Horse lovers come in all different varieties. Some love nothing more than plaiting up and strutting their stuff in the dressage arena, others love bombing across country, the wind in their hair, and some don’t feel the need to ride the horse at all but would rather watch as a mass of thoroughbreds’ gallops around a track, feeling the thunder of hooves echoing in their chest.
If you’ve never experienced the latter before then we’ve got a guide to enjoying your first-ever day at the races. In this article, we cover absolutely everything from how to try out your paddock judging skills, to how to get involved with horse racing betting. So, if you’re keen to find out what all the fuss is about, then this is the guide for you.
Always Dress for the Weather
Not that any horse rider should need to be told, but no matter how tempting it is to put on your best dress and open-toed heels, it’s essential to check the weather first. Horse racing is an inherently outdoorsy sport and there’s nothing worse than wet turf squelching between your toes as you shield yourself from the weather behind a folded-out umbrella.
For winter meetings it’s a better idea to choose a stylish and warm coat, match it with some classic boots and look timeless, as well as warm. Of course, if you’re going to a summer meeting then there’s no harm at all in dressing to impress. Events like Ladies’ Day at Ascot positively encourage dresses, fascinators, and heels. So, if the sun is shining then dress up, and don’t forget your turf stoppers if you’re wearing heels!
Explore the Course
On the day of the races, it’s a good idea to head on to the course a little early so that you can get a good look around. Familiarising yourself with the course early means that you won’t accidentally miss the parade or not be able to place the bet that you’d planned to. All courses in the UK will have a pre-parade ring, where you’ll find the horses first of all.
There’ll be a parade ring, where horses and jockeys will parade before the race. There’ll be a starting line that they’ll canter down to, a finish line that they’ll gallop past and a winner’s enclosure, where you’ll see the horses that won and placed after the race. As well as this, there’ll be a grandstand to watch the race from and a court where you’ll find bookmakers who you can place bets with.
Some courses will have special enclosures for certain guests, as well as club bars, members’ boxes, and more. Depending on the type of ticket that you have, you might be able to explore some of these other places too.
Finding a Winner
Whilst the most special part of a day at the races is getting to see such a display of speed and power, there’s also the small matter of picking a winner. There are all kinds of different techniques that people use, but we’re going to quickly rattle through some of the most common here. The first is paddock judging, which people who know horses well will have a distinct advantage at.
In order to try out this method, you’ll need to head to the pre-parade ring early and watch as each of the horses is walked around. As you watch, you’ll notice the ones that look incredibly fit, those with well-defined muscles, carrying the perfect amount of condition, and those that don’t look quite right.
It could be that they’re a little under or overweight, they might have a dull coat, awkward movement, or be stressed in their environment. Watching them canter down to the start is a better indicator of how the horse moves, which can be important too. As well as this, thinking about what is about to be asked of the horse is important too.
A horse that’s racing over three miles and fences will likely want to be larger and rangier than a horse that is going to be sprinting over five furlongs. Once you’ve made notes of all of that, for each of the horses, you’ve found your potential winner.
The other method of looking for a winner is much more widely used and that is to study the form. There are some horses that simply don’t conform to what a good paddock judge would look for, yet they outperform every other horse on the track when push comes to shove.
This in particular, is where studying form comes in. When you arrive at the racecourse, you’ll be given a race card which will have details of all the horses that are running. It will include the jockey that’s riding them, the weight they’re carrying, their owner, trainer, and previous race history.
Checking if they’ve had a famous or expensive jockey booked is a good place to start. So too if they’ve run well over the distance before, or ever come up against another of the horses in the race. You can spend hours pouring over the form and if you do it right then you improve your chances of finding that winner.