What is the maximum ‘official’ winning distance?

Historically, the maximum ‘official’ winning distance – that is, the maximum, meaningful distance that racecourse judges could record – was 30 lengths; anything beyond that was simply recorded as ‘a distance’. However, when Kauto Star swept clear of his nearest pursuer, Madison Du Berlais, in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, 2009, the racing public was, understandably, keen to know the actual winning margin. Shortly afterwards, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) increased the range of distances available to racecourse judges to 99 lengths.

The next change to the maximum official winning distance was implemented, ‘in the interests of greater accuracy’, on New Year’s Day, 2018. At that point, the BHA extended its computerised ‘lengths per second’ (LPS) tables to 200 lengths. Thus, to quote one recent example of a relevant, wide-margin victory, the result of the open hunters’ chase at Bangor-on-Dee on February 7, 2020 is recorded for posterity as a 107-length win for Bob And Co, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by David Maxwell.

Was Paul Nicholls once a jockey?

Nowadays, Paul Nicholls is best known as the eleven-time winner of the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship, with over 3,000 winners, including 45 Cheltenham Festival winners and a Grand National winner, to his name. It would be fair to say that Nicholls is a familiar, if rather portly, figure on British racecourses in his trademark tweed coat with a velvet collar, but he was, in his younger days, an accomplished National Hunt jockey.

In a seven-year riding career, Nicholls rode a respectable 133 winners, but was most closely associated with the late David Barons, for whom he was stable jockey between 1986 and his retirement, due to injury, in 1989. Indeed, it was for Barons that Nicholls recorded back-to-back victories in the Hennessy Gold Cup – now the Ladbrokes Trophy – at Newbury on Broadheath in 1986 and Playschool in 1987. Remarkably, Broadheath carried just 10st 5lb and Playschool just 10st 8lb.

However, in an interview long after his retirement from the saddle, Nicholls admitted that he often resorted to ‘cheating’, by constantly taking diuretic pills, known in racing circles as ‘pee pills’, to keep his weight down, or fiddling the scales when weighing out or in. He also admitted to having been close to anorexia during his career as a jockey.

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