Each racecourse in Britain is officially graded 1, 2, 3 or 4, depending on the General Prize Find (GPF) grant it receives from the Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB). The HBLB is a statutory body, established by the Betting Levy Act 1961, which annually collects a percentage of bookmakers’ gross profit from horse racing as the so-called Horserace Betting Levy.
General Prize Fund (GPF) grants, which must be paid out as prize money, are calculated annually based on the Executive Contribution (EC), or ‘merit’ – that is, the amount of prize money contributed by the racecourse authority – and the amount of off-course betting turnover generated by fixtures in the last three years for which figures are available.
Essentially, the higher the GPF grant, the higher the grade of the racecourse. Newmarket, for example, which stages nine Group One races during the season, received just over £2 million in 2018 and is classified as Grade 1. By contrast, Carlisle, which stages just one Class 1 race – the Listed Eternal Stakes, worth just shy of £40,000 in total prize money – received just over £165,000 in 2018 and is classified as Grade 4. Note that the grade of a racecourse does not, necessarily, reflect the standard of the facilities available for owners, trainers, jockeys or the racing public, but it is not unreasonable to expect a gulf between the best and the worst, consummate with the grade.
Cambridge-born James Doyle is the son of former trainer Jacqueline Doyle and the younger brother of Sophie Doyle, now a successful jockey in the United States. He rode his first winner, Farnborough, trained by Richard Price, in a lowly Class 6 apprentices’ handicap on the then Polytrack surface at Wolverhampton in June, 2005. Nowadays, Doyle is best known as former stable jockey to Wilthshire trainer Roger Charlton, whom he joined in 2012, and retained jockey for Godolphin, whom he joined in 2015.
Doyle recorded his first British Group One victory on Al Kazeem, trained by Charlton, in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, 2013 and his second, on the same horse, in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown Park less than three weeks later. He has since won numerous Group One winners on British soil, including the Prince of Wales’s Stakes twice more, on Poet’s Word in 2018 and Lord North in 2020, the St.James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot twice, on Kingman in 2014 and Barney Roy in 2017, and the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, again on Kingman in 2014.
For all his success at the highest level, Doyle has yet to win a British Classic, although he has won two on the opposite side of the Irish Sea. The first of them came courtesy of Cartier Horse of the Year, Kingman, in the Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh in 2014 and the second courtesy of Sea of Class, trained by William Haggas, at the same venue in 2018.
Notwithstanding the so-called Fillies’ Triple Crown, which consists of the 1,000 Guineas, Oaks and St. Leger, the term English Triple Crown is usually applied to the Two Thousand Guineas, Derby and St. Leger, all of which are open to three-year-old colts and fillies. The oldest of the three ‘Classic’ races that constitute the English Triple Crown, the St. Leger, was established in 1776, followed by the Derby in 1780 and, last but not least, the Two Thousand Guineas in 1809. However, it was not until 1853, when the aptly-named Melbourne colt, West Australian, trained by John Scott and ridden by Frank Butler, won all three races that the phrase ‘Triple Crown’ was coined. As testament to his versatility, the following season West Australian also won the Gold Cup at Ascot over two-and-a-half miles.
To avoid any confusion, the first female jockey to ride a winner against professional jockeys at the Cheltenham Festival was Gee Armytage, who partnered The Ellier, trained by Nigel Tinkler, to victory in the Kim Muir Challenge Cup – in the days before the name of Fulke Walwyn was added to the race title – in 1987. Indeed, that same year, the 21-year-old Armytage also won the Mildmayof Flete Challenge Cup – now the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate – on Gee-A, trained by Geoff Hubbard; she actually came agonisngly close to winning the leading jockey award, eventually losing out on countback to reigning champion jockey Peter Scudamore by virtue of having ridden fewer second- and third-placed horses. However, the first female jockey to ride a winner, of any description, at the Cheltenham Festival was amateur rider Caroline Robinson (née Beasley) who rode her own horse, Eliogarty, to win the Christie’s Foxhunter Chase – now the St. James’s Place Foxhunter Chase – in 1983.