Which are the highest and lowest racecourses in Britain?

Interestingly, the highest racecourses in Britain are well-publicised, but less so, or so it would appear, are the lowest. The highest racecourse in the country is, unequivocally, Exeter Racecourse, which stands 850 feet above sea level in the Haldon Hills, near the city of Exeter, in Devon, in southwest England. The second highest is Hexham Racecourse, which is situated in High Yarridge, 600 feet above the market town of Hexham, and 800 feet above sea level, in Northumberland, in northeast England. Both Exeter and Hexham exclusively stage National Hunt racing, so the honour of being the highest racecourse in the country to Flat racing goes to Bath Racecourse, which is set on the Lansdown Plateau, 780 feet above sea level, in Somerset, in southwest England.

Worcester Racecourse, in Worcester, the county town of Worcestershire, in the West Midlands of England, lies in the floodplain of the River Severn and appeared a likely candidate for the lowest racecourse in Britain, granted the frequency with which it is flooded. However, according to Ordnance Survey, Worcester Racecourse stands at an elevation of 66 feet above sea level or more than twice that of two racecourses in East Anglia, in eastern England.

Again according to Ordnance Survey, the lowest point, geographically, is Holme Fen in Cambridgeshire, which stands at an elevation of 9 feet below sea level. Huntingdon Racecourse, which is situated just under 15 miles south of Holme Fen, in the low-lying parish of Brampton, has an elevation of just 33 feet above sea level and so, too, does Great Yarmouth Racecourse, situated just over a hundred miles east of Holme Fen on the coast of Norfolk.

What is the purpose of starting stalls?

In British Flat racing, horses compete over a minimum of five furlongs, a distance that they can cover in less than a minute, so it is imperative, ideally, that all the horses start together, in as straight a line as possible. Consequently, the vast majority of Flat races in Britain are started via numbered starting stalls. Nevertheless, it may surprise you to learn that starting stalls were not introduced in Britain until 1965.

Starting stalls feature an electromechanical release system, operated by a single button which, when pressed by the starter, unlocks the spring-loaded mechanism on the front door of each stall, causing them all to spring open simultaneously. They can horses to become claustrophobic and unruly but, even so, add a level of precision and predictability to the start of a Flat race. Previously, a system of five wires, suspended at head height, was used and, before that, a system of flags, which inevitably led to numerous false starts.

How many winners must an apprentice jockey ride to lose his/her claim?

In Flat racing, an apprentice jockeys’ licence allows young, inexperienced riders – aged between 16 and 26 years – to receive a weight allowance, or ‘claim’, when riding against full professional jockeys to compensate for their initial lack of experience. According to Rule (F) 140 of the Rules of Racing, apprentice jockeys can claim 7lb until they have ridden 20 winners, 5lb until they have ridden 50 winners and 3lb until they have ridden 95 winners.

In other words, once an apprentice has ridden 95 winners, his or her apprentice licence becomes invalid and he or she is said to have ‘ridden out’ his or her claim. He or she is then required to apply for a full professional licence with six months. Of course, it is also possible for an apprentice to turn 26 before he or she has ridden out his or her claim, in which case his or her apprentice licence becomes invalid anyway and he or she must apply for a full professional licence immediately.

Did Lester Piggott ever win the Grand National?

Lester Piggott is arguably the greatest Flat jockey of all time. Between 1948 and 1995, he rode 4,493 winners on the Flat, including 30 British Classic winners, and became Champion Jockey 11 times. Piggott never rode over fences, so he could never have won the Grand National but, early in his career, he did ride successfully over hurdles.

In fact, Piggott rode his first winner over obstacles, Eldoret, at Wincanton on Boxing Day, 1953. The following spring – still three months before his first Derby winner, Never Say Die – he won the Birdlip Hurdle, the opening race at what became the Cheltenham Festival, on Mull Sack and the Triumph Hurdle, in those days run at the now-defunct Hurst Park, on Prince Charlemagne, within the space of a few days. All in all, between 1953 and 1959, Lester Piggott rode 20 winners over hurdles, mainly for his father, Keith.

Lester Piggott may never have won the Grand National, but his grandfather, Ernie, rode three Grand National winners – Jerry M in 1912 and Poethlyn in 1918 and 1919 – and his father saddled the 1963 Grand National winner, Ayala; perhaps the headline question is not quite so absurd, after all?

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