You May Always Ask Questions

Horse racing is a world of its own, and every racing newcomer has a few questions when they first dive into the sport (sometimes even after they’ve been in it for a while!).  Here are the answers to 11 questions that perhaps neophytes are too embarrassed to ask.

1. Why are horses scratched from a race?

A scratch is when a horse is entered for a race but either his connections decide not to run him or the racetrack veterinarian determines that he is not fit to race.  The first instance can be for a variety of reasons, including that the horse’s connections found a race the horse is better suited to, the horse got sick or injured, or they just decided to point him for a different race.  In many jurisdictions, racetrack veterinarians perform pre-race inspections of horses and they can scratch a horse from a race if they believe for any reason that he is unfit to compete.


2. Who are the people in the paddock with the horse?

The horse’s people.  A horse’s groom gets the horse ready back at the barn and then leads him/her to and around the paddock.  A horse’s trainer is usually on hand to supervise and saddle the horse, and give a leg up to the jockey.  The horses owner(s), and usually a few friends of the owner are often there to watch the pre-race ritual.

3. At what age do horses start racing?  When do they quit?

It varies greatly with each horse, but in general horses can race from age 2 until they are 10 or older.  Many horses start racing sometime during their 2-year-old year, but some don’t debut until they are 3 or 4, or even older.  Horses stop racing at any age for a variety of reasons, but many are retired at age 4, 5, or 6 so they can start a second career.

4. What do horses do when they’re done racing?

There are several options for racehorses that are done racing.  Horses that were very successful on the track and those that are well bred often will retire to the breeding shed in hopes of creating the next champion.  Other horses are retrained for other disciplines such as barrel racing, police work, and even ranch work.  Some retired racehorses are just kept as pasture pets.  There are several organizations dedicated to retraining, or providing a green pasture for these retired racers that are known as Off-Track Thoroughbreds or OTTBs.  The Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance is a fundraising and accrediting body that organizes grants to OTTB organizations that meet horse health, safety, and other requirements.

5. How big are jockeys?

Jockeys are usually short and are required to maintain a certain weight due to the weights that horses are required to carry when they race.  Jockeys usually weigh around 110-115 pounds and stand around 5 feet 3 inches tall, but they can be shorter and much taller as long as they maintain weight.  Much of jockeys’ weight is muscle due to the strength required to control a 1,000-pound Thoroughbred.

6. Do jockeys ride the horses during their daily training, too?

Sometimes.  Horses usually are ridden by exercise riders for their daily morning exercise, but jockeys will sometimes ride a horse during a timed workout or to see if they want to ride the horse during a race.  Young riders trying to make a name for themselves often offer their services to trainers for morning workouts to help generate interest in their services in the afternoons for races.

7. Why do jockeys wear bright, goofy-looking shirts?

Jockeys’ shirts are called silks.  Silks are chosen by owners, and each set of silks is unique to that one owner.  All horses owned by the same owner will run in that owner’s silks. Think of it as an MLB team jersey.

8. Why are some races on the grass?

There are three main surfaces in Thoroughbred racing — dirt, turf (grass), and synthetic (also often referred to as all-weather).  Dirt and turf are self-explanatory, and synthetic is a kind of like fake dirt made out of rubber, fibers, and silica sand that’s softer to land on. Think about running barefoot on the beach versus a grassy field.  If you have a preference, you’re not alone!  Many horses prefer one surface to another, so their trainers will enter them in races on that surface.  A few great horses have been highly successful on multiple surfaces- CATHOLIC BOY comes to mind.

9. What do horses wear on their heads during races?

Most know that horses wear a bridle and bit so the rider can control a horse, but there are a variety of other tools a trainer can use to set a horse up for success.  A shadow roll, or piece of fleece attached to the nose-band of a bridle, limits a racehorse’s vision so that it doesn’t try to jump shadows on the track, which would slow it down.  Blinkers are pieces of plastic attached to a hood that fits over a horse’s eyes and ears.  Blinkers are also used to limit a horse’s vision, but they prevent horses from seeing what is behind and next to it.  This helps prevent horses from getting distracted by things going on around it during a race and keeps it focused on what’s in front of it.  A tongue tie is a piece of material that is tied over a racehorse’s tongue and under her jaw.  It prevents the horse’s tongue from blocking the horse’s breathing passages and the horse from biting his/her tongue during a race.

10. How much do racehorses cost?

You can spend as much – or as little – as you want to buy a Thoroughbred racehorse.  At public auction, horses have sold for millions of dollars and for a few hundred.  Horses sold privately (in a transaction between buyer and seller only) have also sold for a wide variety of prices.  Training a horse comes with additional costs—the rate for North American trainers runs between $50-$120 or more per day to keep a horse in training. Owners also must pay for veterinary services, transportation costs, and various other expenses, plus a portion of purse money Won goes to the trainer and jockey.  In general, it will cost you between $20,000 and $40,000 to keep a Thoroughbred in training for one year.

11. How often do horses race?

Top-level horses may race once a month or less, while lower-level horses run once every couple of weeks.  This makes sense because there are many more low-level horses and as a result there are more races for those horses, while the best horses have to wait for a race suited to top-level horses.

The Daily Racing Blog here to Elucidate, Educate, Prophetize  in order to Monetize.


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