The Popbitch Guide to Horse Racing

Popbitch is bringing you a simple  Guide to Horse Racing.

We took you through Cheltenham week – and tried to stop the bookies taking us to the cleaners – and now we bring you the most famous horse race in the world – the Grand National.


* The Grand National – history

* The Grand National – how to spot a winner 2010

* Aintree and how not to get fleeced when you bet

* The Grand National Drinking game

* Tips



And make a bet with Betfair (you get a free bet up to £25) if you just click on the yellow tab below:

1. Horse Racing

There’s a track, usually circular or oval, and a bunch of horses with little men wearing bright colours on their backs. During one afternoon’s race meeting there’s around 6 races, with about a thirty minute gap between each race. This is the time you drink, eat and place bets.

There are two different types of horse racing – National Hunt and Flat. National Hunt aka jump racing involves horses jumping over fences. In Britain this happens in the Winter, when the most famous races are the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National. In the Summer you get the posher kind of racing, where royals and celebs hang out wearing ridiculous hats and tail coats. National Hunt racing is a great place to start watching as it’s down to earth, there’s unlikely to be a dress code and most people are there to watch the horses and get a few drinks in.

2. The Horses

Horses start flat racing at the age of two or three. A lot of them retire when they are three, although some go on for a couple more years. The most valuable thing about successful flat racehorses is what they do after the track – breeding new flat race horses – so they don’t race for long in case they start to lose races and therefore drop in value. They then go to a stud farm and get to hang out having sex with other incredibly expensive horses for years.

This is not the case for jump racers.  They start when they are a bit older and they can go on racing for years. This makes the horses more popular and usually more famous as they are not normally retired at such a young age and thus become familiar faces to race-goers over a number of seasons. The reason why this happens is because the horses have no breeding value, as all jump racers are geldings. A gelding is a male horse that has been castrated. I mean – you wouldn’t want to jump over a fence if your bollocks were going to catch on them every time, would you?

Some of the most famous recent horses include:

Red Rum

Won three Grand Nationals in the 1970s, a feat no horse has equalled. He’s one of the few horses to have brought out an autobiography, although it is true that it was ghost-written.



Desert Orchid

aka “Dessie”, the most famous grey horse. Between 1986 and 1999 he won the biggest of the National Hunt races, including the Gold Cup. He retired in 1991 but then made appearances at many of the big horse races, and raised a lot of money for charity. He died in 2006, aged 27.

Best Mate

Never finished below second in a race and won three consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cups, 2002-2004. He was pulled out of the 2005 race a few days before it happened, after bursting a blood vessel, but came back later that year only to die of a heart attack in a race at Exeter. Best Mate was cremated and his ashes scattered near the winning post at Cheltenham, and there’s a Best Mate statue at Cheltenham now too.


3. Cheltenham Festival

For the last half century the Cheltenham festival had become the biggest National Hunt, or steeplechase, event. Because of the sport’s Irish roots – and because the racing usually coincides with St Patrick’s Day – a lot of Irish horses and spectators turn up. It is now the best National Hunt race meeting in the world. It is held over over four days in the second week of March. It features eleven Grade One races (ie the top level of race) and the Cheltenham Gold Cup on the Friday is the most prestigious Jump race in the world. The Grand National may be more famous but the horses who compete in the Gold Cup will be the best horses.
The start of the first race is marked by a lot of noise from spectators, known as the Cheltenham Roar.

Four of the biggest National Hunt races happen at The Cheltenham Festival – the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the World Hurdle and the Champion Hurdle. You can find all sorts of stuff about the Gold Cup and the Festival here


4. Odds/Betting

These show how likely it is for the horse to win the race. If you are at the track they are usually in the form of a fraction –  eg 5-1, which would mean the bookmaker thinks it has got 5 times as many chances of losing as winning.
– “Evens” means it’s got as good a chance of winning as losing
– 1-5 means it is thought to be very likely to win. (Five times as likely to win as lose.)
– The favourite is the horse that the bookies/people think has most chance of winning. He will have the shortest odds.

It works like this:

Win – If you bet five pounds to win at 5-1 and your horse comes first, you win 5 x 5 pounds – 25 pounds – plus you get the fiver that you originally bet (or “staked”) back.

Each way – You can bet on a horse to finish first, second or third in the race – you get 1/4 of the odds if it comes in.  This is effectively two bets – one ‘win’ bet and one ‘place’ bet. If you bet five pounds each way on a 8-1 horse, you have to give over ten pounds  in total – 5 pounds which backs it to win, and 5 pounds to back it for a place.
(In some races you will win an each way bet if the horse finishes fourth or fifth – but it depends on the total number of horses in the race.)

The more modern way of showing odds is as a decimal. This is what you will see on Betfair.

Most bookmakers come up with odds that reflect how they think the race will go. You will get better odds at Betfair because it is a betting exchange – i.e. you will be betting against other people. For example, if you want to bet £10 on a horse to win, this means that someone else out there is betting £10 for that horse to lose.

Decimal Odds differ from the Odds traditionally quoted in the UK in that they include your stake as part of your total return. If you place a bet of £10 at Decimal Odds of 4.0 and win, then your total return (including stake) is £40. In the UK this would be quoted as 3/1, returning to you winnings of £30 plus your original stake of £10.

Converting Decimal Odds to Traditional Odds:

Decimal Odds (point zero) minus 1 = Traditional Odds (x to 1)

e.g. 4.0 = 3/1

Evens in traditional odds is 2.0 in Decimal Odds (1/1 + 1)


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5. National Hunt History

National Hunt racing originated in Ireland. Early races were mainly two-horse contests known as “pounding races” that became popular in the early 18th century. These involved long trips across country where horses were required to jump whatever obstacles the landscape threw in their way. The start and finish were marked by the church steeple in each town, hence the term steeplechase, which is still used today to describe the races.





6. The Fences

There are two types of fences for these races.

Hurdling
Small fences – up to 3 1/2 ft high, generally made of thin bits of wood you can push over. The races tend to run from 2miles to 3.5 miles.



Chases
Generally run over longer distances – up to 4.5 miles. The fences are a minimum 4.5ft high and more like bushes you have to clear with the jump. The longer distance ones – steeplechases – often have fences that look like those grassy mounds you see in the Grand National.


7. Glossary – How to interpret Horse Racing Terms

Owner: The rich person who pays for the horse and gets to collect the trophy and prize money if he/she is lucky.

Trainer: He owns the stables where the horse lives, and looks after the horse so it learns to race and is kept in the right condition for the race.

Jockey: The little fella on the horse’s back.

Silks: The colours of the owner the jockey is wearing (a bit like a football strip).

Starter: The horses line up behind a line of tape at the start. The race begins when the Starter (usually standing nearby on a platform) waves them off. You might associate horse races with those weird boxes they put the horses in but they only use them in summer flat races.

Form: What the horses have done in previous races and where they finished in the race.

Racecard: This has all the information about the race, from the names of the horses competing, to their owners.

8. How to Read A Racecard

When you look at a racecard it probably doesn’t look like it makes much sense. You may even think it looks like it’s been made deliberately complicated to stop you knowing what’s going on. Well, that’s kind of true. But the information on it is actually quite simple.

It usually has the name of the horse, the name of the trainer, owner and jockey, plus the age of the horse and what weight the horse is carrying. The little coloured picture will denote what colours the jockey will be wearing.

This is the racecard from the Guardian (their horse racing coverage is really rather good) and it is the racecard for a big race.

To the left of the horse’s name is a row of numbers. These indicate where they finished in their previous races – the number closest to the horse’s name is his last race. (1 = first, 0 = not in the first five, P = pulled up, didn’t finish) The numbers may be separated by a -, e.g. 1-1. Anything to the right of the dash means it happened this season, and before the dash means last season.

Weights: In most of the big races in Cheltenham the horses will be carrying the same weight (or a little less if it is a girl). If it’s a Handicap it’s different. Then someone assigns a weight to a horse to even out the field – ie the more weight, in theory the better the horse. Then you might want to find a horse at the bottom of the race card as it’s got a good chance of battling the big horses.

So looking at this race card pictured – The top name is Big Zeb – this is the horse and the jockey’s name is to the right – (e.g. B Geraghty). And under the horse’s name is the name of the trainer. Under that is the name of the owner. e.g C Murphy is the trainer, and PJ Redmond, the owner. To complete the reading from our guide, read the numbers to the left 1-2141 and you will see that last season in Big Zeb’s last race he was the winner. This season he was second, winner, fourth and winner.

There are more numbers above the jockey’s name 9 11.10. This means the horse is 9 years old, and he is carrying weight of 11 stone 10lb (which is made up of the jockey plus any extra weight needed).

9. Other things to look for at Cheltenham:

* What is Ruby Walsh or Tony McCoy riding

* If the horse has been voted “best turned out” (ie looks prettiest) pick someone else!

* Irish horse – particularly if you are going for a long-shot

* Paul Nicholls is the trainer – he’s bang in form

* Do you like the colours the jockey’s wearing? It’s often as good a guide as any other.

* Does the horse look hot, bothered and really sweaty? Hmm, maybe he’s used too much of his energy already.

* Obviously the best horses have the shortest odds, but unfancied horses often do well at Cheltenham. At last year’s Festival, 40% of the winners started at double-figure odds.

* Has the horse performed well at Cheltenham before? Some horses just like it there.

Sign up now with Betfair and get a 25 quid free bet…

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10: The Cheltenham Gold Cup

 

This is the third Gold Cup in a row where the two favourites are Kauto Star and Denman. Kauto Star won in 2007, but Denman entered the fray in 2008 – pushing Kauto Star into second place. Last year it was Kauto Star’s turn to beat Denman, though Denman had just recovered from a serious heart operation. This year it’s the decider. Two of the top National Hunt horses in history face off against each other. They’re not just close rivals on the track, the two horses live side-by-side off the track as well. They are both trained by Paul Nicholls, who is the most successful trainer of the moment. They get on well as friends, although Kauto Star likes to be fed first.

Fancy watching them in action? To a White Stripes soundtrack?


Gold Cup facts:

* Seven of the last nine Gold Cup winners have been in King George VI race on the way to Cheltenham. This year –  Kauto Star won.
* All but one of the last 16 winners have been aged 7-9. Kauto Star and Denman are both 10.
* Denman has now won just once in his last five chases and has failed to complete in two of them.
* Imperial Commander has won four out of the five chases he has contested at Cheltenham.


11. Kauto Star

Born 19th March 2000 (Pisces). The Cheltenham Gold Cup is on his birthday! He was born and brought up in France and has a certain Gallic style and charm. Charismatic and total star quality, his way of racing is with effortless ease and style. His stable liken him to Roger Federer. Kauto Star is always playing up to an audience and showing off to whoever is around.
And you pronounce his name Caught-O not Kate-Oh. He’s won 70% of his races over fences.

“I really like the horse as he is such a flashy looker” – Frankie Dettori -







12. Denman

Separated by only two days (Denman is a Pisces born on 17th March 2000), Denman is a world away from Kauto Star in looks and style. Known as “The Tank”, he’s bigger, heavier and stronger than Kauto Star. While KS is all finesse and a fast finish, Denman likes to destroy his opponents by running out fast from the very start. If he doesn’t get off to a good start he can get a bit uninterested and unfocused in the race. If Kauto Star is an equine Roger Federer, Denman is Rafael Nadal. But rather grumpy with it. His way of greeting the press brought to meet him is to turn his arse to them and wander off to the back of his stable.



“At the prices, my wallet says Denman” – Michael Owen





The two horses live side-by-side in the stables of trainer Paul Nicholls. They hang out together all the time. Last year when Denman had to go away for a serious heart operation Kauto Star couldn’t settle, cried and whinnied a lot until his best mate came back. When Denman’s owner was asked if his horse was the same when separated from KS he said “no”. He’s won 71% of his races over fences.

13. The History:

Senna v Prost, Borg v McEnroe, Ali v Foreman, Federer v Nadal… sometimes amazing sporting rivalries come to pass. In 2007 Kauto Star won the Cheltenham Gold Cup. But it was a different story in 2008 when his stablemate entered the fray. Denman destroyed the field, in what was to us, one of the most amazing performances ever.

(We’ve love to show you the 2009 Gold Cup, which Kauto Star won easily, but sadly no clips are available to see on youtube or anything. Obviously the people who run horse racing don’t want prospective racing fans to be able to access race clips.)


“Denman, the brooding opposite to a preening Kauto Star, is infamous for turning his hulking rear on unwanted visitors. But on a quiet and sunlit afternoon he reveals a more personal habit by ambling over so that he can knock on the grille to summon his neighbour. Lucinda Gould, the sparky 24-year-old stable lass who looks after Denman, stands inside her horse’s stable. “They’re almost like brothers,” she says. “Denman will walk up to the grille when he wants a chat with Kauto. He’ll give it a tap and Kauto will come and say hello. And, just as often, it’ll be Kauto knocking for Denman. We all know how different they are as horses. But the strange thing is they could hardly be closer here.”

Full Guardian article here


14. Jockeys:

Kauto Star is being ridden by Ruby Walsh. Here he is riding his first winner at Cheltenham this year, Quevega.







Denman has Rob Bryden, sorry, champion jockey AP (Tony) McCoy.


Mirroring the horsey struggle, they are also the top two jockeys. McCoy is pretty much always champion jockey as he has the most winners. Ruby Walsh (as he’s Paul Nicholls’ top jockey) doesn’t ride as many winners, but he tends to get the winners in the big races, and usually does very well at Cheltenham. There’s a whiff of controversy about McCoy riding Denman. The only time they’ve raced together, Denman got the hump and unseated his jockey. In a recent Racing Post poll, 64% of respondents said McCoy, an aggressive enforcer, was ill-suited to the subtle needs of an idiosyncratic chaser who required horsemanship more than coercion.


A bigger cause of concern might be the fact that McCoy doesn’t think Denman has ever recovered fully from his amazing 2008 winning performance.

More about the horses, race and jockeys from the papers:

One

Two

Three

Sign up now with Betfair and get a 25 quid free bet…

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15. Cheltenham Gold Cup Alphanumerology – 2010 edition

If you don’t follow form, and you don’t really think picking a cute name is the best way to part with your cash, how about using pseudoscience to make your bets? Our alphanumerology experts have been researching the last 10 years of the Cheltenham Gold Cup to find some mathematical interpretations of the formbook. And it doesn’t look good for Denman.

Results


+/- total char

+/- total value

+/- av. char

total +/- diff.

Carruthers

0.4

2.2

0.3

2.9

Albertas Run

0.6

2.2

0.9

3.7

Casey Jones

0.4

7.2

0.2

7.8

Aran Concerto

1.6

6.2

1.2

9.0

Kauto Star

1.4

7.2

1.2

9.8


Denman is 80+ points out of step with these patterns – pseudo science is not backing The Tank.

Previous Winners:

We researched every gold cup winner since 1999:

1999
See More Business                                                                                          =  15
(19 + 5 + 5  13 + 15 + 18 + 5  2 + 21 + 19 + 9 +14 + 5 + 19 + 19)         =  188
Av.       =  12.5
2000
Looks Like Trouble                                                                                                   =  16
(12 + 15 + 15 + 11 + 19  12 + 9 + 11 + 5  20 + 18 + 15 + 21 + 2 + 12 + 5)     =   202
Av.    =  12.7
2001 – No Race

2002
Best Mate                                                                        =  8
(2 + 5 + 19 + 20  13 + 1 + 20 + 5)                           =  115
Av.     =  14.4
2003
Best Mate                                                                        =  8
(2 + 5 + 19 + 20  13 + 1 + 20 + 5)                           =  115
Av.     =  14.4
2004
Best Mate                                                                        =  8
(2 + 5 + 19 + 20  13 + 1 + 20 + 5)                           =  115
Av.     =  14.4
2005
Kicking King                                                                                =  11
(11 + 9 + 3 + 11 + 9 + 14 + 7   11 + 9 + 14 + 7)                    =  105
Av.    = 9.5

2006
War of Attrition                                                                                               =  14
(23 + 1 + 18  15 + 6   1 + 20 + 20 + 18 + 9 + 20 + 9 + 15 + 14)            =  189
Av.    =  13.5
2007
Kauto Star                                                                                  =  9
(11 + 1 + 21 + 20 + 15   19 + 20 + 1 + 18)                          = 126
Av.     = 14
2008
Denman                                                           =  6
(4 + 5 + 14 + 13 + 1 + 14)                            =  51
Av.      =  8.6
2009
Kauto Star                                                                                  =  9
(11 + 1 + 21 + 20 + 15   19 + 20 + 1 + 18)                          = 126
Av.     = 14

Results

Average winner total characters                        =  10.4
Average winner name value                             =  133.2
Average winner character value                        =  12.8


And then we turned our attention to 2010:

This Year’s Entrants

Kauto Star =  9
(11 + 1 + 21 + 20 + 15   19 + 20 + 1 + 18)                          =  126
Av.     =  14
Denman =  6
(4 + 5 + 14 + 13 + 1 + 14)                            =  51
Av.     =  8.5
Imperial Commander =  17
(9 + 13 + 16 + 5 + 18 + 9 + 1 + 12   3 + 15 + 13 + 13 + 1 + 14 + 4 + 5 + 18)        = 169
Av.     =  9.9
Cooldine =  8
(3 + 15 + 15 + 12 + 4 + 9 + 14 + 5)                         =  77
Av.     =  9.6
Tricky Trickster =  15
(20 +  18 + 9 + 3 + 11 + 25   20 + 18 + 9 + 3 + 11 + 19 + 20 + 5 + 18)         =  209
Av.      =  13.9
What A Friend =  11
(23 + 8 + 1 + 20   1  6 + 18 + 9 + 5 + 14 + 4)                         =  109
Av.     =  9.9
Carruthers =  10
(3 + 1 + 18 + 18 + 21 + 20 + 8 + 5 + 18 + 19)                    =  131
Av.     =  13.1
Albertas Run =  11
(1 + 12 + 2 + 5 + 18 + 20 + 1 + 19   18 + 21 + 14)                    =  131
Av.     =  11.9
Madison Du Berlais =  16
13 + 1 + 4 + 9 + 19 + 15 + 14   4 + 21   2 + 5 + 18 + 12 + 1 + 9 + 19)            =  166
Av.     =  10.4
Calgary Bay =  10
(3 + 1 + 12 + 7 + 1 + 18 + 25   2 + 1 + 25                       =  95
Av.      =  9.5
My Will =  6
(13 + 25   23 + 9 + 12 + 12)                                =  94
Av.     = 15.7
Casey Jones = 10
(3 + 1 + 19 + 5 + 35    10 + 15 + 14 + 5 + 19                   =  126
Av.     =  12.6
Schindlers Hunt =  14
(19 + 3 + 8 + 9 + 14 + 4 + 12 + 5 + 18 + 19   8 + 21 + 14 + 20)               =  174
Av.     =  12.4
Mon Mome =  7
(13 + 15 + 14   13 + 25 + 13 + 5)                            =   98
Av.     =  14
Aran Concerto =  12
(1 + 18 + 1 + 14   3 + 15 + 14 + 3 + 5 + 18 + 20 + 15)                   =  127
Av.     =  10.6
Mr Pointment =  11
(13 + 18   16 + 15 + 9 + 14 + 20 + 13 + 5 + 14 + 20)                   =  157
Av.     =  14.3
Cerium =  6
(3 + 5 + 18 + 9 + 21 + 13)                              =  69
Av.     =  11.5
Notre Pere =  9
(14 + 15 + 20 + 18 + 5   16 + 5 + 18 + 5)                       =  116
Av.     =  12.9
Glencove Marina =  14
(7 + 12 + 5 + 14 + 3 + 15 + 22 + 5   13 + 1 + 18 + 9 + 14 + 1)              = 139
Av.    =  9.9
Air Force One =  11
(1 + 9 + 18   6 + 15 + 18 + 3 + 5    15 + 14 + 5)                   =  109
Av.    =  9.9
Cloudy Lane =  10
(3 + 12 + 15 + 21 + 4 + 25    12 + 1 + 14 + 5)                      =  112
Av.     =  11.2
In Compliance =  12
(9 + 14   3 + 15 + 13 + 16 + 12 + 9 + 1 + 14 + 3 + 5)                  =  114
Av.     =  9.5
Mighty Man =  9
(13 + 9 + 7 + 8 + 20 + 25   13 + 1 + 14)                       =  110
Av.     =  12.2
Money Trix =  9
(13 + 15 + 14 + 5 + 25   20 + 18 + 9 + 24)                       =  143
Av.     = 15.9
Rare Bob =  7
(18 + 1 + 18 + 5   2 + 15 + 2)                               =  61
Av.     =  8.7
Roll Along =  9
(18 + 15 + 12 + 12      1 + 12 + 15 + 14 + 7)                       =  106
Av.     =  11.8
Taranis =  7
(20 + 1 + 18 + 1 + 14 + 9 + 19)                           =   82
Av.     =  11.7
Trabolgan =  9
(20 + 18 + 1 + 2 + 15 + 12 + 7 + 1 + 14)                       =  90
Av.     =  10