Jump racing, also known as National Hunt racing, is the code, or discipline, of horse racing that involves negotiating obstacles, usually in the form of hurdles or fences. Some jump racing does, however, take place on specialist ‘cross country’ or ‘bank’ courses, on which some of the obstacles are more akin to those typically found in open countryside. In Britain, with the exception of some National Hunt Flat races, all jump races are run over an ‘official’ minimum distance of at least 2 miles, although on certain racecourses the advertised distance may be slightly shorter. However, the longest jump race staged in Britain is, unequivocally, the Grand National, nowadays run over 4 miles 2 furlongs and 7 yards, at Aintree Racecourse in April each year. Since the advent of so-called ‘summer jumping’, which began in 1995, jump racing is staged throughout the year, although the National Hunt season ‘proper’ lasts from mid-October to late April or early May.
In horse racing parlance, a maiden is a horse – regardless of its age or sex – that has yet to win a race in its selected discipline. Thus, it follows, naturally, that a maiden race is a race in which none of the participants have won a race in their selected discipline. Maiden races are run on the Flat and under National Hunt Rules, so the situation is complicated, somewhat, by horses that progress from one discipline to another, as many do, throughout their careers. A horse that has won a Flat race, or a National Hunt Flat race, but not a hurdle race, is still eligible for a ‘maiden hurdle’ by virtue of never having won a race over obstacles, and so on.
In horse racing, the term ‘going’ is used to describe the condition of the ground at a racecourse, in terms of its moisture content. The going is measured by the Clerk of the Course on a raceday morning and communicated to the Racecourse Association which, in turn, distributes the information to the Press Association. Traditionally, the going was described by one of seven broad, subjective categories, ranging from ‘hard’ to ‘heavy’.
However, for National Hunt racing, going previously described, officially, as ‘hard’ has been outlawed as unraceable in Britain and, for Flat racing, such going is rarely, if ever, experienced anywhere other than Bath; set on the Lansdown Plateau, 780 feet above sea level, Bath is the highest racecourse in the country that stages Flat racing and has no watering system.
Furthermore, for racing under both codes, at least on turf racecourses, the traditional going description is accompanied by an objective, empirical figure, known as a ‘GoingStick reading’. Described as a cross between a spade and a shooting stick, the GoingStick is a device with a single metal probe that is pushed into the ground and measures penetration and shear, which are translated into a figure representing the moisture content of the soil. The GoingStick produces readings between 0 and 15, but a reading below 5 (‘heavy’) or above 10 (‘firm’) usually means that the ground is unraceable.
Of course, some racecourses in Britain also stage Flat racing on synthetic, or ‘all-weather’, surfaces, such as Fibresand, Polytrack and Tapeta. These surfaces, which consist of silica sand, polypropylene fibres and other components, can be rolled or harrowed to adjust their firmness, but the official going description still relies on the traditional, subjective approach. Indeed, all-weather racing has even few categories than turf racing, with the going ranging from ‘fast’, through ‘standard’, to ‘slow’.