In Britain, horse racing stewards are officials appointed by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). They are a mixture of unpaid volunteers and paid, or ‘stipendiary’, stewards who, collectively, oversee the fair running of races, Flat and National Hunt, and enforce the Rules of Racing. A ‘stipend’ is a fixed, regularly-occurring payment, so ‘stipendiary’ is simply the term used to differentiate those stewards who are salaried employees of the BHA from those who are not. At any race meeting, there are typically two, or possibly three, stipendiary stewards – many of whom are former jockeys – on duty.
In the event of a potential breach of the rules, the stewards will call an enquiry, led by a stipendiary steward, to investigate any issues and determine a course of action, if necessary. Having reviewed the race in question and interviewed the jockeys concerned, the stewards have the power to promote, demote or disqualify horses and to hand down suspensions to jockeys guilty of riding infractions, such as ‘improper’ or ‘careless’ riding, which may not, necessarily, have affected the result of the race under scrutiny. They can also forward matters to the BHA Disciplinary Panel for further consideration.
All told, mainland Britain is home to 60 racecourses, five of which are in Scotland and three of which are in Wales. Of the 52 racecourses located in England, it should come as no great surprise that the largest conglomeration is found in Yorkshire which is, after all, the largest historic county in the country. Yorkshire has nine racecourses, six of which cater exclusively for Flat racing and three of which are dual purpose.
Starting in the extreme north of the county, Redcar, home of the Zetland Gold Cup, is a Flat-only venue, as are its North Yorkshire neighbours Ripon and Thirsk. Catterick, or Catterick Bridge, though, also stages National Hunt racing, including the North Yorkshire Grand National every January. Beverley, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, and Pontefract, in West Yorkshire, are also Flat-only venues, but Wetherby, also in West Yorkshire, has been dual-purpose since 2015. York, in the heart of the county, is a Grade One Flat track, famous for the Juddmonte International, Nunthorpe and Yorkshire Oaks while, further south, Doncaster is home to the oldest British Classic, the St. Leger.
Males horses typically undergo puberty or, in other words, attain sexual maturity at or beyond the age of 15 months. Adolescent horses learn quickly, so this is an ideal time for training. However, as testosterone levels in the blood, and sperm production, increase, adolescent colts often display mating behaviours, such as biting, kicking and rearing, and generally become distracted, unruly and difficult to train. Thus, once it is clear that they will not be used for breeding, many colts are gelded, or castrated, to improve their demeanour and work ethic.
Gelding is a common surgical procedure, which involves removing the testicles and epididymis, and can be performed under standing sedation, rather than general anaesthetic. Testosterone is produced in cells in the testicles and, in their absence, its level in the blood drops rapidly, resulting in abrupt behavioural changes.Testosterone is also a growth hormone, which stimulates muscle growth, so geldings may also benefit from physiological changes, such as more proportioned musculature, which can enhance their performance on the racecourse. In Britain, most male National Hunt horses are gelded but, on the Flat, geldings are prohibited from running in several prestigious Group One races, including the Derby.