In the last two decades or so, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has encouraged better horses to participate in the Grand National by ‘compressing’ the weights. What this means, in practical terms, is allowing horses at the top of the handicap to run off lower handicap ratings than would otherwise be the case. This, in turn, decreases the difference between the highest and lowest weighted horses in the National field, creating, at least in theory, a more competitive race.
The notion that horses at the top of the handicap had previously been disadvantaged by carrying additional weight over the extreme distance of the Grand National appears to be borne out by results since the turn of the twenty-first century. Since 2001, seven horses have carried 11st or more to victory in the National, whereas in the preceding two decades only Grittar (1982), Corbiere (1983) and Rhyme ‘N’ Reason (1988) did so. At the other end of the handicap, no horse has carried the minimum weight of 10st to victory since Bobbyjo who was, in fact, 14lb out of the handicap proper, in 1999.
Typically, horses should consume about 2.5% of their body weight daily, but intense training programmes often mean that racehorses often only have limited access to high-quality grass and hay, from well-maintained pastures, and may struggle to consume enough calories to maintain their optimal weight. Consequently, racehorses are typically fed large amounts of cereal-based feedstuffs, such as grain mixtures and oats, to provide the calories they need to perform as elite athletes.
Indeed, oats were once the staple diet of working horses but, because they are low in calcium and macronutrients, such as copper and zinc, and high in phosphorus, are rarely fed in isolation nowadays. Instead, they are fed alongside high-quality hay and grass, vitamin supplements and additional feedstuffs, such as sugar beet pulp, which is a good source of dietary fibre, or roughage, and helps to balance the diet of a typical racehorse. An average racehorse must also drink between five and ten gallons of clean water every day to maintain its health and performance.
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.
Weight-for-Age (WFA) is a weight allowance given to younger horses, usually three-year-olds, to compensate for their lack of physical maturity and allow them to compete with older, mature horses on equal terms, at least in theory. The so-called Weight-for-Age Scale was first formalised by Admiral Henry John Rous, Jockey Club Steward, in the mid-nineteenth century and, although it has been revised several times over the years, the underlying principle remains the same. The modern Weight-for-Age Scale is a table that lays down, fortnight by fortnight, how much weight horses of different ages should receive from their elders, over different distances, until they reach maturity at the age of four years. The weight allowance decreases, in linear fashion, as the year progresses, and is based on the development of the theoretical ‘average’ horse.