In National Hunt racing, over hurdles or fences, ‘seeing a stride’ refers to the ability of a jockey not only to identify the point at which, ideally, a horse should leave the ground to negotiate an obstacle successfully, but also to ride positively to reach that point. To position a horse optimally – that is, close to the base of an obstacle, but not so close as to impair take-off – a jockey must consider the characteristics of the horse, in terms of balance, suppleness and temperament and, of course, its stride length, as well as the nature of the obstacle. Of course, the different types of obstacles include hurdles, plain fences and open ditches; the tallest and broadest fence on the Grand National Course at Aintree, known as ‘The Chair’, is 5’3″ high and 9′ wide, including a 6′ wide ditch on the take-off side. A horse typically has a stride length between 9′ and 12′, so will cover at least that distance in the air and possibly further, if the obstacle is wider. Nevertheless, while momentum is required to jump larger obstacles, a jockey must avoid ‘kicking on’ too hard, which can lead to jumping errors, loss of confidence and injury to horse and rider.
The simple answer is no, Aidan O’Brien is not related to the late Michael Vincent O’Brien, but the current ‘Master of Ballydoyle’ has much in common with his predecessor. Indeed, it was Vincent O’Brien who bought Ballydoyle House, in Co. Tipperary in 1951 and, later, along with his son-in-law, John Magnier, and the late Robert Sangster, established what became known as the Coolmore syndicate, for whom Aidan O’Brien has been private trainer since 1996.
Both Aidan and Vincent O’Brien began their training careers in National Hunt racing; both have the distinction of having won the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival three years running, Aidan with Istabraq in 1998, 1999 and 2000 and Vincent with Hatton’s Grace in 1949, 1950 and 1951. Similarly, both men subsequently rose to become the dominant force in Flat racing, not just in Ireland, but in the whole of Europe and both became Champion Trainer in Britain, despite training on the other side of the Irish Sea.
In horse racing, ‘novice’ is often used in the same sense that it is used elsewhere – that is, to describe a horse that is new to racing, or inexperienced in its selected discipline – but, officially, ‘novice’ has a highly-specific meaning.
Under the Rules of Racing, on the Flat, a novice is any horse that is eligible to run in a novice, novice auction or median auction novice race. What that means, essentially, it that is has won no more than twice and has run no more than twice, unless it has yet to win or is a two-year-old, although it must also satisfy certain other eligibility criteria.
In National Hunt racing, a novice is defined as a horse that has yet to win, in its selected discipline – that is, over hurdles or fences – before the start of the current season. The only caveat is that horses that win one or more races in their selected discipline in the last two months of the National Hunt season ‘proper’ are still regarded as novices, and therefore eligible to run in novice hurdles or novice steeplechases, until the end of the following October.
In Britain, the most successful jockey ever was Sir Gordon Richards who, between 1921 and 1954, rode 4,870 winners. The late Pat Eddery, who rode 4,633 winners between 1969 and 2003, and the incomparable Lester Piggott, who rode 4,493 winners between 1948 and 1994, are second and third on the all-time list, while Sir Anthony McCoy – far and away the most successful jockey in the history of National Hunt racing – is not far behind, with 4,358 winners.
However, none of the British jockeys can hold a candle to Canadian-born jockey Russell A. Baze who, between 1974 and 2016, rode an astonishing 12,842 winners – from 53,578 rides, at a strike rate of 24% – in North America. Baze is, comfortably, the most successful jockey in the history of horse racing worldwide, even outscoring prolific winners Laffit A. Pincay Jr. and Bill “The Shoe” Shoemaker by several thousand.