How can you tell one racehorse from another?

How can you tell one racehorse from another? Of course, during a race, each horse carries its own, unique colours – the jockeys of horses in the same ownership wear distinguishing caps – so it is easy enough to tell one from another. However, for security purposes, it is important that a horse can be identified on its arrival at the racecourse stables. All horses, regardless of their date of birth, must nowadays be microchipped and the unique microchip number must be registered on the Central Equine Database (CED), which is maintained by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Telling one racehorse from another should therefore be as simple as scanning microchips on entry but, occasionally, a microchip cannot be read, so all horses must also, legally, have an identification document, or ‘passport’. Along with its unique microchip number, a horse’s passport also includes details of its colour and marking, such that it can be used to identify the horse, if need be. Horses racing for the first time may have their passports checked but, thereafter, identification by scanning the microchip is usually all that is required. Ultimately, if a horse cannot be identified, by one means or another, it cannot run in a race.

When do horses reach peak performance?

When do horses reach peak performance? The performance of a racehorse depends, in no small part, on the capacity of its blood to deliver oxygen to, and remove carbon dioxide from, its tissues. Consequently, it stands to reason that a mature racehorse, which has higher blood volume and, hence, higher oxygen-carrying capacity is capable of running faster than an immature horse. However, respiration is not the whole story; the age at which a horse reaches peak performance is also influenced by its pedigree, soundness, temperament and training regime, among many other factors.

Healthy horses have a natural lifespan of 25 years or more, on average, and do not stop growing until they are around five years old. However, Flat-bred horses typically begin their racing career as two-year-olds and those with breeding potential are often retired to stud at the end of their three-year-old campaigns. Thus, while they would typically reach peak performance between four and five years, if kept in training, they never have the chance to do so.

By contrast, many National Hunt-bred horses are robust, strong, late-maturing types, a.k.a. ‘store’ horses. Almost invariably, male horses are gelded, or castrated, and have no breeding value, so are allowed to mature before being put into training at the age of three, four or more. Such horse typically reach peak performance between seven and ten years, depending on the age they enter training and the discipline(s) in which they compete.

Where can I buy a racehorse?

Where can I buy a racehorse? Depending on your knowledge, experience and, not least, your budget, there are various means by which you can buy a racehorse, or at least a stake in one. Many racehorses are sold at public auction, either one organised by a bloodstock auctioneer, such as Goffs or Tattersalls, or one organised by racecourse authorities immediately following a selling race. If you want to avoid bidding and buy at a fixed price, other options include claiming a horse from a claiming race or buying one directly from a licensed breeder or trainer. Of course, if you are buying a racehorse, outright, for the first time, you should seek advice from a bloodstock agent, or similar professional.

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If you have a limited budget, but still want to enjoy the thrill of racehorse ownership, without viewing it as a money-making exercise, you might like to consider joining a racing club or syndicate, which allows you to buy a stake in one or more racehorses. Reputable syndicates, of which there are many, offer the combination of knowledge, expertise and network of contacts required to be successful. Indeed, they may offer the best chance of winning at a higher level without breaking the bank.

What is ‘schooling in public’?

What is 'schooling in public'? In horse racing parlance, ‘schooling’ is term used to describe the physical and mental preparation

of a horse to jump obstacles – that is, hurdles or fences, depending upon its chosen discipline – on the racecourse. Indeed, regular schooling at home is an integral part of the training regime of any hurdler or steeplechaser, whether to teach jumping skills in the first place, provide periodic reminders of what’s involved and/or to keep the horse sharp, fit and ready to do itself justice.

By contrast, schooling in public refers to the practice of educating, teaching or training horses to race over obstacles not on the gallops at home, but on the racecourse in a real, ‘live’ race. As such, schooling in public is heavily frowned upon, and regulated against, by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA).

The Rules of Racing state that every horse must be ridden to achieve in such a way as the ‘best possible placing’ and asked for a ‘timely, real or substantial effort’. Racecourse stewards will hold an inquiry into the running and riding of any horse suspected of being tenderly handled; typical penalties for schooling in public are a £3,000 fine for the trainer, a 14-day suspension for the jockey and a 40-day ban for the horse concerned.

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