Sometimes it’s good to be a beginner. The beginner’s mind has no fixed ideas to get in the way of understanding a subject…
In Horse Racing there are many tales of the rank beginner who trumps the expert and this should give you confidence as you start out to take part in this wonderful sport. Sport is too small a word for it actually. Racing is a sport, surely, and one at which Ireland excels; it is also a social occasion without equal and a very special ‘slice of Irish life’.
You will find, however, that a little knowledge is a useful thing. What does a good horse look like? What is the ‘going’? What is all this about weights and distance? What is a bumper? Do I wear a hat? Your enjoyment of racing will grow as you begin to know how it all works, as will your appreciation of the great traditions and skills which are part of Irish Racing.
Above all, relax and enjoy… Let yourself go!
A Day At The Races
There is no dress code in Irish racing so you can dress up or dress down, shirt and tie, slacks, old dress, new dress, hat or not, jeans and t-shirt, it doesn’t matter, just go. But if you are looking for a chance to show off that new outfit there are prizes for the best-dressed lady on selected race days. Before leaving home, (well it is Ireland!) it’s a good idea to check the weather forecast for the day because sometimes you will need to bring a coat or an umbrella. Pick up your daily paper which will have all the racing news and information you will need and remember, the internet is packed with racing sites. This site, www.goracing.ie will give you all the upcoming racecards and results, an intro to every Irish racecourse, breaking news and special offers.
The Origins Of Racing
The horses that compete in racing are members of the thoroughbred breed. Their origins can be traced back to 3 Arabian stallions that were imported into England in the early eighteenth century and were bred with native stock to produce a faster, stronger breed. So, all racehorses are in fact distantly related. Thoroughbreds are now to be found in all parts of the world and many of the best are bred in Ireland.
They compete in 2 different types of races:
These races are run over distances ranging from 5 furlongs (5/8 mile or 1000 metres) to 20 furlongs (2 1/2 miles or 4000 metres) and are started from stalls. As the name suggests, there are no obsticales in flat racing. The flat racing season runs from mid-March to mid-December. Flat horses mature quickly and start running as 2 or 3-year-olds. The Curragh in Co. Kildare has been the headquarters of flat racing in Ireland since the early 18th century and according to history the ancient Celtic Kings held racing there.
National Hunt or ‘Jump’ Racing
All jump races are contested over at least 2 miles and the horses have to jump a number of obstacles. This makes for spectacular viewing. These races are started from a tape barrier. Jump horses mature more slowly and don’t run until they are 4 or 5-year-olds. Jump racing goes on all year round but its main season runs from November until the end of April. Some flat horses also run in jump races when they get older.
Run over “fences” which vary in size. The word steeplechase was coined in County Cork in 1752. Two gambling men, Edmund Blake and Cornelius O’Callaghan wanted to settle a bet as to whose horse was faster. So they organised a race across country from the steeple of the church in Buttevant to that of St Mary’s in Doneraile. Hence the name, which is often shortened to “chase”.
Run over obstacles measuring about 3 feet 1 inch in height.
Point to Point
Run over fences on designated farmland throughout the country in the Spring and Autumn. This is basically the nursery for young jump horses and many champions have emerged from this circuit. Racing at its most rustic.
Types Of Races
For horses that haven’t won a race before.
All horses carry weights based on their ability which is assessed by the official handicapper. The highest rated horse carries the most weight and the one on the bottom carries the least. Theoretically they all have an equal chance of winning. A Nursery is a handicap for 2-year-olds only.
Hurdles and steeplechases for horses that haven’t won such a race prior to that season. However, a horse that has won over hurdles the season before can still run in a novice chase and vice versa.
A special flat race for young jump horses (also called National Hunt Flat Races). Between 2 and 2 1/2 miles. Usually confined to amateur jockeys.
Group 1, 2, 3
Valuable races (Group 1 being the most valuable) in which the weights carried are the same for all horses.
The 5 highest quality Group 1 flat races: Irish 2000 and 1000 Guineas, Derby, Oaks (confined to fillies), St Leger, all run at the Curragh. The winners of these are the crème de la crème of thoroughbreds. Frequently the winner of the Irish Derby is the best horse in Europe.
Just below Group standard but still quite prestigious, it is a ‘weight for age’ race.
A notch below listed standard; there are certain conditions for qualification, eg winner of one race or more, winner of races of a certain value etc.