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From French raiders to flying - your questions answered by our experts

Bobs Worth: mini but mighty
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To my eyes Bob's Worth was not much bigger than a pony. Is it true he was the smallest horse to win the Gold Cup? 
Steve O'Donnell

Racing Post historian John Randall replies:

There can be no definitive answer to this question because there is insufficient information, especially about the early Gold Cup winners.

Several have been described as small by steeplechasing standards, including Mandarin, the 1962 winner. John Oaksey, in his famous report on Mandarin's Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris victory under Fred Winter with a broken bit, twice referred to him as "the little horse".

Master Smudge, awarded the Gold Cup on the disqualification of Tied Cottage in 1980, was small, and Bregawn, who led home Michael Dickinson's famous five in 1983, was compact and unimpressive to look at.

Bobs Worth is on the small side for a Gold Cup winner, but no-one can say if he is the smallest.

What are the key points to note in handicapping sprint races on the all-weather and the turf?
Tony Ryan

Racing Post Ratings Flat handicapper Paul Curtis replies:

The effect of the draw is a consideration when handicapping any Flat race, but is often of greater significance when assessing races over sprint distances, particularly those that take place around a bend.

Allowing that there is sufficient form to go on, then in arriving at a view of the merit of a race the handicapper will generally be trying to identify those horses they consider to have run nearest to their pre-race marks, and identifying those horses who may have been favoured by conditions is a key part of that process.

Pace angles or biases is another factor that can carry more weight over sprint trips, and very often ties in with the draw. A five furlong race at Chester dominated by low drawn runners that raced on the pace might not prove the most reliable of guides for instance, and would likely be best viewed around those favoured by such a scenario.

The draw/pace factor is probably more significant on the all-weather where, until Newcastle joined the roster, all sprint races took place around a bend bar Southwell's straight five furlongs (which itself is often draw significant). The effect of pace and the early dash for position can be crucial on the all-weather, as can the way the track is riding, and these factors make attentive viewing of race replays essential.

I remember back in the day Francois Doumen used to send his stars over to the big meetings with great success – why do none of the top French trainers bother anymore? I know the prize-money is good anyway in France, but imagine Cheltenham with French raiders as well as the Irish ones, surely that would only be a good thing? Well, except for the home based owners and trainers! 
Kevin Nicholson

French correspondent Scott Burton replies:

There are a number of factors that have combined to weaken the French challenge at Cheltenham but, by far the biggest single change was the decision of François Doumen in 2009 to concentrate on Flat racing.

The two most recent of Doumen's six festival successes came in 2005 courtesy of Kelami and Moulin Riche.

Following that the stable standard-bearer at Cheltenham became Kasbah Bliss, twice a beaten favourite in the World Hurdle before proving his trainer's theory partly correct when winning the Group 1 Prix du Cadran on the Flat in 2011.

Another reason to bear in mind is the huge increase in value of French jumps-bred stock to British and Irish owners, meaning many of the most suitable horses leave France before developing into festival contenders.

Guillaume Macaire told the Racing Post two years ago: "With selling to Britain becoming such an important part of our business, I can't afford the illusion that I am keeping better horses back to race there for myself."

As you rightly point out, the prize-money on offer at Auteuil throughout the spring is comparable – or in many cases, better – than that of the top spring festivals, while in the years since The Fellow and First Gold took in the Gold Cup and the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris in the same season, France's biggest race in the calendar has been brought forward.

Emmanuel Clayeux, François Nicolle and Isabel Pacault are among the French trainers that have had runners at the festival in recent seasons and it can only be hoped that their appetites - and those of their owners - have been whetted. 

Why does the number of foals born to a mare (first foal, second etc.) matter? Are later foals better or worse than first foals and why? 
Julie Western

Bloodstock editor Martin Stevens replies:

There is considerable prejudice against later foals, which is justifiable to a degree as older mares can suffer from age-related issues such as a decline in the quality of the uterine wall, which can result in reduced nutrient transfer to the foetus or a deterioration in the quality of milk.

But there are plenty of examples of top-class racehorses out of older mares, including in 2016 Sea Calisi, a 14th foal whose dam was 21 when she was foaled, and Quest For More, a 12th foal whose dam was 17 when he was born.

Designs On Rome, Mondialiste, Silverwave, Special Fighter and Tryster, all Group 1 winners in the past year, are also out of mares who were 15 or older when they foaled. The record is more impressive when you consider there are fewer older producers due to natural circumstances and culling.

First-born foals also face a certain amount of discrimination as they are thought to be often smaller or weaker. Breeders' Cup Classic hero Arrogate is a good recent example of disproving that.

So there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the age of the mare but, taken in consideration with the foal's conformation, it can be informative.

Arrogate: runs on Sunday in the San Pasqual Stakes at Santa Anita

The Racing Post betting forecasts are usually a good guide to the chances of a particular horse in a race and I'd like to know who compiles them. Are they done by the person who writes the spotlight comments or are they supplied by one of the bookmakers? 
Milton Whittaker

Spotlight editor Richard Austen replies:

Yes, the betting forecasts are done by the same person who has written the Spotlight comments. They may be revised at various points during the day before the race. If the bookmakers start betting on the race the afternoon before, this may prompt some changes, but writers are not bound by those bookmaker odds unless it is a strong betting market for a big race, for instance in a Pricewise race.

Do any experts of the Racing Post study a big race and come up with a selection, but because of the jockey they don't back it? I ask as surely especially over the jumps a top jockey (Walsh, Geraghty, Fehily, for example) is worth 5lb, which may sway the race
Ray Stevenson

Pricewise tipster Tom Segal replies:

Quite simply I wouldn't make any horse my selection if I didn't like the jockey. It always amazes me how little effect jockey bookings have with some punters, whereas they are the first thing I look for. I simply don't back horses who I consider to be ridden by bad jockeys.

What are the biggest recorded odds a horse has ever won at? Jon Fletcher

John Randall replies:

The winner with the biggest starting price in the history of racing in Britain and Ireland is Equinoctial, who defied odds of 250-1 to land a novices' handicap hurdle at Kelso on November 21, 1990.

Equinoctial was a maiden under rules, had been beaten 62 lengths on his previous start, and was 15lb out of the handicap, but he stayed on under 7lb claimer Andrew Heywood to lead on the run-in and score by three and a half lengths.

The gelding was owned and trained by Durham permit-holder Norman Miller, who was absent but said from the HQ of his roofing and tiling business: "We were all cheering like mad in the office. I wasn't all that surprised. Equinoctial has had shoulder trouble but I fancied him to run into a place."

The record for the longest winning odds on the Flat was set by 200-1 shot Theodore in the 1822 St Leger (when trainer James Croft had the first four finishers) and equalled by Dandy Flame in a Wolverhampton maiden on July 25 this year.

Can you please explain exactly what 'Racing Post standard' means when talking about the times of races? Are the 'standard' times the same for every course? And what is the standard based on and how was it arrived at? 
Chris Sheldon

Topspeed analyst Dave Edwards replies:

Racing Post Adjusted Standard Times represent the theoretical time a horse can be expected to clock under ideal conditions carrying 9st (12st in National Hunt racing).

Revised annually, they embrace previous fast times over a course and distance and are fine-tuned to compensate for the state of the ground, weight carried and calibre of horse. The purpose is to provide an accurate and reliable benchmark for each individual trip and track against which the actual times recorded at a meeting can be compared. When used in conjunction with the going allowance they are the foundation of the Topspeed ratings, which in turn reflect a horse’s ability using the stopwatch as an impartial arbiter.

On occasions over relatively new or infrequently used distances the Standard time may be marginally faster than the course record.

The standard time comparison is shown in parentheses after the actual race time as either slower or faster than the Racing Post standard.

What effect does losing a shoe during a race or running a race without a shoe have on a horse's performance? 
Dave Langton

Jockey Sam Twiston-Davies replies:

It depends on the individual and at what stage it happens in the race. I always report it, but have ridden lots of winners – and losers – who have pulled shoes off.

Much can depend on whether the horse has good or bad feet. Different horses tend to deal with the situation differently. If a horse has bad feet, losing a shoe is unlikely to have as much effect racing on slow ground than on a quick surface.

Given some Flat races last only a minute or so, has anyone experimented with shorter intervals between races? Is it a similar story abroad? 
Terry Garner

International editor Nicholas Godfrey replies:

Although minimum intervals between races are not enshrined in the rules, BHA approval would be needed before dropping beneath the 30-minute mark. "We have discussed this with bookmakers and racecourses in the past," says BHA spokesman Robin Mounsey. "The general view from bookmakers has been that the minimum 30-minute interval works better for the sport as a betting product, while most racecourses are of the view that the interval works better for their customers and also from the point of view of the operation of a raceday. If there was a genuine, clear desire from racecourses, punters or bookmakers, then we would always be open to look at this again."

Shorter intervals are fairly common in some places around the world, especially outside Europe where nine- or ten-race cards are prevalent. In North America, for example, scheduled off times hover around the 30-minute mark but generally dip below for run-of-the-mill meetings. Gaps of 28 minutes were routine early on racecards at the recently concluded Churchill Downs meet, while midweek meets at Del Mar have cut back to 26 minutes between the first and second races (first post 12.30pm). Major races are a different kettle of fish: there is at least an hour before the Kentucky Derby, while the Breeders’ Cup races went off at anything between 38- and 41-minute intervals.

Japan frequently has 25-minute breaks early in the card, but South Africa prefers 35-minute intervals, while Australia and Hong Kong tend to stick to the half-hour minimum.

Almanzor and his groom Thibault Hamelin arrive by plane in Dublin before Irish Champions Weekend

I've always wondered how a horse can be flown by plane! On take off a human is pushed into their seat with some force, what an earth happens to a horse? The same applies to landings where if the plane needs to slow quickly you feel the force pushing you forward! Are all horses sedated on flights? 
Gerry Childs

Features editor Katherine Fidler replies:

It's certainly a fascinating behind the scenes element of racing, and one that requires a high level of expertise from all involved. Horses are loaded by flying grooms into specially designed stalls on the tarmac, which are then raised into into the fuselage and locked into place.

Similar to cargo planes, aircraft carrying horses will generally take off and land at a shallower incline than passengers planes, so although the horses will feel a similar g-force, it won't be at such a steep incline. 

International Racehorse Transport managing director Jim Paltridge adds: "The captain will make all efforts so avoid a sharp descent or tight turns when horses are on board – they're really good and helpful."

As for sedation, it's by no means standard, and is only used when absolutely necessary.

Horses generally react surprisingly well to flying – there are even studies to suggest jetlag improves performance!

Bobs Worth is on the small side for a Gold Cup winner, but no-one can say if he is the smallest
E.W. Terms