What the Novice Needs to Know About Racing Before and After the Breeders’ Cup

by on June 27th, 2014
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So, you may tune in to the Breeders’ Cup this week and watch horse racing. If you are like most that do tune in, then you are a novice when it comes to the Sport of Kings. What you will be exposed to watching the Breeders’ Cup will be excitement and a limited insight into horse racing. You will hear stories about celebrity owners and interesting tales about jockeys. They call it racing’s richest day and that is exactly what it is with the purses for both Breeders’ Cup days reaching $25 million. It will be almost a fantasy land told in a series of races. Yes, this is the big time.

But it is very doubtful you will learn all that much about the sport itself watching the Breeders’ Cup on television.

Breeders’ Cup day is not a usual day of racing. The races you watch are all of the highest quality. Horses that run in the Breeders’ Cup make up a minute percentage of the thoroughbred racing population. The Breeders’ Cup races are the highest level of racing competition. What you see on Breeders’ Cup day is the exception and not the rule.

What you will not learn from the Breeders’ Cup is the basics of racing. Knowing these basics, however, will help you understand the Breeders’ Cup much better, and it will certainly help you if you decide to go to the track one day.

Every thoroughbred race has basic elements. Here are the basics with a brief explanation.

*Gender: Races are usually written restricting the entrants based upon gender. Many races do not specify gender and those are usually filled with male entrants. Generally speaking, females are considered to be at a disadvantage when running against males.

*Age: Races are run restricted to age. The youngest a horse will run is age two and several of the Breeders’ Cup races are restricted to horses two years old and they are called “juvenile” races. Most races, especially after the spring of the year are run for horses age three and upward, which means at least age three. Those Breeders’ Cup races not for juveniles will be restricted to “three and up.”

*Distance: Every race has a stated distance. Most races in the United States are run at less than a mile. Almost all of the Breeders’ Cup races are run at a one mile minimum. The important measurement in distance is called a furlong, which is equal to a 1/8 mile.

*Surface: Every race has a stated surface upon which the race will be run. Most races in the United States are run on packed sand simply called “dirt.” A few tracks have a synthetic surface. Dirt and synthetic are considered “main” track surfaces. All other races are run on turf (grass). Breeding is the prime determinant of the surface desired by a thoroughbred. Most horses like one or the other.

*Purse: Every race has a total purse and that depends on the level of racing. The higher the racing level the greater the purse.

*Class: Every race has a stated class and this is what separates the men from the boys when it comes to handicapping. The highest general class is “stakes” and Graded Stakes are the highest. Grade One Stakes are races like the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup races. The other classes are allowance, claiming and maiden. There some deviations of all of these and that helps to make handicapping a fascinating and mentally challenging task. The overwhelming majority of races in the United States are claiming. Different than the purse amount, the claiming price is the established sales tag for a runner in a race. A registered horseman can claim another horse from a race for the claiming price. The claiming system helps to provide parity in the most active level of competition.

Enjoy the Breeders’ Cup. It is horse racing’s biggest day. Plan to visit a track near you when the Breeders’ Cup is over. If you are new to racing you will find a normal day at the track to be different than the races on television. What will be the same is the sport is even more exciting in person.


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