The science behind racing success

Racing, considered as the ‘Sport of Kings,’ is a captivating fusion of art and science. It’s a realm where powerful thoroughbreds gallop to victory, spurred on by the dreams of their owners, trainers, and countless fans. But behind the raw power, the striking elegance, and the rousing cheers lie intricate systems and multifaceted intricacies governing a horse’s performance on the racetrack.

The role of genetics in determining racing potential

It’s often said that champions are born, not made. In the context of horse racing, this adage finds a strong foothold in the realm of genetics. A horse’s genetic makeup can significantly influence its natural predisposition towards speed, stamina, and competitive spirit. The simple reason that Coolmore, Godolphin and Juddmonte win so many of the Pattern races across the world Flat calendar has as much to do with their colonisation of the best bloodlines as with any inferred genius in training or riding.

Historically, certain bloodlines have earned illustrious reputations for producing racing prodigies. Take the example of the legendary ‘Northern Dancer.’ His descendants have dominated racetracks globally, making his lineage one of the most coveted. But why this fixation? Studies have indicated distinct genetic markers linked with elite racing performance. Thus, when breeders spot these markers in pedigree lines, they see potential champions. Northern Dancer’s progeny have consistently turned out to be champion sires in their own right, and the same is the case over Jumps, but without the dominance of one bloodline.

There are glorious exceptions however. Red Rum, bred to be a sprinter, turned out to have stamina in abundance, and a particular leaning toward Aintree’s out-of-the-ordinary fences. Sometimes, it’s as well to remember that horses can make fools of us all.

While genetics offers a glimpse into a horse’s latent potential, realizing that potential is a whole different ball game. And here, training gallops into the spotlight.

Training regimes and routines: crafting a champion

Every horse, regardless of its breeding, is unique. Any trainer blurb will tell you how each animal’s needs are treated on a one-to-one basis. This individuality demands tailored training approaches. Think of training as sculpting a block of marble into a masterpiece. The raw material is vital, but the sculptor’s skill and approach breathe life into the stone.

There exists a multitude of training techniques, ranging from interval training to steady cantering. Some trainers focus on building a horse’s stamina by subjecting them to long, slow workouts. In contrast, others might emphasize short, explosive drills to hone their speed. Some horses take no training at all; others are stuffy in the wind, and require plenty of work.

But training isn’t merely about physical conditioning. Renowned trainers, with their vast reservoirs of experience, often emphasize the psychological aspect. They work tirelessly to cultivate a winning mindset in their charges, teaching them to respond to jockey cues, handle the pressure of race day, and navigate crowded fields. The rapport between a horse and its trainer is an intangible yet crucial element, bridging the gap between innate potential and racing prowess.

Take Harchibald, winner of 10 races from his 31 runs over the smaller obstacles for Noel Meade. He is what’s known in the trade as a “thinker”, code for a horse that needs to be kidded to put his best foot forward at the right time. In supreme stylish and arch-tactician Paul Carberry, he found a like-minded soul ready to hold him up until the last possible moment before launching his run, meaning he generally won by a small margin and on the line only. Not a bet for thee faint-hearted.

Training then. is not just about physical fitness, but mental awareness too.

The modern day racing scene

Times have changed, and so has horse racing. Today’s racetracks are witnessing an exciting convergence of age-old traditions and cutting-edge innovations. Advanced technologies monitor a horse’s vitals in real-time, specialized diets fine-tuned to individual needs enhance performance, and data analytics predict optimal training routines. This was all considered black magic when the likes of Michael Dickinson and Martin Pipe introduced it in the late eighties and nineties, but their processes have become mainstream.

Horses are weighed regularly; diet is scrutinized like never before. No longer do you hear much about eggs and Guinness being added to horses’ diets like with Arkle and others of his era, as nutrition has moved well beyond the stableman’s knowhow. Swimming is more often than not an integral part of training, to ease stress on joints.

But, amidst this scientific precision, the heart of horse racing still beats with unpredictability. No matter how much we advance, the race’s outcome remains a thrilling enigma until the very last second. This blend of precision and unpredictability is what makes betting on racing a thrilling endeavour for many enthusiasts, whether you’re a stato anxious to know what rail movements have added in distance to a race, or whether you’re an occasional punter seeking an instant fillip.

However, the unpredictability is not a detraction; rather, it’s a proof of the myriad factors influencing a race. While understanding the underlying science can offer enthusiasts a perceived edge, the unpredictable heartbeats, individual choices, and split-second decisions remind us that there’s always more to learn, observe, and admire in this magnificent sport. As the horses thunder down the track, every stride they take is a product of generations of breeding, months of tailored training, and the passionate spirits guiding them. Yet, there’s always room for that surprise burst of speed or unforeseen riding error that turns predictions on their heads.

However you love it, the sport is captivating every time.

Dress to impress at the races: a duffer’s guide

A day at the races should be an excuse to dress up as much as possible. However, there are some refinements that are needed to make you stand out in the right way. Dress codes at the races are a subject of continuing discussion among British racegoers at any rate. Among UK racegoers, racecourses rarely stand on ceremony nowadays; you might get turned away in swimmers and flip-flops, but just about everything else goes. By contrast, in Australia, dressing up is par for the course, and spectators of both genders jump at the chance to get dolled up. Fashions in the Field competitions are legion.

But in one sense this is simple. You should be wearing boots and breeches, a helmet, some silks, etc.

Then again, you’re not a jockey, are you? If you’re not intending to jump on board a horse, that’s not the tip you’ll be looking for. If you’re looking to enjoy the comfortable facilities at Stratford, including its bars and restaurants while you watch the races, you’re going to need some guidance on how best to dress to impress. A day at the races is no ordinary day out. It’s an excuse to dress up. However, there are some refinements that are needed to make you stand out in the right way. Take a look at our guide to what to wear when visiting Stratford Racecourse, or for that matter any other racecourse around the Midlands.

Some basic rules

A day at the races is considered an occasion, so take a wander through the “Occasion” section of your favourite clothing brands. But remember, there are occasions and Occasions. Stratford is not Ascot, and Cheltenham in October is not Cheltenham in March. If you’re in doubt as to the status of the meeting you’re headed for, take some advice beforehand.

We’re talking dresses and suits, but not necessarily formal. This is because a day at the races, the big events anyway, tend to be held in the summer, with the glorious exceptions of the Cheltenham Festival and Aintree Ladies Day, both exceptions to the rule. You’re going to be outside watching the racing, making your UK bet, weather permitting, so summer colours, shoes, and patterns are all expected.

For men

You might think this answer is simple too: wear a suit. But since when is life simple? Men might be more limited in their options than women but they have to nail it, or you’ll see the mistake and credibility goes out of the window. Make sure your suit is tailored and fits well. It was no coincidence after all that stylish but now sadly defunct Jermyn Street shirtmaker Thomas Pink became involved in the sport 20 years ago.

However, wearing a suit means you can experiment with it. There is fabric, colour and accessories to think about. You can take things up a notch with a three-piece suit to really look like you belong and play with prints and colours. Tweed is a regular at the racecourse, to the point that the barmen know its drink, but there are lots of options within that. Accessories on March 17 is code for a spring of shamrock for example.

Just remember the rules of seasonal wear: pastels for summer and spring, brights for winter, and warm tones for autumn.

Remember the golden rules: no outlandish or clashing patterns, no clashing socks, and no tuxedo. It’s an outdoor summer event that doesn’t call for a heavy dinner jacket.

There are also some unspoken rules re headwear: no Panama before Ascot, although global warming may have tempered the rigidity of this particular no-no. Time was when wearing a hat was obligatoire. Now men are more likely to be seen bare-headed or with a Peaky Blinders baggy tweed cap rather than a trilby.

For women

Women have a lot more options in general when it comes to fashion. For example, one big decision you will face is whether to wear a dress or not. Maybe you’re more comfortable in trousers. There’s nothing wrong with that. A nice pair of summer wide-leg trousers would be a smart option and can still be very bright for the occasion. Plus, a simple white or black t-shirt or shirt will really pop the colour of your trousers and leave you feeling comfy. Additionally, you can look rather daring in a jumpsuit at the races. Somewhere between trousers and dresses, this one piece will allow you to look done up without keeping a hold of your skirt the entire day.

Best Dressed Couple at Stratford. 23/7/2023 Pic Steve Davies

The winter brigade have adopted tweed in a big way for ladies fashions. It’s no coincidence that Holland Cooper and Dubarry have become such enduring brands around Cheltenham. There’s tweed and leather everywhere, from your dog’s over-blanket to the garters of your socks and everything in between.

The real fun here is in the accessories. What is a day at the races without an outlandish hat? If you don’t want to go too big, you can look into a simpler headpiece on a headband. However, it’s a day at the races: we’re not going to stop you from going as big and bold as possible, and hang what the folks behind you in the stands think; they can always move to somewhere with a better view!


All that to be said, a day at the races is like anything else: wear what you feel comfortable in. If you want to dress up, dress up. If you fancy a T-shirt and jeans, no one is going to have a problem with it. If they do have a problem with it, they need another drink.

Steel Wave rolls back the years

The late summer heatwave made shirtsleeve order an easy decision for the acting stewards at Stratford’s Saturday fixture, but many trainers had already made a decision to wait for another day as temperatures hovered around 30 degrees Celcius. Just 29 runners filled the six races despite well watered ground, although one could hardly express surprise in the circumstances.

Stratford. 9/9/2023 Pic Steve Davies

Thirteen year old Steel Wave has grown to like Stratford this season, notching up his third course victory in the Keogh & Howes Handicap Chase under regular pilot Tabitha Worsley. That also makes 8 wins for trainer Gary Hanmer since taking over the horse from the Closutton giant W P Mullins back in November 2018. It was age before beauty in this 2m 6f handicap and Worsley made every one of his four years on his oldest rival count. making the running and setting the pace from the 11th onward. One might even say he won a little handily, more than the official 1 1/4l over O’Faolains Lad would indicate.

Steel Wave wins at Stratford. 9/9/2023 Pic Steve Davies

Gavin Sheehan and Jamie Snowden enjoyed a back-to-back double in the centre of the card with Donnie Azoff in the novices hurdle and Guinness Affair in the Genair Novices Handicap Chase. Only 4 faced the starter in the latter race, and they all remained in contention turning in, but it was Guinness Affair who proved the most tenacious, holding out over Glory And Honour to justify his 11/10 starting price. Winner of his last four chases around the smaller venues, he is bound for a hike in class, to races like the Rising Stars at Wincanton, having learnt his trade well in less exalted company.

Guinness Affair [right] wins at Stratford. 9/9/2023 Pic Steve Davies

Sheehan rode a well-judged race in the preceding Gordon Field Star Shines Brightly Novices Hurdle over the minimum trip, in which a field of just three lined up. Red hot favourite All The Glory could have been expected to wrap this up, but Sheehan made all and wasn’t for stopping when it might have been expected he would curl up. Instead, despite a resolute sprint after the last Jonjo junior couldn’t conjure enough extra speed from his mount to reel in the winner, who still had 1/2l in hand at the line.

North Yorkshire trainer Ollie Pears has but sparing runners over obstacles, but Max of Stars wasn’t to know that when Brian Hughes jumped him out of the gate. It’s unlikely he ever saw another horse, making all and drawing steadily clear in the Lee Pollard 60th Birthday Handicap Hurdle over 2 miles. With champion Brian Hughes in the plate, the horse was well supported at 6/4.

Selling races are as rare as hen’s teeth nowadays, and horses sold from the ring after even rarer. Yet Stratford’s theatre produced both in the 11l victory of 6 year old Elham Valley from Fergal O’Brien’s Ravenswell stable under Liam Harrison. The best horse on paper as well as in reality, he attracted interest in the ring and was knocked down to a Mr Cornwall for £8,000.

The day ended as it had begun, in bright sunshine, and with a small field lining up for the Bumper. It proved an easy contest to win for Antrim-based Gerald Stephen Quinn, whose 5 year old Aughafatten never looked troubled under Darren McGill to follow up on his maiden bumper win at Perth last month.

Pauling & Woods light up an apology for a summer evening

Ben Pauling and Kielan Woods stole the honours at Stratford’s last evening fixture of the summer when teaming up for a double that included the feature handicap chase on a damp day which gave the lie to a description of summer evening racing.

It was Queen to Rook 4 as Chess Player comprehensively outpointed his field to land a comfortable 21l victory over nearest pursuers Blaze A Trail and Arcade Attraction, both previous winners at Stratford this or last term. Taking up the lead before the last, Woods was able to put distance between him and Blaze A Trail without undue effort. In this class, he’ll be worth following even with a penalty.

Ben Pauling and Kielan Woods after completing a Stratford double. 31/8/2023 Pic Steve Davies

In the concluding bumper, there was plenty to like about the way Betty’s Tiara stuck to her task, showing great gameness on debut to win by half a length. Second-placed Baskerville is also one to follow; she jumped the course crossing a furlong out without any great break to her rhythm, but it’s doubtful she would have beaten the winner. One of the last of a Kayf Tara generation, Betty’s Tiara relished the staying effort. It’ll be worth following both horses in their next races.

Fresh from a treble at Worcester to round off August and a winner at far-flung Cartmel, Gavin Sheehan was at his best to roust Bucko’s Boy to reel in long-time leader Thirtyfourstitches from Dr Richard Newland’s yard in the feature Tom & Nicola Allen Wedding Day Handicap Hurdle. Seeking a run up the inner, the gap closed at the last and Sheehan produced Bucko’s Boy on the outer to get past the leader and win his second on the bounce after a victory at Bangor at the start of the month. Jamie Snowden’s horses are coming to hand with a brace of wins in the past week, this his ninth of the term to date.

Bucko’s Boy and Gavin Sheehan [left] jump the last behind Thirtyninestitches before winning at Stratford. 31/8/2023 Pic Steve Davies

The least showy races can provide the greatest excitement, and this point was well illustrated by the finish to the fifth race, the City Sign & Graphics Handicap Chase, in which a selection of horses without wins to their name in 18 months or more lined up. Yet it provided a gripper of a race, with maiden Famosa finally breaking his duck at the seventeenth attempt.

It is the lot of smaller trainers to find and train horses that find it harder to win. Matt Sheppard manages this task with alacrity, but even he had some explaining to do to show the apparent improvement in form of Famosa. This was no well-orchestrated coup however; Richard Patrick put up 4lb overweight and the horse drifted in the market beforehand. It was a result to secure a win by a narrow neck margin.

Famoso and Richard Patrick are joint second over the last behind Tikkinthebox before victory at Stratford. 31/8/2023 Pic Steve Davies

Donald McCain will be a key player if Brian Hughes is to reel in Sean Bowen in the pursuit of the Jockeys’ title, and the two paired up together to maintain their excellent Stratford record in the novices’ handicap chase with Latino Fling.

Turning in, July winner here Gold Link looked set to gobble up the McCain horse for Emma Lavelle and Tom Bellamy, but Latino Fling on her chase debut showed excellent resolve under a string ride from Hughes to maintain a 3/4l margin at the line.

Another with pretensions to the Jockeys’ title is Harry Cobden, whose portfolio of supporting trainers is extending all the time. In these summer months when the Nicholls team fields barely a runner, he has clocked up 37 winners for 40 separate trainers. Trainers like Brian Ellison will always be happy to have a rider of Cobden’s calibre on board, and both he and second-placed Sam Twiston-Davies were seen at their best in the opening maiden, when Cobden just prevailed on Irish pointer Dream Jet, dropped down in class for a winning hurdle debut in the UK follwoing a mid-division placing at Market Rasen in July.

It was Ellison’s day too, this being the second winner with 10 minutes after Oscar Doodle justified favouritism at Chelmsford a few minutes earlier.

Obituary: Jonathan Sheppard, icon of US steeplechase scene

One of the greats of the US steeplechasing scene, Jonathan Sheppard, has died, aged 82 at his home in Pennsylvania.

For racing fans of a certain generation, Sheppard was a pioneer of international travel when bringing Flatterer over to run in the 1986 French Champion Hurdle, a precursor to a valiant second to See You Then in the third of that horse’s Champion hat-tricks in 1987. At that juncture, the Breeders Cup didn’t even exist, and international travel, excepting between Britain and Ireland, and the continent, was largely non-existent.

Flatterer’s placed effort was the trigger to an effort to bring the US and UK markets closer together, brought about by the creation of the Sport of Kings Challenge, a set of six races – three on each side of the Pond – with handsome bonuses of up to $1m for winning a full set. Predictably, Sheppard was in the vanguard of the first US entries in the series, at Cheltenham, and Leopardstown. 

Commonly known just as “Jonathan”, the elder statesman of US racing, was born in Ashwell, Hertfordshire, between Letchworth and Royston, in 1940 to a horsey family which encouraged his participation in local Point-to-Points. His father Daniel was an official with the Jockey Club, then the power in the sport covering regulation, finance, fixtures, the lot. Rides under Rules were scarce and limited.

There was no inevitability about a son following his father into the sport. Three other siblings avoided the racing bug, but Jonathan opted to try his hand in the land of opportunity, not having the finance to bankroll a start up training operation in the UK. In the early sixties, he worked with other legend Burly Cocks for two seasons before returning briefly to the UK. 

A lucky break was the making of his career with steeplechasers. In 1965, he met George Strawbridge Jnr, an accomplished and wealthy amateur rider, and heir to the Campbell Soup fortune.  The two set about growing a stable not just of National Hunt horses, but Flat too. Strawbridge was leading owner some 23 times from 1974 onward, a domination only really matched by one J P McManus over here. 

The Sheppard stable became both the go-to and the dominant force in the sport stateside. His 1,242 career wins over obstacles, winning over $25m, set records unlikely to be overtaken in our lifetimes, and he was Champion Trainer 26 times, the last just three years ago.

But whilst to most, Sheppard was considered an icon of the National Hunt world, his 2,184 victories on the Flat dwarfed his Jumping achievements, his horses winning some $60m+.

Like many good trainers of horses, Sheppard attracted the best human talent too. Those that worked with him have gone on to great success; just like the Duke and Reg Hollinshead, he was a nurturer of talent both equine and human. Graham Motion, who led up Flatterer in that epic Champion Hurdle adventure in ’87, is now a highly successful Flat trainer in the States winning the Kentucky Derby in 2011 and Dubai World Cup 2 years later, whilst Janet Elliott became champion Jumps trainer in ’91. More recently, Leslie Young and Keri Brion, who brought horses across to Ireland with a view to the Festival, have shown Sheppard’s knowledge continued to flow even after his retirement.

The Jumps world is a sadder place without his diplomatic approach, hard work and understated expertise: another case of Britain exporting its best talent overseas.

Three to savour this Jumps Season

The 2023/24 National Hunt season is in full swing now, as regular visitors to Stratford Racecourse will know. The major stables will be planning to send their best horses out for their seasonal reappearances in either October or November.

Here is a look at three horses that should be set for big campaigns, particularly during the major meetings on the National Hunt calendar.

Corach Rambler

Scottish-based chaser Corach Rambler ended last season with victory in the world’s most famous steeplechase, the Grand National. Lucinda Russell’s horse is the 16/1 favourite in the horse racing odds for the race in 2024. Should he prevail again in Liverpool, he will join a small club of horses that have retained their crown in the race, the most recent of which is Tiger Roll.

As the horse racing results show, it was a fantastic season for the nine-year-old in the 2022/23 campaign as he also won at the Cheltenham Festival in the Ultima Handicap Chase. He stayed on powerfully up the hill at Prestbury Park in the 3m1f contest, which has become a well recognized prep race for Aintree in recent years.

The nine-year-old now has an official rating of 159, which indicates he could be a strong contender for the King George VI Chase and arguably even the Cheltenham Gold Cup before heading to Aintree in April. Only one horse, however, has won both races in the same season – Golden Miller, in 1934.

Constitution Hill

With seven wins from seven starts under rules, Constitution Hill has yet to suffer defeat. He won the biggest race of his career so far when he landed the Champion Hurdle at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival.

The bad news for Constitution Hill’s rivals is that he may not have stopped improving yet. Nicky Henderson’s hurdler has a lot of options over the next few years. He could stay over hurdles and dominate the 2m division, while connections of the star must also be considering whether to switch to fences, which will offer a fresh and equally exciting challenge.

The six-time Grade I winner showed how versatile he was over 2m and 2m4f at the back end of last season. He is going to be an exciting horse to watch wherever he turns up in the latest campaign.

El Fabiolo

This Irish chaser was one of the last season’s leading novices in the UK and Ireland. He won the Arkle Chase back in March, his fourth victory over fences. The six-year-old is set to step out of novice company this year and he will take on the leading 2m chasers in his division.

Willie Mullins is never afraid to bring his best horses across to the UK, as witnessed by his plundering the Ebor at York only this week, so it would be no surprise to see him line up in some of the Grade I races like the Tingle Creek Chase and Desert Orchid Chase.

The primary target for the unbeaten chaser will be the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the 2024 Cheltenham Festival. He will be bidding to give his trainer a third success in three years in the day two feature at the meeting, pitching up against Energumene, winner of the last two renewals, and hailing from the same Closutton yard. Looks like the dominance of W. Mullins isn’t going to disappear any time soon.

With fixtures at Stratford on until the November 2nd in 2023, we may see some of the leading candidates in Jump racing make their return to action here before the end of our season.

Lavelle’s little star lights up Stratford

Hang In There franked the form from last month’s Summer Plate at Market Rasen when landing yesterday’s feature, the 2m3f Brian and Sheila Vaughan Memorial Handicap Chase by 3/4l under Joe Anderson. The winner of the Rasen summer highlight, Born Famous, and second, Courtland, have both won since.

And Hang In There is no stranger to Stratford success either, where good ground conditions suit his action well. He’s clearly a well-balanced horse to be able to travel around Stratford’s sharp circuit as easily as around galloping tracks like Cheltenham and Exeter. This was his third win in Warwickshire for owners Tim Syder and Andrew Gemmell, and trainer Emma Lavelle is so clearly proud of her charge.

She told the Racing Post, “He’s been such a little star for us. He was tough and really galloped hard all the way through. I was delighted for Joe, who rides him every day at home, and gave him a super ride there.”

But the day on balance belonged to Christian Williams and Nick Schofield, who teamed up for a back-to-back double in the longer distance handicap chase and handicap hurdle. Five year old Up For Appeal has been hiding his light under a bushel till now, but won handsomely and going away in the second division of the National Racehorse Week September 9-17th Handicap hurdle after briefly losing the lead after the last.

Twelve runners faced the starter in the Walls & Ceilings International Handicap Chase over 3m3f, and the Schofield-ridden Call of the Loon was always well in touch, taking it up before the last and maintaining his advantage by 2l at the line over O’Faolains Lad for Richenda Ford and Ritchie McLernon, and so repeating his exploits in the corresponding race of 2022.

Call Of The Loon wins at Stratford. 24/8/2023 Pic Steve Davies

Williams is another example of the South Wales hub that keeps on producing top flight handlers and trainers, that includes Peter Bowen, Rebecca Curtis, John Flint and Sam Thomas.

The day started in something of an anticlimax with a four runner field for the Walls & Ceilings International Novices Handicap Chase over 2m1f. 6/4 Favourite First Angel knows no other status since joining Martin Keighley in the Spring; he’s been sent off favourite in each of his four handicap starts, and to be fair, has justified favouritism in two of these. He may be another who favours the sharp turns of Stratford, having won a similar contest here back in May, but in making all, he never saw another horse, and bar the runner-up from Jackdaws Castle, the other two pulled up or unseated by the last. It’s been a slower than average start to the season for the Condicote handler, but the autumn is generally a fertile time for this yard.

Former Pointer Cheltenam de Vaige must have thought it was a rest day when reverting to hurdles in the IDP & Askews Novices Hurdle. The six time winner between the flags, most recently at Badbury Rings in February, had no difficulty in despatching four other rivals in this uncompetitive contest for amateur Tom Broughton, attached to Fergal O’Brien. O’Brien’s pointing roots have allowed him to keep contact with owners Matt & Sally Burford, all three regulars around Gloucestershire point-to-point fixtures like Andoversford.

Cheltenham De Vaige winning at Stratford. 24/8/2023 Pic Steve Davies

Jockey Harry Reed received many plaudits for his ride on Stepney Causeway at Newton Abbot earlier in the week when he nursed the gelding back into the race and won by a neck after losing 25l at the start. He maintained much closer order on the Neil Mulholland – trained Tally’s Son in the first division of the 2m handicap hurdle, asserting approaching the final hurdle, and seeing off Bahtiyar, one of the lesser lights from Dan Skelton’s yard to win by 1/2l.

Tally’s Boy [centre] wins at Stratford. 24/8/2023 Pic Steve Davies

The dearth of racing opportunities in Ireland in relation to the horse population continues to imbue even the most modest fixtures with an international flavour, and so it was that home-bred Mill House Creek came to run and win the concluding Mares Bumper by a more than comfortable 7l under Adam Wedge.

Race for Jockeys’ Championship set to be tight this season

Brian Hughes has dominated the Jockeys’ Championship in the last two seasons in National Hunt racing, but he is unlikely to have it his own way in the 2023/24 campaign, if the opening few months are anything to go by.

The season began on May 1st with summer racing from venues like Stratford. However, from October onwards, Jump racing becomes more prominent on the calendar, so there is still a long way until the championship ends on the April 27th next year.

Bowen off to a flying start

With 67 winners from his opening 236 rides this season, Sean Bowen has made an excellent start to his campaign, and he leads the way in the standings. He has been in hot form since the season began, often completing doubles and trebles across the summer cards where his father’s yard has been a key player in that success. Four rides at Stratford today for four separate trainers are representative of his work rate and broad appeal.

The Welsh-born rider reached the 50-winner mark in July when he partnered Lermoos Legend to victory at Worcester. His half-century came 44 days earlier than it did in the 2022/23 campaign.

Last season was a memorable one for Bowen, as he had his first ride in the Cheltenham Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival on board Noble Yeats. He finished fourth in the blue riband event in the sport.

A month later, Bowen partnered with Noble Yeats again in the Grand National at Aintree. He came home fourth of 39 runners in what was another big run from the former winner of the world’s most famous steeplechase.

Bowen is likely to have another shot at winning the marathon race in Liverpool in 2024. Noble Yeats is the favourite in horse racing odds to prevail in the 4m2½f contest in April.

Hughes vying for a fourth title

With three titles in the last four years, Hughes has dominated the Jockeys’ Championship in jumps racing. A regular at Stratford during the summer months courtesy of Donald McCain’s summer runners and a few choice ones from Charlie Longsdon, he has got off to a good start to the defence of his title, but this is the first season for a while where he has trailed as the autumn approaches.

Hughes added his name to the history books in the 2021/22 campaign, becoming just the fourth National Hunt jockey to ride 200 winners in a season. He joined Peter Scudamore, Tony McCoy and Richard Johnson with that feat, three of the legends of the sport, all prolific winners. However, unlike the aforementioned, Hughes’ trainers are largely Northern-based, and rides at marquee fixtures like the Festival have been few and far between.

The Northern Irish-born rider was set to ride Corach Rambler in the Grand National last April as it was thought the horse’s regular rider Derek Fox was going to be out of the meeting through injury. Fox was able to pass a late fitness test and he went on to ride the Scottish-based horse to victory in the race at Aintree. Hughes will be hoping to get another chance at becoming a Grand National-winning jockey next April in the marathon contest.

Cobden is best of the rest

Harry Cobden is in third place in the early stages of the 2023/24 National Hunt Jockeys’ Championship. He has had 34 winners from his opening 149 rides, but summer rides have been fewer and further between than his leading rivals; Cobden’s strength is among winter and Spring trainers with Saturday horses.

Cobden has been in the running for the jockeys’ title in each of the last three seasons. He will be hoping he can stay with Bowen and Hughes into the second half of the latest campaign, and the support of the champion trainer could be a decisive factor. It made all the difference to fellow rider Harry Skelton in his championship when his brother’s powerful yard at Alcester rowed in behind him.

This season could be set to be one of the most fascinating battles for a while, and it could go right down to the wire on the April 27th when the trophy is handed out at Sandown. Fixtures at Stratford next March may well play a leading role in the destination of the prize.

Three quirky races you should add to your bucket list

Steeplechasing runs a tightrope between managing safety and a daredevil adrenalin rush of jumping big fences at speed; two opposite ends of a spectrum forever in conflict one with another.

In the UK, standardisation of fences, with the almost wholesale adoption of uniform fences, seems to be the norm. Other racing jurisdictions, perhaps under less threat from the likes of Animal Rising, still illustrate considerable variation in the composition and scale of the obstacles.

In France for example, the variety of obstacles in a cross country chase cover orthodox steeplechase fences, bullfinches, railed ditches, rails, and banks. Some even have water obstacles. For the best example of this, visit Craon in the Mayenne region of Western France. Craon’s Grand Cross in early September is the highlight of a three day festival of flat, trotting and Jump racing that attracts around 15,000 spectators.

France is of course a country where jump racing is thriving, underwritten by a breeder class seeking to grow a market for top class chasers. And as we know very well, exporting them to compete under British ownership has been a trait of the past 20 years here in the British market.

Reverting to the style of obstacle, the town of Bad Harzburg in Germany enjoys a reputation for the deepest water crossing in international racing. the 20m wide river laps the riders’ calves as the horses slow to a trot and wade across. yet in contrast to France, Bad Harzburg relies on a domestic population of just 15 chasers to populate its races. Without competitors from abroad, the race has a limited shelf life.

Timber plays a leading role in the US steeplechasing scene, where alongside portable hurdles, chasers compete over the sort of fencing you might find adorning Sussex; timber rails up to 4ft 8 in height. The mother of all timber races is the Maryland Hunt Cup, held at the end of April, serving as a copycat Point-to-Point of yesteryear, over 4 miles and 22 fences. Unique among the world’s top flight races, it is solely open to amateur riders.

The race has a typically quaint Victorian heritage. Created as a contest between the Elkridge and Green Spring Hunts in 1894, the race set out to mark out the best hunter from the two packs, but was subsequently opened to other hunts in North America, and eventually any restriction was removed. And whereas only around 100 attended the first running, now many thousand enjoy the Spring scenery of the Worthington Valley, the race’s modern permanent home. This is a race with a niche following that breeds an intense loyalty. With a $100,000 purse, it’s no small prize either.

This is a race meeting like no other, insofar as the obstacles are uniquely Maryland, but also there are no supporting races! If you’re in the loo for 8 minutes, you could miss the whole purpose of the afternoon.

Like much about steeplechasing, it’s also gloriously politically incorrect. Even by US standards, the race was slow to admit women riders, only allowing them in the 70s’. The list of winning owners and riders reads like an old western from first winner John McHenry through Jervis Spencer Jnr, the billionaire Paul Mellon, five time winners D Michael Smethwick and Charles Fenwick Jnr, whose Ben Nevis used the Hunt Cup as a platform to win the Grand National at Aintree in 1980.

This is a race which lends itself to course & distance winners. Several have won it three times, notable among them Jay Trump (1963, ’64, ’66), another who used the success as a platform to Aintree glory in 1965. Since 2016, allowing for a pandemic-induced break in 2020, there have been just 4 winners, including three time winner Senior Senator, ridden by Eric Poretz, and Irish-bred Vintage Vinnie, winner in 2021 and the following year.

the 2023 winner, Withoutmoreado is a nine year old with virtually no previous steeplechase form, and certainly not under Rules. The 12l winner of an open maiden at Charm Park back in 2019, he didn’t win again until breaking his timber maiden in the US at the Genesee Valley meet in autumn ’21, since when the penny dropped, and he’s rarely been out of the frame. In the specialist world of long distance timber racing, he’s a firm favourite to hold on to the race in 2024.

Quirky races like these may be an anomaly, but you only have to see the crowd that flocks out to watch cheltenham’s cross country races close up to a fence to know they touch a part of the soul other races cannot reach. Their unique nature defines the sport more than any orthodox race – however valuable – can. They need to be nurtured and protected to salve the sport’s heritage.

Put these three venues on your racing bucket list. You won’t regret it.

Top 3 strategies for betting on racing

Whilst the jumpers take a two week mid-summer break, we’re looking into how to get the maximum enjoyment from your flutter on the horses. Amidst the current industry talk of affordability checks, it’s easy to forget that for 99% of the racing audience, a bet on the horses is an irregular addition to an occasional day out.

Horse racing and betting induce a thrill unlike any other. You never know which horse will get to the finish line first, even if the market tells you there can only be one winner. While there are crowd favourites and best performers that have a higher chance of finishing first, you never know if an outsider will surprise everyone at the last minute. Horses make fools of us all, including their trainers and riders.

So is betting on horse races all about picking one horse and hoping he or she will secure that winning ticket? Or are there true strategies and tactics behind racing betting? While there is no specific science to horse race betting as it is still all based on chance and other factors affecting horse race performance, there are a few strategies that individuals use to enhance their chances of beating the bookies.

Below we describe the three top strategies for betting on racing:

  1. Doing the Yankee strategy increases the chances of winning by selecting four favourite horses from different races, but there is usually a lower pay-out than other betting strategies.
  2. The key technique is betting on a specific horse, whether it is the best-performing one or when you want to do multiple wagers for races in a row.
  3. Dutching is like the Yankee strategy where multiple horses are selected to enhance winning chances. However, the horses are selected in one race rather than four different ones.

Check out the latest horse racing odds before you place your bets. Analysing the odds will help you to make a more informed bet. While winning is not guaranteed whether you use one of these strategies or not, they can get you on the right track.

Yankee strategy

The Yankee is fabled to be named after an American GI stationed in England who placed a successful accumulator bet – the eponymous Yankee. This comprises a four selection wager comprising six doubles, four trebles and an accumulator.

The Yankee strategy involves selecting four top-performing horses across separate races. This increases the chances of winning if at least one or two of these horses win. Whilst it can be the case that it’s difficult enough to find one winner, the loading of winnings on to the next horse sustains interest. The golden ticket of all four winners with an accumulator is enough to keep regular punters interested throughout.

Key technique

Using one horse as the basis for many bets is known as the key technique. From there, you can do multiple bets with the key horse as the first-place contender and then select other horses that may finish in the placings. Choosing a key horse will keep starting prices low so you can include different horse order sequences to increase your chances of winning.

Usually, when a punter uses one horse as the key, it is best to make a trifecta or an exacta bet. An exacta bet means selecting the first and second-place horse in the correct sequence. A trifecta bet means choosing which three horses will finish first in the correct sequential order.


Dutching means selecting multiple horses who could be the winner of one horse race. Most punters like to choose the three best horses that could win in a race. Others may choose four or more if they desire, but of course the more horses you stake, the more bets you have to make so your margin is diminished.

Choosing too many horses in a Dutch bet will not bode well if they all lose. Hence, weigh your options accordingly. This is the sort of bet that’s appropriate to a big handicap with plenty of runners and a wide disparity of odds displayed, like the Grand National.

What’s your strategy?

The average horse race in the UK allows no minimum field size up to a maximum of 40. In the USA, these parameters tend to be within 8 – 20 runners. The Kentucky Derby for example allows 20 horses to race every year on the first Saturday in May whilst the Grand National always achieves a maximum field of 40. The amount of horses depends on the individual race track regulations, the length of race and track configuration.

Self-evidently, some of the permutation bets are not possible in small fields. Choose a strategy that you are comfortable using and see how it works for you. And remember, bet safely.

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