Back in the 1960s, yes, I’m that old, the UK only had two TV channels, ITV and the BBC. Programs were in black and white, or so they said. The so called ‘Black’ part of the picture was dark grey. The so called ‘white’ part of the picture was light grey. The picture resolution was terrible because it was made up of 405 horizontal lines. If one squinted ones eyes at the TV screen and cocked one’s head to one side, it was possible to see the lines on the TV screen that made up the picture. Eeee, those were the days.
Each week-day night on the BBC, after the main evening news had finished, there was a program called ‘Tonight’. Catchy, eh? It was hosted by Cliff Michelmore. Tonight was a ‘magazine’ program. A program where bits of news, trivial and funny stories, not felt to be worthy of being broadcast on the evening news, were given an airing.
In those days, the news, and the reading thereof, was a very ‘proper’ affair and news was serious, or it couldn’t possibly be news. It wasn’t the done thing to trivialise the news, so, Cliff Michelmore obliged. Cliff was aided and abetted by Fyfe Robertson.
Fyfe was a rather amiable Scot with a laid-back attitude. He was touted as being their ‘Roving Reporter’. He went to the far-flung reaches of the galaxy, well, the UK mainland really, and did pieces on anything that was of interest.
Fyfe usually started by saying ‘Here I stand ....’ which became on of his catch-prases. He would then, basically, state the bleedin’ obvious and then retrieve the situation by stating something that no one else had ever noticed before or few had known. The amount of trivia that I learned from listening to Fyfe was quite staggering. One day, I remember him doing a piece on Stone Henge. He commented on various aspects of it, stared sagely in the camera and then said in a thick Scottish accent ‘ .... But what does it all mean?’ This also became one of his catch-phrases.
Now, there’s an awful lot of terminology used in the world of horse racing. Some of it is quite trivial but some of it is worth understanding. I’m sure that at least some of you are puzzled by the terminology and would like to ask ‘What does it all mean?’. So, for those of this ilk, here’s some of the more useful terminology together with their meaning:
Action - The way in which a horse runs. For example, commentators may refer to a horse having a ‘rounded’ or ‘flat’ running action. It is thought that some types of action are better suited to certain types of ground.
Added Money - When a horse is entered into a race, entry fees may be payable. A part of such fees is allocated to the prize monies allocated to the owners of those horses which finish highest. In addition, the prize monies may be supplemented by the racing authorities, breeding funds etc. The supplemented prize monies are referred to as being ‘Added’.
All-Weather Track - One that has an artificial surface such as fibre-sand. The aim is to allow racing to take place irrespective of the weather conditions since the state of the track remains fairly constant. Such tracks include those at Southwell, Kempton Park, Wolverhampton and Lingfield Park.
Allowance - A reduction in the weight to be carried by a horse provided that the horse and or jockey meets certain criteria. For example, younger horses may be allowed to carry less weight that their older rivals in certain types of races. This is known as an age allowance.
Amateur - A non-professional jockey. Their names on the race card are preceded by a title eg. Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms etc. if they are an amateur. Some races are for amateurs only.
Apprentice / Claimer - A trainee jockey. Some races are for apprentice jockeys only. Such races are known as Claiming Races Apprentice jockeys are normally given a weight allowance. This reduces the weight that the horse is required to carry during a race. The weight reduction allows the horse to run faster and compensates for the jockey’s lack of experience. An apprentice can claim a 10 pound allowance until the 5th. winner, a 7 pound allowance until the 35th winner and 5 pounds allowance for one calendar year after the 35th winner was ridden.
Black Type - A horse that has won, or been placed in, a stakes race.
Blinkers - Horse head-gear that is designed to prevent a horse’s attention from wandering during a race. It is designed to cause the horse to focus on the race and, hopefully, perform better. Blinkers are usually fitted if the horse was seen as not concentrating in previous races.
Colours / Silks - A jockey’s shirt. Each owner has a unique silk design/colour combination.
COLT - A male horse of four years of age or less.
Conditional Jockey - A National Hunt jockey who is under the age of 26. Such jockeys receive a weight allowance for inexperience until such time as the jockey has ridden a given number of winners.
Conditions Races - In such races, the weight allocated to a horse is determined by its sex (males are required to carry more than females), its age (older horses are required to carry more than younger ones) and its past winnings (the more money that a horse has won, the more weight it is required to carry).
Conformation - A horse’s build and general physical structure.
Coupled - When two horses are treated as one for betting purposes. This usually occurs when one trainer enters two horses in the same USA or French race.
Cut - A term normally applied to the state of the ground. If ground is described at having cut in it, it means that the ground is on the soft side.
Distance - Can refer to the length of a race or that between two horses. The minimum race distance is 5 furlongs and the maximum is 4 and a half miles. If a horse is beaten by more than 30 lengths, the horse can be said to have been beaten by ‘a distance’.
DRAW - A flat racing term referring to the stall number from which the horse starts a race. At certain tracks, the draw is an important factor in determining which horse is likely to win a race.
Filly - A female horse of four years of age or less.
Form - The horse’s record in previous races. Form appears next to the horse’s name on a race card. A ‘1’ denotes that the horse won its last race. A ‘2’ denotes that the horse came 2nd. in its last race. A ‘0’ denotes that the horse did not finish in the first nine runners in its last race. In addition, various letters are used. A ‘F’ denotes that the horse fell in its last race. A ‘U’ denotes that the horse un-seated its rider. The left-most form figure relates to the earliest race that the horse competed in. The right-most form figure relates to the latest race that the horse competed in.
Furlong - A unit of race distance. There are 8 furlongs to the mile and 220 yards or 201 metres to the furlong.
Gelding - A male horse which has been neutered to curb its stallion tendencies in order to bring out the best of its racing, rather than its breeding, abilities.
Going - Refers to the state of the ground or race track. For British turf racing, the going is classified as being one of the following: Hard - Firm - Good to Firm - Good - Good to Soft - Soft - Heavy. The going is determined by the Clerk of the Course by pushing a going stick into the ground and withdrawing it. The ideal going is ‘Good’ and ground staff seek to achieve this. Horses with speed perform better on harder ground. Horses with stamina perform better on softer ground. Trainers withdraw their horses from races if the ground is thought to be unsuitable for their horses.
Hand - Four inches. A horse’s height (from the ground to its withers) is measured in hands.
Handicap - A race in which those horses with are percieved to have the greater abilities are allocated the most weight to carry. The aim is to have all the horses in the race cross the finishing line at the same time. This leads to more exciting races.
Handicapper - One who allocates the weights to be carried by horses running in Handicap races.
Juvenile - A two year old flat horse or a three year old National Hunt horse.
Long Handicap - Horses are allocated weight to carry weight in a race according to their percieved ability. The better the horse is percieved to be, the greater is the weight that it has to carry. In some races, conditions apply e.g. that all horses must carry a minimum weight. If a horse is entered into a race such that its weight allocation would mean that it would carry less than the minimum weight allocated for the race, then it is allocated the minimum weight. By carrying the minimum weight, it is carrying more than would have been allocated by the handicapper. Such horses are seriously disadvantage by the additional weight and are said to be long handicapped or ‘out of the handicap’.
Mare - A female horse over five years of age.
Maiden - A horse that has never won a race. There are races which are only open to Maidens.
National Hunt - Races that involve jumping over fences and hurdles.
Nursery - A handicap race for two year olds.
Overweight - When a horse carries more weight in a race than it is allocated to carry because the jockey is unable to reduced his weight by the required amount.
Penalty - If a horse wins a race between two two consecutive publications of weights to be carried by horses in handicap races, the horse concerned may be allocated further weight to be carried during subsequent races by the handicapper: For example, a racing commentator may state that horse X has been handed a 5 lb. penalty for his win at York last week.
Stayer - A horses that are able to run for long distances.
(Steeple) Chase - A race in which fences, open ditches and water jumps are negotiated. The race is so-called because of its earliest beginnings when races were held which started at one church and ended at another church.
Tight Track - One where the track is narrow and the corners are sharp. This type of track suits small and nimble horses.