A thoroughbred racehorse typically gallops at around 30 miles per hour, on average, but, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the fastest speed ever recorded was 43.97 miles per hour, by Winning Brew, a two-year-old filly, who covered two furlongs at Penn National Race Course, in Pennsylvania, USA in 20.57 seconds on May 14, 2008. Of course, the minimum distance over which thoroughbred horses race, in Britain, is five furlongs; the record over that distance belongs to Stone Of Folca, a four-year-old gelding, who achieved an average speed of 41.9 miles per hour when winning at Epsom Downs Racecourse, in Surrey, UK on June 2, 2012, in a time of 53.69 seconds.
The age at which racehorses reach their peak, in terms of performance, depends on the age at which they start competition, the discipline in which they compete and other factors, including, but not limited to their genetic makeup, physical soundness and temperament. However, it is also true that young horses have lower blood volume and, hence, lower oxygen-carrying capacity, than their older, mature counterparts.
Generally speaking, thoroughbreds that race on the Flat typically reach their peak between 4 and 5 years. Of course, many of them do not race beyond 3 years, so never actually fulfil their potential. By contrast, National Hunt horses typically reach their peak between 7 and 10 years. It is important to note that, in the Northern Hemisphere, every thoroughbred has the same birthday – that is, January 1 – regardless of the month of the year in which is was actually born.
To place a bet, legally, on horse racing in Britain, you must do so with a licensed bookmaker. Some licensed bookmakers, including the so-called ‘Big Three’ – William Hill, Ladbrokes and Coral – are household names, but there are plenty of others plying their trade on the High Street, on racecourses up and down the country and online.
Placing a bet in a betting shop involves writing the name of your selection, the time and meeting at which it is running, the type of bet you wish to place and the amount you wish to stake on a betting slip and handing it to a cashier behind the counter. In return, you will receive a receipt – nowadays, typically a duplicate of your original betting slip – which you must hand back to the cashier, after the race, for payment in the event that your bet is a winner.
On-course bookmakers display the odds available on the next race on a electronic display board, so placing a bet simply involves approaching the bookmaker and stating, clearly, the racecard number of your selection, the type of bet you wish to place – that is, win or each-way – and the amount you wish to stake. In return, you will receive a printed receipt bearing the details of your bet, which you must present to the bookmaker after the race – after the horses have ‘weighed in’ – to receive any winnings.
Placing a bet online involves opening an account with the bookmaker of your choice and registering an appropriate credit or debit card, by means of which you will fund the account. Terms and conditions, including minimum deposit and withdrawal amounts, maximum payouts and so on, vary from one online bookmaker to another, so make sure that they are acceptable before committing to opening an account. Thereafter, placing a bet is as simple as clicking on the name of your selection – which will be added to an electronic betting slip – clicking the type of bet you wish to place, entering your stake amount and clicking another button to confirm your bet. You will be able to view your list of ‘open’ bets at any time and any winnings will automatically be credited to your account when each bet is settled.
The most obvious difference between Flat and Jump, or National Hunt, racing is that Flat racing does not require participants to negotiate obstacles, but National Hunt racing, at least for the most part, does. The one exception is the confusingly-named National Hunt Flat Race, colloquially known as a ‘bumper’, which is run under National Hunt Rules, but involves no obstacles at all.
Flat racing is also staged, on the whole, over shorter distances than National Hunt racing. In Britain, the official minimum distance for a Flat race is 5 furlongs, but the official minimum distance for hurdle races and steeplechases is 2 miles. At the other end of the scale, the longest Flat race staged in Britain is the Queen Alexandra Stakes, run over 2 miles, 5 furlongs and 143 yards, while the longest National Hunt race is the Grand National, run over 4 miles, 2 furlongs and 7 yards.
Nowadays, Flat and National Hunt races take place throughout the year, but the Flat season ‘proper’ traditionally starts with the Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster in late March or early April and ends with the November Handicap at the same course in early November. By contrast, the National Hunt season ‘proper’ traditionally starts in mid-October and ends with the Bet365 Gold Cup, originally known as the Whitbread Gold Cup, at Sandown Park in late April. National Hunt racing is typically less financially rewarding than Flat racing and, with the most important part of the season extending through the winter, is generally considered less fashionable and less glamorous.