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“Horseracing is guano to ping pong's fois gras.”
Horseracing is an equestrian sport invented by the British Royal Family. It is often referred to as "arm wrestling for aristocrats".
Queen Victoria invented horse racing in 1839 during a family holiday to India. The monarch (née Kelly Ramstein) took her children on the trip of a lifetime to the newly acquired state in September of that year.
Shortly after arriving in the sub-continent, the young princes and princesses became bored, and Prince Albert decided to take his family for a ride in the country to alleviate the tedium. During the ride the Queen's Consort shot a sleeping owl. The Royal horses bolted on hearing gunfire, and Queen Victoria is said to have roared "I've got a thousand guineas that says I'll beat the lot of you back to the palace". Thus modern horse racing was born.
In the following days Prince Albert codified the rules of the fledging sport and invented bookmaking to oversee the exchange of monies between interested spectators.
edit The Modern Sport
In the early years of the twentieth century horseracing's popularity waned. Only the introduction of legislation mandating the use of tiny Irish jockeys in 1962 saved the sport from terminal decline. A hugely successful and widespread television advertising campaign followed the rule change, the tagline of which gave us the modern English expression "Is that the Champion Jockey in your pocket or your cock?".
British school children were also encouraged to adopt tiny Irish jockeys, bringing a much needed new generation of young fans to the sport.
edit Horseracing Around the World
In Britain and Ireland horseraces take place on oval grass courses, while in the United States, all-weather "dirt tracks" are favoured. In most other countries, a combination of turf and dirt track is common. Only Belgium differs from this; there the animals run on stationary treadmills while the spectators are driven past them on motorised grandstands at thirty-five miles an hour.
edit Bloodstock and Breeding
Since the 1920s racehorse bloodlines have been carefully controlled and manipulated in order to exaggerate useful traits, such as the ability to run quickly on all fours. In the early days of the sport, when no such strictures were in place, valued horses would often be bred with any four-legged mammal that happened to be close at hand. Cows and otters were frequently "covered" in this way with disastrous results on the quality of racing.
Owners quickly realised that proven race horses needed to be mated with other quality runners if racing was to progress. To this end, silent film actor Harold Lloyd was asked to draw up a set of guidelines for thoroughbred breeding, and it is these rules that govern the practice to this day.
Thoroughbred breeding is not without its critics. The lack of diverse new bloodlines has led to the problem of congenital weaknesses being passed down to successive generations. The most infamous instance of this was in 1971 when a transparent foal was born to that year's Kentucky Derby winner, Beef Jesus.
Thoroughbred racing foals begin training at birth. A pregnant mare is placed on a specially adapted flatbed truck. The birthing truck drives around a grass track at between thirty-five and forty miles per hour as labour is induced in the now prone mare. Immediately post natum, the foal is lashed to the moving vehicle with rope and thrown overboard. The trauma of the fall is usually enough to wake the young animal from its infant slumber and compel it to attempt to clamber to its feet and run. Any animal that cannot cope with race pace or which fails to stand after twenty minutes is quickly assessed as lacking potential and harpooned to avoid unnecessary suffering.
Betting has been an integral part of horse racing since its inception. Early legislation was extremely lax by modern standards, with spectators often gambling organs or loved ones if ready cash was unavailable.
edit Children and Betting
Before 1945 a child was deemed legally old enough to bet on a horserace as soon as he could support the weight of his own head. Indeed rather than feeling the need to protect the vulnerable young from gambling, it was thought a beneficial practice for children. The fairytale "Jack and the Beanstalk" was devised as a thinly veiled allegory, warning children of the dangers of failing to double one's stake in the event of an unsuccessful bet.
Cambridge literary critic F R Leavis's 1949 essay "On the Phenomenology of Fairytales And That" is considered the definitive work on the subject -
"The boy Jack's failure to realise pecuniary remuneration in exchange for his mother's bovine is a clear allusion to the failed gambit. The cow, or stake, is forfeit. No monies have been forthcoming. The mother's reaction to the beans (a common trope in the European fairytale tradition, indicative of loss or grief - see also "Who moved my Beans?" - Ezra Pound Random House 1922) is wanton and illogical. The boy, however, ups the stake by climbing the stalk. This subsequent wager is successful. The giant (or bookmaker) is slain, and all is well. And if anyone wishes to take issue with this carefully weighted analysis, he risks exciting my ire, sir."
edit Largest Bet In History
The largest recorded single bet placed by a private individual on a horse race was made by Sir Elton John at the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday March 13th 1984. John wagered £2.2 million on horse six (Fanny Hammock Lad) in the 2.30, a grade 1 novices' hurdle race. The animal fell at the first and was shot dead by several vets at the scene. John had to sell his controlling interest in the American musician Tom Petty to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Second in order to cover his debts.
edit The Racing Season
The horseracing season is divided into three discrete trimesters, with a different racing discipline predominant in each.
edit Flat Racing
Flat racing takes place between the months of May and July. As the name implies, the race must be conducted on a circuit that is absolutely free of inclines. Indeed, so finely attuned are flat horses that most cannot tolerate being on anything other than a perfectly true surface. For this reason most - like American chanteuse Maria Carey - "don't do stairs" and must be carried bodily by specially trained teams of "stair lads".
edit Jump Racing
Jump racing holds sway each year from mid October to April. Hurdle types differ by country and course. British horses typically race over brick or timber hurdles while in continental Europe cars, wardrobes and even sedated donkeys are commonly used.
edit Upright Racing
Upright racing, in which the horses must cover the ground using only two of their four legs, is technically a type of flat racing, but is now so popular that it is generally treated as a separate discipline. The season is short, running for eight weeks in August and September.
Most upright horses favour their rear legs for racing, but there have been several successful front leg runners over the years. Only one animal in the history of the sport (Limb Timber Jacksy 1990) has attempted to race using the fore and aft legs on one side of the body (in this case right). But he failed to finish a single race.
Upright jump racing was banned in 1970.
edit Important Races
- The Derby Derby
- 2000 Dubloons
- The Queen Victoria Vault
- The Windsor Mince Stakes