile (1 mile, turf)
- Breeders Cup Dirt Mile (1 mile)
- Breeders Cup Turf
- Breeders Cup Marathon (1 1/2 miles)
- Jockey Club Gold Cup
- Travers Stakes
- The Grand National (4 1/2 miles)- 6-year-olds and up, early April. This is a very famous British jump race, covering no less than 30 jumps, resulting in the unseating of riders left, right and centre and killing a total of 58 horses over the 162 races so far.
- Epsom Derby (1 1/2 miles)- Britain's richest horse race
- Royal Ascot
- Perhaps best known for "Ladies' Day", a day in which ladies are pretty much required to wear a Nice Hat.
- Dubai World Cup
- Melbourne Cup - "The Race That Stops A Nation"
- The Canadian Triple Crown composed of the Queen's Plate, The Prince of Wales Stakes and the Breeders' Stakes.
Horse Racing Honors and Awards
- The Eclipse Awards, given in late January, honor horses which have excelled in particular categories. A horse which wins an Eclipse is a "champion."
- The highest honor is the "Horse of the Year" award. It is generally awarded to males, but some notable females (Busher, Azeri, Lady's Secret, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta) are on that roll. The incumbent Horse of the Year is Havre de Grace, another female.
- Awards are also bestowed to breeders, owners, trainers, and journalists who have made exceptional contributions to the sport.
- There is also a Hall of Fame for accomplished trainers, owners, and jockeys.
Horse Racing Statistics
- Highest earnings on the track: $10.5 million (Curlin)
- Longest winning streak since modern bookkeeping: 22 (Rapid Redux)
- Number of horses to win the Triple Crown: 11 (Sir Barton, 1919; Gallant Fox, 1930; Omaha, 1935; War Admiral, 1937; Whirlaway, 1941; Count Fleet, 1943; Assault, 1946; Citation, 1948; Secretariat, 1973; Seattle Slew, 1977; and Affirmed, 1978)
- Red Rum: 3 times Grand National winner, buried at Aintree racecourse.
- Shergar: Record length Epsom Derby winner (in 1981). Was famously horse-napped in 1983, possibly by the IRA and generally believed to have been killed. They Never Found the Body and "jokes" about him ending up as dog-meat kept comedy writers going for over a decade afterwards.
- Phar Lap: Australian racehorse with an exceptional record; was said to have been poisoned when he went to compete in the USA.
- Makybe Diva: 3 times Melbourne Cup winner, one of Australia's biggest local celebrities as a result. Her name is a combination of "Maureen, Kylie, Belinda, Diane, and Vanessa", five women employed by her owner, Tony Šantić.
- Man O' War: Considered by many (American) racing enthusiasts to be the greatest racehorse of all time, he ran twenty-one times over a two year period and only lost once...despite regularly carrying handicap weights that would cause PETA to go into epileptic seizures. For the record, although the horse that defeated him was named Upset, this is not where we get the term from; sports papers of the time made comments on how ironic the name was. He did not win the Kentucky Derby (and thus the Triple Crown, since he easily dominated the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes) simply because his owner felt that the first Saturday in May was too early in the year to run a 3 year old horse at considerable distance. In the one race he was allowed to go all out, his jockey looked back to see his opponent more than a quarter of a mile behind and reined him into a canter to cross the wire. He sired Triple Crown winner War Admiral and is the grandsire of Seabiscuit, and remains one of the most influential stallions in the history of the sport's pedigree (genetic lines).
- Seabiscuit: Depression-era horse known for winning against long odds and the subject of a recent movie; a small, funny-looking horse with crooked legs that consistently outran "better-looking" horses carrying 30 lbs less. Famous for defeating Triple Crown winner War Admiral (his uncle, incidentally) in the biggest match race in history.
- Secretariat: If you don't think Man O' War is the greatest racehorse of all time, chances are it's because you think the title belongs to Secretariat. By stallion Bold Ruler, out of Somethingroyal, and winner of the 1973 Triple Crown, he crushed the records of all three races, but is best known for his thirty-one length victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Most of his all-time world records still stand; in the Belmont, for instance, no other horse has come within one and a half seconds of equalling him. Coasting out from under the wire after winning the Belmont, he set a track record for the mile and five-eighths. As he was coasting out from under the wire. As in, he wasn't even trying. Is the subject of a 2010 movie, starring Diane Lane as his owner Penny Chenery and John Malkovich as trainer Lucien Laurin.
- Ruffian: Known as the "Filly of the Century," Ruffian was leading at every point of call in every race she ever ran, going undefeated. She was voted Eclipse Two-year-old and (posthumously) Three-year-old Filly of the Year and also swept the Filly Triple Crown. Her match race in 1975 with that year's Derby winner Foolish Pleasure was heralded as the "Battle of the Sexes" and more than 50,000 people turned out to watch them face off at Belmont Park. Partway through the race, both sesamoid bones in her right foreleg snapped, and though her jockey desperately tried to pull her up, she kept on running, compounding the damage. Although surgery was attempted, she was subsequently euthanized. She was buried near a flagpole of Belmont Park, the site of her first and last races, with her nose pointing towards the finish line.
- Charismatic: Was a relative unknown when he entered the Kentucky Derby, with his owner having dropped him to claiming races as a three-year-old. Went into the race at a longshot 31-1 odds and won, then went on to take the Preakness. Was considered a good contestant for the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown, now coming in at 2-1 odds as a favorite, but during the race faded, and came in third - but only due to the fact that his leg had snapped in two places. And still took third. A Crowning Moment of Awesome goes to his jockey for jumping off and holding his leg up to avoid him damaging it further, which probably saved his life.
- Zenyatta: Didn't start racing until late in her three-year old year, but has more than made up for it by going nineteen for nineteen in all her starts, including victories in the Lady's Secret Stakes (which she won three times, and which have subsequently been renamed after her), the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic in 2008 and the Breeders' Cup Classic in 2009 (the first female to win the latter). She has a habit of running at the back of the field until the home stretch, at which point she turns on the gas, going wide down the straightaway and flying past the rest of the field with ears pricked and tail streaming like a banner. She won 2009 Older Female Horse of the Year and returned for the track for the 2010 season. Her last race before retirement was the 2010 Breeder's Cup Classic. She suffered her first and only defeat in a photo finish, losing by a head to Blame after rallying from last place. In a beautiful bit of irony, she won 2010 Horse of the Year honors over Blame - the only horse to defeat her on the track.
- Barbaro: Won the 2006 Kentucky Derby by six lengths, and was the first serious Triple Crown contender since Funny Cide. Became a national sensation when he broke down out of the gate during the Preakness. Was eventually euthanized due to complications from laminitis, and mourned by much of the horse world.
- Rachel Alexandra: The other super-filly of the 21st century, Rachel Alexandra, undefeated since Calvin Borel began jockeying her, pulverised the competition at the Kentucky Oaks in 2009. Two weeks later she beat Derby winner Mine That Bird in the Preakness, and incidentally became the first filly in eighty-five years to win it. She's known for winning by margins so big her dust has settled by the time the rest of the field crosses the wire and for coming within milliseconds of equalling or beating many of today's standing track and race records, including those set by Secretariat. She's not called "super-filly" for nothing. Borel, her regular jockey and two-time Derby winner (Street Sense '07 and Mine That Bird '09), has repeatedly called her "the greatest horse I have ever ridden in my life." She won 2009 Eclipse Horse of the Year as well as Champion 3-Year-Old Filly. On her return to the track in 2010 she had limited success but was unable to duplicate her 2009 form and was retired.
- Eight Belles: A dark grey filly, she was nominated for Eclipse Champion Three-Year-Old Filly until her fatal breakdown on the track. She was euthanized at Churchill Downs after fracturing both her fetlock joints in the 134th Kentucky Derby; she went down seconds after her second-place finish to that year's winner Big Brown. Her breakdown - and in particular its proximity to Barbaro's fatal breakdown in the Preakness just two years earlier - has raised new questions about the fragility of the top racing Thoroughbred lines. She's now buried at Churchill Downs, with her nose pointed towards the finish line.
- who pulverized every relevant race and track record in the process
- now known as the Triple Tiara, it does not consist of the distaff races of the Triple Crown, but instead the Acorn Stakes, the Mother Goose Stakes, and the American Oaks