Your guide to the key areas of a racecourse – what, who and where!
The Weighing Room
Where the jockeys get ready for each race. They have a changing room, a sauna, a physio and most importantly, this is where the scales are situated so that each jockey is ‘weighed out’ correctly. They have to carry different weights depending on the horse and type of race they are riding in. The extra pounds are made up with small sheets of lead that are placed inside a ‘weight cloth’ and placed under the saddle.
The Pre-Parade Ring
The horses are led around here before they get saddled. You can get an early sense of those who are not behaving or who have got themselves in a state. The trainer, or assistant, will collect the saddle from the Weighing Room and carry it to the saddling boxes. The horse will be saddled about 15 or even 20 minutes before race time.
The Paddock/Parade Ring
The horses now have saddles on and have been fitted with any extras (blinkers, visor, tongue tie). They walk round the Paddock so that the crowd can see them. The owners and their trainer meet in the middle of the Paddock and stand in small groups waiting for their jockey. Last-minute instructions are issued to the jockey (detailed tactics will probably have been discussed earlier) and the trainer then legs up the jockey onto the horse in question.
A ‘Best Turned Out’ prize is often awarded to the horse who looks as if the most effort has been made by his or her groom, i.e. the mane is plaited, the hooves are oiled, the coat looks shiny and the tack looks neat.
Horses will generally be led out onto the course by the person who looks after them at home. They will be released to canter down to the start, often in front of the stands so that more people can see them in motion. Expert horse-watchers will be able to tell if a horse is ‘moving well’ or not, which can be a clue as to whether the horse is feeling any stiffness or whether it likes the condition of the ground.
Racecourses vary in size, direction and gradient with Chester being a flat, tight left-handed oval and Goodwood being an undulating backward P-shaped downland track with right-hand bends. Distances range from 5 furlongs to 2-and-three-quarter miles on the flat, and from 2 miles to 4-and-a-half miles over fences.
The Winner’s Enclosure
This is the hallowed turf reserved for the winner and the placed horses in any given race. It is often situated at one end of the Paddock. The owners and trainer will rush enthusiastically to greet their horse while the jockey accepts their praise. The horses will be unsaddled here (with the unplaced runners gathering further away for the same routine except with the jockeys offering reasons/excuses as to why they didn’t win); the jockeys will carry their saddle back to the Weighing Room to ‘weigh in’. The race result is not official until the jockey has weighed in correctly. If any lead has fallen out and the jockey is under weight, he or she (and the horse they have ridden) will be disqualified.
The trophy presentation takes place in the Winner’s Enclosure after the result is official and the horses have been taken away for a wash down and a drink of water.
The Betting Ring
A jungle of independent bookmakers who will price up the runners in each race. Their prices will vary so hunt around for the best value for your horse. Most will take each-way bets (win and place) but some are win only so watch the signs. All bookmakers have a minimum stake and will have a sign to tell you whether it is £5 min or £10 min. DON’T LOSE YOUR TICKET!
This will give you a price according to demand rather than opinion. The screens will show the price for each horse according to its number but this price will fluctuate and may be longer or shorter by the time the race goes off. You cannot ‘take a price’ with the Tote and are subject to market fluctuations but it often returns a better price, particularly on long shots, than the bookies. AGAIN, DON’T LOSE YOUR TICKET!