I can't begin to tell you how excited I was for the horse races. For the uninitiated, horse racing is a family favorite. An afternoon (hopefully) spent in the sun watching these beautiful animals in their prime, wanting to WIN. It's also fun to play a little classy while still getting to go a little berserk as they enter that last stretch, rapidly crossing those final furlongs.
"Go number 6!
Come on Devil's Horn!
Get after him Johnson!"
I was particularly excited for this race because the English really do it up nice. We sloppy Americans come to the races in the ubiquitous jeans & a t-shirt and drink our terrible tiny cups of budweiser beers for the un-reasonably marked up price of $7. Not so for the Engs. Locally brewed cider, pims (which we still missed trying-next time), ales, and bitters are on hand for the same price you'd find in a pub. And the hats! For everyone who saw The Wedding (you know what I am talking about- don't act like you didn't watch the royals get it on), you are now well aware they are into hats. Feather hats, bowler hats, big hats, teensy hats were on display. I actually quite liked them and think I will be looking for one of my own.
The most important difference, however, is the racing. In the US race tracks are common, but jump racing is not. Our horses run almost exclusively on dirt and flat on the ground. The races we were going to see were Jump races.
Important Differences between flat & National Hunt (NH):
- Weights: Flat jockeys in the UK are expected to ride at weights between 7st 5lbs (103lbs) and 10st (140lbs). NH jockeys on the other hand carry weights between 9st 7lbs (133lbs) and 12½ stone (175lbs). Many people think that a jockeys height is important; it is not possible to be too tall for racing, but ability to do weight is a must.
- Distances: Flat racing occurs between distances of five furlongs and two and a half miles. Jump racing occurs over distances of two miles to four and a half miles.
- Start: Flat racers begin races from a starting stall, which is much like humans starting running events from blocks. They ensure an accurate, fast start (whether or not runners or riders wish to take them up on that is another matter!) However, jump races begin with a flip start, involving a tape spreading across the track, and being dropped: a level start is not quite as important in jump racing due to the longer distance of the race.
- Falls: Falls happen more in NH racing (for obvious reasons!). Jump jockeys generally have shorter careers than their flat racing colleagues due to the higher chances of falls - jump jockeys are reported to fall, on average, once in every 12 rides.
- Titles: Jockeys who are new to either types of racing are allowed to take a bit of weight off their horses back - this makes up for their lack of experience and will hopefully encourage trainers to use the services of a newcomer on some of their horses. The majority of riders are able to claim 7lbs at the beginning of their careers, although in some circumstances, riders can take upto 9 or 10lbs off their horses back. Once a rider has achieved 15 winners, he drops to claiming 5lbs, i.e. with greater experience, the jockey can no longer ride with such a useful weight allowance. Many claimers drop from 7lbs, to 5lbs, and then to 3lbs: once they reach a total of 90 winners, they lose any claim they had. Jockeys who are open to these weight allowance in flat racing are called apprentices, in jump racing, these people are called conditionals. Many people term them as (7lb/5lb/3lb) claimers.
- Season Length: The flat racing season begins in March and ends in November. Here after, flat jockeys either ride abroad, or stay to compete on the All Weather racing circuit. Jumps racing has no such 'holiday' - NH racing occurs throughout the year, although summer jumps racing does not generally run at the high level of the winter months.
- Money: Riding fees in jump racing are greater than in flat racing. NH jockeys earn approximately £115, while their flat colleagues earn about £85
I could barely contain myself as we took the train out there and actually walked across the course to reach the grandstands from the train station. I will have some of my pics up soon, but even better- we have video: