What’s the difference between a fence and a hurdle?

Anyone with even a passing interest in National Hunt racing probably knows that horses jump two types of obstacle, namely hurdles or fences. Hurdles are the smaller of the two and consist of a series of individual panels, made from small branches, or brush, which are driven into the ground, side-by-side, to create a ‘flight’ of hurdles stretching the full width of the racecourse. Height-wise, hurdles must measure a minimum of 3’6″ from top to bottom, but are angled forward, such that the top bar is 3’1″ above the ground. Hurdles are much less rigid than fences and may, indeed, be knocked flat during a race.

Steeplechases – that is, races run over fences – tend to slightly slower, more deliberate affairs than hurdle races, not least because of the height, and rigidity, of the obstacles involved. Fences come in three different ‘flavours’, namely plain fences, open ditches and water jumps. In each case, the upright portion of the fence consists of a rigid frame, made of steel or wood, which is filled mainly with birch, real or artificial, but also, possibly, with spruce and other approved materials in its lower portion. Water jumps need only stand 3′ high, but other fences must be a minimum of 4’ 6” in height, measured on the take-off side. One of the most fearsome fences on the Grand National course, The Chair, for example, measures 5’2″ high and is preceded by a 6′ wide ditch.

What happens if a horse refuses to race?

The phrase ‘under starter’s orders’ is well known in horse racing and describes the phase, just before the ‘off’ of a race, when horses are ready and waiting for imminent action. All that remains is for the racecourse official responsible for starting the race, that is, the starter, to open the starting stalls or release the elasticated tape stretched across the course to get the race underway. At this the stage of proceedings, it is no longer possible for horses to be officially withdrawn and declared non-runners, which has ramifications for bets placed on any horse that, for whatever reason, refuses to race.

If horse is withdrawn before coming under starter’s orders, stakes on that horse will be returned. The raceday stewards also have the power to delare a horse a non-runner if it is riderless at the time of the start or if it prevented from starting by, say, faulty starting starting stalls. However, if a horse refuses to leave the starting stalls, loses all chance because of the late removal of a blindfold, or simply fails to move muscle, it may be officially deemed a runner, such that all bets placed on it are losers.

Such decisions are always controversial and, when they occur, punters must rely on so-called ‘goodwill’ payments from bookmakers to recover their stake money. Although under no obligation to do so, some of the larger bookmaking firms will refund stakes on some, but not all, bets in cash or as free bet credits.

What does ‘pulled up’ mean?

In horse racing parlance, ‘pulled up’ simply means that, for whatever reason, during the course of a race, a horse was brought to a halt by its jockey, thereby taking no further part in the race in question. Horses being pulled up is a common occurrence in National Hunt racing, particularly in long-distance steeplechases – of which the Grand National is the prime example – but, although less frequent, is by no means unknown in Flat racing.

Denoted by a letter ‘P’ in the form figures on a typical racecard, ‘pulled up’ is really just convenient shorthand for the act of bringing a horse safely to a halt. Jockeys are true horsemen and women and, as such, know better than anyone that pulling or tugging on the reins may frighten a horse, rendering it oblivious to any further signals to stop; steady, even pressure on both reins is really all that is required.

Pulling up is a precautionary measure taken by jockeys in the event that as horse is distressed, injured or otherwise unable to continue to race safely. Of course, this could include a situation where the horse in question is outclassed and/or exhausted and, hence, so far behind its rivals that is has no earthly chance of being involved in the finish. In fact, such horses may risk injury if asked to continue racing. Likewise, tack malfunctions, such as a snapped girth, or slipping saddle, can render a horse dangerously unsteerable, so pulling up, if possible, may be the only safe option.

What are the different ways of owning a racehorse?

Owning a racehorse is one of those apparently risky, expensive activities that has spawned a family of jokes along the lines of, ‘How do you make small fortune…? Start out with a large one!’ Of course, some owners do make money from the ‘Sport of Kings’, but they are very much in the minority and, on the whole, racehorse ownership is better viewed as an enjoyable, exciting hobby than an investment opportunity.

Various different types of ownership exist, some of which are more affordable than others. Sole ownership, for example, offers the potential benefits of naming your horse, choosing your own racing colours and receiving all the owners’ prize money your horse wins. You must, of course, bear the initial purchase cost of your horse, alone, plus ongoing training costs and ‘extras’, such as farrier and veterinary bills, transport costs, entries fees and so on. Thus, the average cost of ownership can be anything up to £23,000, annually, according to the British Horseracing Authority (BHA).

For reasons of cost-effectiveness, many owners choose to band together with one or more like-minded individuals, not all of whom need, necessarily, to be officially registered owners, in a partnership, syndicate or racing club. The terms and conditions of a partnership are defined by the individuals concerned, but syndicates and racing clubs are administered by managers, who take care of their day-to-day running while member reap the benefits of owning, or leasing, one or more horses.

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