Sunday 26 May 2024

Kentucky Derby Festival

A Grade 1 contest, run over 2,000 metres, or approximately a mile and a quarter, on dirt at Churchill Downs Racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky and open to three-year-old colts, fillies and geldings, the Kentucky Derby represents the first leg of the North American Triple Crown. Known colloquially as the 'Run for the Roses' and billed as 'the most exciting two minutes in sport', the Kentucky Derby is run on the first Saturday in May, where it forms the highlight of a 14-race card.

However, the Kentucky Derby Festival stretches far beyond the confines of Churchill Downs into the wider Kentucky community, where it celebrates not only the Kentucky Derby, but also the coming of spring to the 'Bluegrass State'. Indeed, the Festival is the largest single annual event in the Kentucky calendar and, in the two weeks preceding the Kentucky Derby, attracts 1.5 million people to a series of playful, tongue-in-cheek events suitable for the whole family. All told, over 70 special events, many of which are free of charge, are laid on for entertainment purposes and to bolster the local economy.

Highlights include the opening fireworks display, known as 'Thunder Over Louisville', which is one of the largest events of its kind anywhere in the United States, the 'Great Steamboat Race' on the Ohio River, and the founding event, the 'Pegasus Parade'. Sports, including basketball, golf and volleyball, are very much in evidence and so, too, is music, with concerts running almost non-stop throughout the fortnight.

Tuesday 9 April 2024

What Is A Long Furlong?

One of my racing friends is called Seamus Furlong.

Understanding horse racing and all its terminology and intricacies isn’t a test in the sense of a competition. However, I do like to test those who ‘know’ something about the Sport of Kings. I ask: ‘How many metres are there in a furlong?’

Send your answers on a postcard, as they used to say about 40-years ago.

In realistic terms my thoughts of questioning may suggest some kind of shortcoming in my own self concept. As when someone uses a fancy word instead of something bog standard. My in depth knowledge of subjects is limited. I know my niche of two-year-old horse racing and birds. That’s the feathered variety as my next door neighbour Eric Alterton would say.

For those who have no idea how long a furlong is or care to wonder I will detail it’s 201 metres.

Don’t ask me how long that is in feet and inches.

It just proves the point that we can all be exceptionally intelligent and dumb a the same time.

Horse racing is one of those subjects where it makes the best of people, even trainers, look like they’d struggle to spoon feed themselves cornflakes each morning.

I’ve had occasions when that final furlong has felt like a long furlong. I know what your are saying: ‘How can 201 metres be anything other than that basic number? It’s a scale, theory, method or whatever you want to call it.’ However, and this sounds like a joke: ‘When is a furlong not a furlong?’

It’s akin to the story penned by George Orwell’s - Animal Farm: ‘All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.’

Only a pig could say those words.

But it’s true for furlongs too. And when a punter says a horse is running over 6-furlongs there is often a marked difference between the time of the same distance. It’s the same for the humble furlong. At Epsom a furlong may be run in 10 seconds while at Pontefract 13. Then consider the variable of the going it can be even more marked. On the firm ground at Bath to the heavy going at Leicester the time difference may be 8 seconds (for a furlong). In fact, over a longer trip of 1m 6f, the final furlong on testing ground may take 22 seconds to run. So one furlong takes the same time as another horse on faster ground could run two furlongs.

I hope you’re keeping up!

The longest furlong may have nothing to do with time but everything to do with perception. I’m sure a few readers will know what I am talking about.

When you have a potential big win and your horse is two or three lengths clear leading into the final furlong. It’s called a long furlong because with each stride the lead is being reduced. You’re not sure whether to watch your horse, the chaser, tongue lolling out like it’s blowing a raspberry, or the finishing line. Your eyes dart from the three like it’s the holy trinity. At times, it must be an optical illusion, I could swear the finishing line (lollipop) is moving further away. The reality of the furlong comes to being with the win, loss or draw.

How many times I wished that furlong took one second faster or slower to run.

However, sometimes it’s just the right distance and time.


Thursday 14 March 2024

Hong Kong International Races

The Hong Kong International Races meeting is staged, under the auspices of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, at Sha Tin Racecourse, in the New Territories region of Hong Kong, in December each year. Currently sponsored by Swiss watchmaker Longines and billed as the 'Turf World Championships', Hong Kong International Races comprises the four most prestigious races run in the region, namely the Hong Kong Cup, Hong Kong Mile, Hong Kong Sprint and Hong Kong Vase.

Unsurprisingly, all four races are nowadays Group 1 contests but, while all four are open to horses aged three years and upwards, they did not come into existence at the same time. The Hong Kong Cup, which is run over 2,000 metres, or approximately a mile and a quarter, was first run in its current guise in 1999. So, too, was the Hong Kong Mile, which is run over 1,600 metres, or approximately one mile, although it was not upgraded to Group 1 status until the following year. The Hong Kong Sprint, nowadays run over 1,200 metres, or approximately six furlongs, was also inaugurated in 1999, albeit over 1,000 metres, or approximately five furlongs, but did not achieve Group 1 status until 2002 and was not lengthened to its current distance until 2006. The Hong Kong Vase, run over 2,400 metres, or approximately a mile and a half, was first staged in 1994, but similarly did not achieve Group 1 status until 2000.

Monday 12 February 2024

Cheltenham Festival - Cheltenham Gold Cup

There is definitely a good reason why this race is the headline event of the Cheltenham Festival. An Assortment of the best horses fight it out for the top position through three miles and two-and-a-half furlongs ( 5331m) on the Cheltenham New course.

The horses must have attained the age of five years to participate, and will have to have been in tip-top position throughout the season. A gruesome path of such lengthy distance is laden with 22 fence obstacles.

A horse’s acceleration over short distances, endurance, braking and jumping skills are put to ultimate test in this event. The same applies to a rider’s handling skills.

For all the pain, the winner gets to take home a whopping £350,000 from a £625,000 purse (as of 2024). Gamblers find some of the best odds here too!

When it’s time for the Gold Cup, everything else comes to a stop. The viewing stands fill up to the brim as spectators line up to see this spectacular event.

Wednesday 10 January 2024

Was the Cheltenham Gold Cup once run on the Flat?

The simple answer is yes, it was. More than a century before the Cheltenham Gold Cup was inaugurated in its more familiar guise, as a steeplechase run at Prestbury Park, in 1924, a race of the same name was run for the first time on Cleeve Hill, or Cleeve Cloud, which dominates the skyline to the north-east of the current racecourse, in 1819.

According to Baily’s Racing Register, in its original incarnation, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, or Piece of Plate, was contested over three miles, on the Flat, with a value of 100 guineas, added to a sweepstakes of 20 guineas each. The race was won by the four-year-old bay colt, Spectre, owned by a certain Mr. Bodenham, who carried 6st 7lb to victory, after finishing second in the Gloucestershire Stakes, over two miles, at the same venue two days earlier. Interestingly, the second horse home, Zenith, was owned by John Rous, a.k.a. Lord Rous, whose second son, Henry John Rous, was later appointed Jockey Club Steward.