What colour are racehorses?

According to Weatherbys, the company that administers British racing under contract to the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), the main body colours found in thoroughbred racehorses are bay, black, brown, chestnut and grey.

Bay can cover many variations of the colour brown, although typically means reddish-brown, or tan. A bay horse has a black mane and tail and a distinguishable colour line between the upper and lower sections of the legs. By contrast, a brown horse has a brown man and tail and no such colour line, although tan may be seen in the fold of the flank and/or muzzle. Purely black horses are a rarity and must be entirely black, in coat, stifle fold and muzzle, to be classified as such. Chestnut horses have a reddish or yellowish brown body colour, with a mane and tail which, while similar in shade, may be slightly lighter or darker.

Grey, too, covers a range of shades from bright white to battleship, or gunmetal, grey. Grey horses are not usually born grey, but grow lighter in colour with age, such that their body coat is a mixture of black and white hairs. Truly white horses, like truly black horses, are a rarity.

In addition to the basic body colours, certain other colours are recognised by thoroughbred and non-thoroughbred authorities. A thoroughbred described as ‘roan’, for example, is characterised by white hairs evenly intermingled with hairs of another colour, such as brown or chestnut. That said, most thoroughbreds that appear roan are in the process of going grey.

What is a ‘recall man’?

As the name suggests, a ‘recall man’, or ‘advance flag operator’, is a racecourse official, trained and accredited by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), who signals a false start to jockeys positioned furthest from the starter. The recall man is equipped with a yellow recall flag, of specific dimensions, which he must raise when signalled to do so by the starter, a white overcoat and a whistle. He is stationed some way down the track, say, on the run to the first fence in a steeplechase and, if the starter signals a false start, wave his flag above his head and blow his whistle until the field pulls up.

Perhaps the most famous, or infamous, recall man in the history of British horse racing was Ken Evans, a part-time employee who was singled out, unfairly, by the Jockey Club for failing to stop what became known as the ‘Grand National that never was’ in 1993. Crucially, starter Keith Brown raised his flag to signal a second false start, but did not unfurl it, such that most of the jockeys, including ‘winning’ jockey John White, were unaware of any instruction to stop and set off around the racecourse.

Who was Mirabel Topham?

Born Mirabel Hillier in 1891, Mirabel Topham married Ronald Topham in 1922, joined the family company, Topham Limited, in 1934 and quickly rose to become Chairman and Managing Director. Remarkably, Mrs. Topham, a former ‘Gaiety Girl’, was appointed to take over the management of Aintree Racecourse when it was bought, outright, by the Topham family from the Earl of Sefton in 1949.

A colourful, larger-than-life character, with little or no interest in horse racing before her marriage, Mrs. Topham nevertheless proved a highly astute businesswoman, who commanded admiration and respect in a male-dominated world for the best part of four decades. The Topham Steeplechase, run over an extended 2 miles 5 furlongs on the Grand National Course, was introduced in 1949 and is still run on the second day of the Grand National meeting in April each year. The so-called ‘Mildmay’ Course, which originally featured smaller, National-type spruce fences, arranged inside the existing National Course, opened in 1953.

A decade later, Mrs. Topham sought to set aside an agreement with the Earl of Sefton that the land on which Aintree Racecourse stands could only be used for agriculture or horse racing during his lifetime. Court cases, planning applications and Parliamentary questions followed but, despite subsequent renewals of the National repeatedly being dubbed ‘the last one ever’, planning permission was never granted. In 1973, Aintree Racecourse was eventually sold to property developer William Davies, but Mrs. Topham, a.k.a. the ‘first lady of Aintree’, is credited with presiding over some of the most difficult years at the historic Merseyside venue.

What’s the best draw in the Lincoln Handicap?

The Lincoln Handicap, run over a straight mile at Doncaster in late March or early April, traditionally marks the start of the Flat season ‘proper’. The straight mile on Town Moor has no pronounced draw bias, but the Lincoln Handicap has a safety limit of 22, such that even a minor advantage or disadvantage – which can, in turn, be a factor of pace – can have a major effect on the outcome.

Granted that the Lincoln Handicap is run on a straight course, typically at an end-to-end gallop, any horse will struggle to make all the running, regardless of where on the course it is drawn. The same principle applies, albeit to a slightly lesser extent, to horses that like to race close to the pace and, irrespective of the draw, the winner is always likely to emerge from a group of patiently ridden horses that share the pace burden between them. That said, in recent years, thirteen, or 76%, of the last seventeen winners of the Lincoln Handicap were drawn in stall nine, or higher, so while it may not pay to be dogmatic about the draw, a middle to high draw does seem to be a good starting point.

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