A Beginner's Guide to Horse Racing

Never been to the races? If you don't know your donkeys from your thoroughbreds, The Hennessy Gold Cup is coming up and it’s a great place to kick off a new horse racing hobby. See you there.

The Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup is a National Hunt (that’s jumps to you and I) horse race, that is held at Newbury Racecourse at the end of November every year. It is 3miles, 2 furlongs (around 400 metres) and 110 yards in distance and typically has around 20 runners. It is one of the most prestigious races in the National Hunt calendar.

What kind of race is it?

Races are graded in terms of their importance, they start at Grade 1 (The Cheltenham Gold Cup). The Hennessy, like The Grand National (a race that needs no introduction) is a Grade 3 handicap, for racehorses over 4 years old. A handicap is a race where the horses are carrying different weights. Better horses will carry more weight to make it more of a level playing field. The race has £175,000 of prize money. Other than the Grand National the Hennessy is the most important handicap of the jumping season and can be a source of future Gold Cup winners

Why is it so exciting?

It’s big money, big crowds and big suspense. You have favourites, outsiders, experienced jockeys and even amateurs (non-professional jockeys) all up against each other with the target of staying safe and being first over the line, anything can happen; the atmosphere is electric. Jockeys mount their horses, silence falls across the course and everyone from the owners and trainers to the punters have their hearts in their mouths. “They’re under starters orders and they’re off…”
It’s also dangerous; the horses are travelling at around 30mph and have to jump 21 fences that are a minimum of 4ft 6” tall. Walk the course before racing if you’re feeling brave!

What’s Hennessey got to do with horse racing?

Hennessy have been sponsoring the race since it began in 1957, which means they hold the record for the longest ever marketing-association with a race. Nearly 60 years and still going strong. Coincidentally the first race was won by a horse called Mandarin (and he won again in 1961), owned by Peggy Hennessy, a member of the dynasty, kicking off the partnership in style.

Can I go?

Yes, anyone can go! You just have to buy a ticket. Everyone and anyone goes; from Royalty, stag dos and celebrities; to families, BarChick’s Dad and lots of crazy gambling Irish folk, there is something for everyone. If you’re lucky you might even see The Queen, she is a huge racing fan. Tickets start at £30, and children are free if with an adult.

What’s a day at the race like?

Awesome. There’s loads of places to eat (from fine dining to burger vans), lots of shopping to do at the trade stands, you can drink (a lot), hang with friends, make new friends, and enjoy all seven heart-stopping races. Some people are die-hard racing fans and check out every single horse, others spend the day going from bar to bar… the choice is all yours. Once the racing is over the music gets turned up and everyone parties.

What do you wear?

Some men wear suits, some girls dress up ready to hit the town, others wear tracksuits. Be aware that some areas have dress code restrictions, so check before you go. Want BarChick’s advice? Wrap up warm – it’s usually freezing.

How much do you win?

That depends if you back the right horse, how much you put on and what the odds are. If the odds are 5/2 (say it five to two) and you put £5 on then you would get £12.50 plus your original £5 stake so a total of £17.50. If the odds were 2/5 (say it two to five) and you put £5 on then you would get £2 back making your return £7 including your original £5 stake You can also bet each way (which usually pays out to 3rd place, sometimes 4th place), but you won’t win as much money if you do this. BarChick says man up and put it on the nose (to win)!

What do you drink?

Hennessy Cognac is a great place to start! Warm up and get the day started with a Hennessy Hot Toddie, a Hennessy Hot Chocolate or a Hennessy Coffee at the Outside Chance Bar (available in the Premiere Enclosure). As the racing gets going you’ve got to have a Horse’s Neck made with Hennessy Cognac, ginger ale, Angostura bitters and garnished with lemon peel. It’s refreshing and delicious, plus if you’re in the Premiere enclosure it’s two for one, so get a round in! Has that 100/1 bet come in? Then blow some winnings on a bottle of Moet and get the party started. Obvs there is beer, but the clue is in the title for us.

Any tips?

Only a handful of horses have reclaimed the race, these include Mandarin, the mighty Denman and the awesome Arkle, so statistically it’s best to steer clear of previous winners. The race also favours slightly younger horses, only three horses over the age of 10 have won the race. It’s best to avoid the outsiders, the fancied horses are the ones to put your money on. Don’t have a clue? Have a flutter on your favourite colours / horse’s name.

How to understand racing terminology

Conformation – how a horse is put together. That horse has got good conformation.

The Racing Post – a newspaper dedicated to racing, turn up with one under your arm to look like a pro.

On the bridal – the horse has still got plenty of ‘running’ in it, meaning it’s not getting tired.

On the nose – to win

Silks – the jockey’s colours

The Parade Ring – Also called the paddock, this is for the horses to parade around before the race, not the punters.

Trainer – not what you wear on your feet, it’s the person who trains the horse. Look out for big names like Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls and Venetia Williams.

Going – How the ground is. Soft, good, firm. The going is good to soft.

Weighed in – jockey has passed the weight test at the end of the race, meaning that he weighs the same as he did at the beginning of the race.

Steward’s enquiry – there is a matter that needs to be resolved before the race result is announced. If there is an infringement of rules during the race for example interference during the race or if the wrong course is taken.

Form – the horse’s previous race record. That horse has got good form, it’s won the last two times out.

Handicap – the horse hasn’t got a problem, it’s a number that has been given to it to determine how good it is.

Race card – the programme. Essential to buy one at the beginning of the day if you want to know what is going on. It lists form, colours, race analysis and a map of the racecourse. It’ll cost you about £3 but it’s a great keepsake.

How to understand the race card

PU – Pulled up

UR – Unseated Rider

F – Fell

RR – Refused to Race

O – Ran out

B – Brought Down