What is grass sickness in horses?

Grass sickness in horses, technically known as ‘equine dysautonomia’, attracted public attention when, in 2001, it caused the death of the 2000 Dubai World Cup winner, Dubai Millenium, as a five-year-old. In response, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, ruler of the Emirate of Dubai and owner of the Godolphin stables, established the Dubai Millennium Research Foundation (DMRF) with a view to identifying the explicitly defined cause of the disease.

The cause of grass sickness remains unknown, but the disease occurs, almost invariably, in young horses, aged between two and seven years, with access to grass. The main symptom of grass sickness is gut paralysis, caused by damage to the involuntary, or ‘autonomic’, nervous system; the nature of the damage suggests the presence of a toxin and Clostridium botulinum, a bacterium that produces lethal botulinum toxins, which block nerve functions, under low-oxygen, or ‘hypoxic’, conditions, has been strongly implicated in cases of grass sickness.

Grass sickness was first identified in Scotland in the early twentieth century, where it was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of horses, predominantly draught horses, annually throughout the Twenties. There is still no dependable, explicit treatment for grass sickness and, in the worst cases, horses die or require euthanasia within 48 hours after contracting the disease. In the United Kingdom, grass sickness is estimated to kill 0.5% of horses, of all breeds, annually.

How fast are horses?

On average, young, healthy, well-conditioned horses gallop at between 25 and 30 miles per hour. However, according to Guinness World Records, the fastest speed ever recorded by a racehorse was the 43.97 miles per hour achieved by the two-year-old throughbred filly, Winning Brew, at Penn National Racecourse in Grantville, Pennsylvania in May, 2008. Trained by Francis Vitale, covered two furlongs, or a quarter of a mile, in 20.57 seconds.

Of course, despite the American penchant for horse races well short of five furlongs – in some cases as short as a furlong, or even half a furlong – the minimum distance in many racing territories, including Britain, is five furlongs, or five eighths of a mile. Again, according to Guinness World Records, the fastest time recorded over five furlongs was the 53.69 achieved by the four-year-old Stone Of Folca at Epsom Racecourse in Surrey in June, 2012. Trained by John Best and ridden by Luke Morris, Stone Of Folca averaged 41.67 miles per hour en route to the fastest time recorded on a British racecourse since the advent of electronic timing.

Which is the oldest regulated horse race in the world?

It stands to reason that the oldest regulated horse race in the world should have originated in one of the oldest established centres for horse racing in the world. Doncaster Racecourse is not the oldest racecourse in the world – that distinction belongs to Chester Racecourse, established in 1539 – but a racecourse is shown in the vicinity of Doncaster, on Wheatley Moor, on a map dating from 1595.

The oldest regulated horse race is in the world, in fact, the Doncaster Cup, which was established, as the Doncaster Gold Cup, in 1766, a decade before the oldest British Classic, the St. Leger Stakes, also run at Doncaster Racecourse. Nowadays, the Doncaster Cup is a Group Two contest run over two miles and two furlongs and, along with the Gold Cup at Ascot and the Goodwood Cup, constitutes part of the so-called Stayers’ Triple Crown. However, the Doncaster Gold Cup was originally run over four miles, on Cantley Common, before being transferred to its current home, on Town Moor, ten years later.

Which horse was ‘stunned’ at Royal Ascot in 1988?

The history of British horse racing is awash with stories of horses that managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, but – with the possible exception of Devon Loch in the Grand National in 1956 – perhaps none more bizarre than Ile De Chypre in the King George V Stakes at Royal Ascot in 1988.

Bred and owned by Athos Christodoulou and trained by Guy Harwood at Pulborough, West Sussex, Ile De Chypre was, at the time, an unexposed three-year-old maiden who had, nonetheless, run with sufficient promise on his reappearance to be sent off second favourite for the competitive handicap. Ridden by stable jockey Greville Starkey, Ile De Chypre looked certain to justify market support when going clear in the closing stages, but inexplicably veered badly left in the last hundred yards or so, unseating Starkey as he did so.

The details of the incident were not revealed until a year later, when car dealer James Laming to Southwark Crown Court that he had fired an ultrasonic ‘stun gun’, disguised as a pair of binoculars, at Ile De Chypre. Accused of conspiracy to supply cocaine and money laundering, Laming claimed that money with traces of cocaine found in his car was on-course winnings, but he was less than forthcoming regarding other details of his alleged coup.

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