Rules

Horse Racing Starting Gates

We know horse racing as a perfectly organized and monitored professional sport, but it hasn’t been like this all the time. Its origins trace back to about 4500 BC when the nomadic tribesmen of Central Asia first domesticated horses. Since that time, horse racing has flourished and acquired a status of the sport of kings.

Only in the 18th century it grew as a professional sport and thus needed certain rules and regulations. It’s not a coincidence that horse racing was called the sport of kings, seeing as various kings contributed to its development and for a long time nobility was the only layer of the society to be involved in it.

For example, Charles II got the nickname “the father of the English turf” after he inaugurated the famous King’s plates – the very first races that provided prizes for winners. He was also known as the person who established the first rules for horse racing. He wrote a couple of articles on how he thought the races were supposed to be organized, and these articles became the foundation of the later regulations.

More rules were introduced in 1750 when the first Jockey Club was founded. These rules were more detailed than the first ones and were based on sex, age, birthplace and previous performances of horses and professional riders (jockeys in England). At that time races were organized according to certain criteria.

For example there were races that required gentlemen to be riders, races with the field restricted geographically to a township or county, and races in which only horses that didn’t win more than a certain amount could participate.

During that period the British Parliament issued an act according to which the horses that took part in a given race had to be the property of the owners. The main purpose of this act was to prevent the so-called ringers – superior horses participating in the race fraudulently against inferior horses.

At the very beginning of horse racing, riders (or as they were called in England – jockeys) were not officially recorded. Probably this neglect is explained by the fact that races consisted of 4-mile heats and individual rider’s judgment and skill were not so important. As soon as dash or one heat racing became the rule, a few yards in the race acquired importance and so did the rider’s talents and skills.

According to the King’s Plates rules only six-year-old horses carrying 168 pounds could participate in the races and only those that won two heats were adjudged winners. Beginning from 1751 the rules changed a bit and since then five-year-olds carrying 140 pounds and four-year-olds carrying 126 pounds were also allowed to participate in the races. As for the heats, they were reduced to two miles. Heat racing for four-year-olds continued in the U.S. until 1860s, when it was overshadowed by dash racing. “Dash” was a race decided by only one heat irrespective of its distance.

The modern age of racing began with the inauguration of the English classic races: the St. Leger in 1776, the Oaks in 1779, and finally the Derby in 1780. All the three were dashes for three-year-old horses. Several other races were later added to this list: the Two Thousand Guineas in 1809 and the One Thousand Guineas in 1814.

During this period, races of the English classic pattern have become a model for other countries and thus spread all over the world. The Prix du Jockey Club (1836), the Grand Prix du Paris (1863) and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (1920) are the French classics. As for the American classics, they are: the Belmont Stakes (1867), the Preakness Stakes (1873), and the Kentucky Derby (1875).

diagram horse racing track

They say that since the Jockey Club took control over horse racing in England in the 18th century, corruption was reduced to zero and certain norms were adopted. It is worth noting that nothing has significantly changed since that time and even today these rules and norms are carefully complied with.

For example, each stable and racetrack should have veterinary facilities because it’s extremely important to ensure that any racehorse that needs veterinary assistance or attention can receive it within the shortest time possible.

Besides that, vets need to make sure that racehorses have all the necessary vaccinations and are absolutely healthy. There are strict rules on infections and diseases such as equine infectious anaemia and equine flu at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Most of them are covered in the Diseases of Horses Order 1987.

British Horseracing Authority plays a vital role in monitoring and regulating the races. BHA officials perform various functions. They are the stewards or guardians whose goal is to ensure that all aspects of the race, both on racecourse and off racecourse are properly followed. It often happens that they need to make difficult judgments and decisions; however, all of them are properly prepared for that during the training period.

It is natural that jockeys must have completed proper training through an apprenticeship and consequently they are licensed by the BHA to race. Like any other sportspeople they are tested from time to time in order to make sure they are not taking any kind of drugs or other prohibited substances.

Starting line and finish are of equal importance at horse racing that’s why it’s essential to make sure all the racehorses and their jockeys have had a decent start. BHA officials are usually responsible for this. They will always be on the hand to start the race and report any incidents if necessary. Usually they don’t limit themselves to reporting only, but they also try to find solutions to appearing problems if it is in their powers.

Finish lines ought to have sophisticated laser and digital photographic equipment in order to capture the winner. It often happens that leading racehorses are separated from each other only by fractions of a second and no human can see which horse came to the finish line first without this specialized equipment.

Each and every rider (jockey) is obliged to be weighed before and after the race. It is extremely important for jockeys to keep their weight within certain limits, because otherwise they can be disqualified from the race. There are certain carrying weight limits that are determined by racing authorities.

At the Kentucky Derby the weight is limited to 126 lb (57 kg) including the jockey’s equipment. Consequently in this case the jockey’s weight ranges from 49 to 54 kg. It stands to mention that despite their light weight, jockeys must be able to control a 540 kg horse at the speed of 64 km/h, and that’s not an easy thing to do. So, jockeys are weighed before the race in order to make sure they carry the right weight.

After the race jockeys are allowed to be 1lb lighter or 2lb heavier. It might happen that their weight has changed a bit because of the fluid they sweated in the race (this is the case when they are lighter). In case it was raining during the race and they are covered with mud it is obvious that they’ll be a bit heavier. The weighing procedure is aimed at ensuring the race is fair.

However, it’s not only a matter of the jockey’s weight but of his/her equipment (saddle) too. For example, if the horse appears to be extremely successful and there are lots of victories on its account, it would probably be given some extra weight in order to slow it down and give an advantage to other racehorses in some particular race. This process is normally called as handicapping; small lead-metal weights are put onto the jockey’s saddle in order to vary the total weight.

Stewards are special racetrack workers that watch each race with a four-way camera in the stewards’ room. Basically they perform the same functions referees in other sports have. They ensure that the race is absolutely fair and that jockeys take good care of their four legged friends.

British Horse Racing Authority

The welfare of any racehorse is of paramount importance. Racehorses should be treated with care, kindness and respect. There are lots of rules on horse welfare at the British Horseracing Authority. Besides that, the Government’s Animal Welfare Act ensures horses’ welfare by placing a duty of care on those who own an animal.

Further precautions were made by means of introducing “horse passports” in 2002. According to this document it is illegal to move a racehorse to new premises or ride it in a horse race. The main purpose of this change was to ensure that horse buyers have an opportunity to learn full medical history of the horse they are buying.