This article contains third-party links
When you are in a sport that you compete against the best in the world, it is often the fine margins that decide who wins and falls short. Preparation for big race meetings is no different. And we are looking at a few elements that go into preparing for a race.
Horse Preparation for Big Races
Horses are very intelligent and quick on the uptake, but they still need to be trained when it comes to running and jumping to give them the best chance of winning. It may seem silly to have a prize-winning racehorse do practice jumps in the week leading up to a big event, but like humans, they need to use it or lose it and having a half ton horse jumping can be dangerous for the jockey and the horse. Many trainers often have their horses do jump training the day before a big event, so their muscle memory and brain are up to the job. Their training will usually consist of practice jumps with the jockey who will be riding them and the use of specialist coaches to make sure the horses’ jumping form is correct. Ongoing preparation for big events is crucial to minimizing the chance of injury to horse and rider as well as giving them the strongest chance of winning. When you watch a horse race where there is a fallen rider but the horse keeps running you often see the horse pull up before a fence, this is because horses do not naturally think of jumping fences and need to be instructed when to jump and be positioned correctly at take-off and landing.
Keeping Racecourses in Good Shape
Every racecourse has its own unique challenges, but one that is true for all is the sheer size of them, and this can take a lot of preparation. Building jump fences and keeping them safe and at the correct height is done by the course grounds people and with a track that has a dozen jumps that is a lot of work when they only get used every few weeks or in some cases once a year. Many racecourses in the UK have been in the same location for more than a hundred years, and changes in our climate have led to irrigation issues. The track needs to be well watered but also free from water logging which can cause horses to slip, fall or stumble. On the day of the races, you will see many people on the track in between races who tap down the turned-up grass to keep the track in good condition and runnable.
Along with course maintenance racecourse owners also need massive grandstands to pack the crowds in and even the largest ones can get overcrowded for special events. As a consequence, many people end up streaming horse races live as it is easier than jostling for a spot in a packed grandstand, and cheaper. A great way for spectators to watch racing is by getting a paddock pass where you can see the horses as they walk around before racing, these tickets are more expensive but also give you other perks of being a VIP. Stables and paddocks for the horses need to be kept very clean to limit the chances of equine diseases spreading when horses from across the world meet.
A Jockey’s Preparation
The jockey needs to maintain a balance between themselves and their horse, and as a result, they need to keep their weight down as to aid their steed during jumping and, naturally, helping with the pace during the race. Many riders tell of the strict diets they need to follow to ensure they aren’t carrying unnecessary ballast which will slow the horse. Jockeys race multiple horses per day and are typically attached to specific trainers, and this gives them an excellent chance to practice on the horses on test tracks throughout the year to build up trust with the horse (if a horse doesn’t trust a jockey it won’t jump for them). Even for big meetings like the Grand National, a rider will typically run four or five times that day before the big race, this constant running helps them to keep their focus and understand how tracks are performing. Understanding racetrack evolution is key to the success of a jockey. Humans understand the pressure of big events and can adapt easier, but some horses get flustered before the start of races and need a steady hand to calm their nerves and get them in the right mindset for a race.
Fortunately for us spectators, our preparation is a little more straightforward, often comprising of a few pints in the pub while reading the racing odds. Spare a thought for all the work that has gone into making the big race meeting memorable for those who like watching it unfold, be it from the grandstands, the local pub or from the comfort of the couch at home.