From spruce fences to figuring out a Yankee: your questions answered
Racing Post experts reply to your queries
'Why do some horses run with their tongues out'?
Richard Baker, via email
There is no physiological reason why some horses race with their tongues hanging out the side of their mouths, rather it is simply a habit they have picked up.
Even when the tongue is hanging out, so long as it remains underneath the bit, it should not be detrimental to the horse during a race.
Issues start to occur when the tongue goes over the bit as it can hinder a horse’s breathing, while making it harder for the the rider to steer the horse.
The bit sits in the gap between the horse’s incisors and molars, the same gap in the horse’s teeth that allows the tongue to poke out of its mouth.
The bit tends to keep the tongue down, although additionally a tongue-tie can be used to help pull the tongue forward and tie it down, while a cross noseband keeps the mouth completely shut while ensuring the nostrils are open for maximum air intake.
Lewis Porteous, reporter
As a Signpost/betting angle, how important is the distance travelled to a course compared to other indicators such as recent form, jockey strike-rates, etc?
Chris Murphy, via email
Personally I would not rate one section of Signposts ahead of any other and I certainly wouldn't advocate having a blind bet on anything that appears on the page based on one stat.
One thing you could certainly guarantee is that if you backed every horse flagged up by Signposts every day you would lose money, although plenty will win.
The purpose of Signposts is to point you in the direction of horses/trainers who might warrant closer inspection. However, just because a trainer has travelled say, 350 miles to Carlisle, doesn't necessarily mean that horse should be backed.
But to go such a distance obviously costs money and it's worth then checking to see how the trainer has fared over the years with runners at that course or other courses that require a long time in a horsebox.
There's no doubt some trainers will not travel a long way without good reason. Hugo Palmer, for instance, has had just 16 winners in the last five seasons at his local Newmarket courses from 131 runners, but at Newcastle he's had 15 from 40 at a strike-rate of 37.5 per cent. He has also won with his only runner at Hamilton and is 1-2 at Musselburgh.
A trainer's course-by-course statistics for the last five seasons are readily available free on racingpost.com.
Paul Kealy, betting editor
Is it true that in Japan they jump over brick walls during jump races?
Ian Stein, Edinburgh
The short answer is no, although the myth probably derives from the Grand Hedge, the most celebrated fence at Japan's top jumps venue Nakayama, which features an artificial brick effect at its bottom half.
Unlike the low stone wall on the Punchestown banks course, the Grand Hedge is a five-foot obstacle – but it is a well-tended hedge, and not a wall in any shape or form. Mind you, the track is idiosyncratic enough as it is, featuring starting stalls, just like the Flat, plus a weird and wonderful selection of obstacles, including a water jump, a variety of hedges, artificial brush hurdles and a fence jumped from both sides – and all of this as the field whirls around a tight, twisty circuit largely enclosed inside the main turf and dirt tracks and less than a mile round, involving two figures of eight and several sharp gradients.
Oh, and races are generally run at a breakneck pace on fast ground. Jump races tend to be treated as a curiosity in Japan, where there were only 128 such events in 2016 compared to 16,218 races on the Flat. Most jumpers also run regularly on the Flat and jump races are usually just single events added to mainly Flat cards.
Japan hosts just two Grade 1 jump races, both at Nakayama and worth close to £1m, namely the Nakayama Daishogai and the better-known Grand Jump, won by the Willie Mullins-trained Blackstairmountain in 2013.
Nicholas Godfrey, international editor
Why is Aintree the only course with spruce 'Grand National' fences?
Kate Wood, via email
The Aintree fences are pretty much unique, although Cheltenham does now have one 'Grand National' fence on its cross-country course.
Early Nationals were run with a variety of different obstacles but the spruce fences that have become so famous evolved fairly quickly.
Explaining why, Jockey Club Racecourses North West regional director John Baker said: "Obviously the Aintree fences were bigger and the thought was that the spruce would make them more attractive to the horses to jump."
The main reason that no other course has adopted spruce fences is the sheer cost of building – and rebuilding – them.
"They are significantly more expensive than a normal birch fence," Baker said. "The fences are bigger, they are wider and there are a lot of them and they have to be built from scratch every time, for the Grand National and the Becher Chase meeting.
"And we need to find forests that have enough spruce for us and we have to go to Scotland so there are transportation costs."
David Carr, reporter
How much do racehorses normally weigh, and how can you tell if they're a good racing weight?
Ben Walton, via email
Anything between 400 and 500 kilos would be a normal weight for a racehorse. Once you start getting over 500 kilos you're talking about a very big or heavy horse, especially on the Flat.
Horses, like humans, do vary wildly in terms of weight, but their racing weight will often become apparent when they're as young as two. Some horses grow but others don't. Overall, we've found there isn't that much change as they get older.
As to how to determine what a horse's racing weight is, the truth is that it isn't rocket science.
You probably wouldn't want to have a horse at his or her absolute fittest for their very first outing. Most trainers would leave a little room for improvement. However, if you see a horse win second time out, and that horse was plainly fit, you've pretty much established a racing weight.
I'll be saying more about horses' weights in Saturday's column in relation to our Sandown runner Paco's Angel.
Richard Hughes, former champion jockey and trainer
Are 'sire index' and 'sire stamina index' one and the same thing? Where are they published?
Robert White, via email
The sire stamina index (and sire index) is the average distance (to the nearest tenth of a furlong) of Flat wins of sire's offspring aged 3yo+ in Britain and Ireland since 1988.
The higher the number the more likely the progeny is to stay. For instance Galileo has an SI of 11.2 whereas Scat Daddy, known for sprinters, has a SI of 6.5.
In the newspaper sires stamina index is displayed next to the sire in the pedigree line in the form but for 2yo and 3yo races only. On digital products it appears on all profile pages.
Craig Thake, head of data
How would you improve the handicap system?
Terry, via email
Parity between British and Irish ratings over jumps would be a step in the right direction. It still might not prevent controversy over the Grand National weights, but it would certainly make reading the form and comparison of handicap marks a whole lot easier for punters at the big festivals.
A tweak to the current narrow weights band on the Flat could help make races more competitive, or at least give greater numerical strength. More claiming races could also be helpful. They allow trainers to effectively handicap their own horses and give the handicapper the chance to have more flexibility when assessing ageing or out-of-form horses that their handlers consider badly handicapped.
In terms of handicapping the BHA team do a good job and are certainly more clued up these days. It doesn't make tipping any easier, but races chock full of progressive horses, such as the Britannia, now get the treatment they deserve.
Cumulative penalties has made running up sequences with unexposed horses more difficult, although clever use of apprentice handicaps can negate this. An increase in the frequency of updated official ratings would be difficult to work, but could increase competitiveness. Currently a horse winning on a Monday won't see its revised mark come into effect until the Saturday week, while it still perplexes that Sunday racing isn't considered part of the weekend racing when it comes to updated ratings files.
Paul Curtis, Racing Post handicapper
Why is it that some horses tend to veer to the left or right when jumping a hurdle or fence - Yorkhill, trained by Willie Mullins, being a good example - and what can be done to prevent it?
Marten Whittaker, via email
It is technique or perhaps habit. Most horses have their own way of jumping, some stand back and really attack their fences, others prefer to go in close and fiddle their way round, others don't want to jump at all.
Yorkhill goes left, that is his style. I am sure Willie Mullins will have tried plenty of ways of trying to make him jump straighter but clearly to no avail. One solution he might have tried would have been to fit a brush pricker on the inside of his bit, but interfering with a horse's mouth as it goes into a fence is not ideal for it can put it off jumping forever.
This would not apply to Yorkhill but if a horse suddenly begins to jump one way it can indicate a problem, it could be in a tooth, it might be in its back or something could be hurting in a leg or foot. It would be a bit like you jumping with a blister on your foot, you would try to land on the other one. If a horse had a problem on its off-fore it would jump left so it landed on its near-fore.
Colin Russell, reporter
Where does the term Yankee come from, and how do you calculate it?
Bill McAvoy, via email
There are a few theories as to where the term Yankee came from but perhaps the most plausible one is that it derives from an American sporting tournament. In such an event there are usually four participants and they all get to play each other. Hence the Yankee bet which consists of four intertwined selections.
Another theory is that a Yankee is named after an American soldier, who placed a bet in the UK and due to the multiple rollover mechanics ended up winning hundreds of thousands.
A Yankee involves 11 bets from four selections. Six doubles, four trebles and one four-fold.
The doubles. Horse 1 is doubled up with horse 2, then with 3, then with 4. 2 is permed with 3 and then 4 and finally horses 3 and 4 to make 6 doubles.
Trebles. Horses 1, 2 and 3 are permed together, as are 2,3,4 and 1,2 and 4 and finally 1,3 and 4.
Finally the fourfold is an accumulator bet on all four selections.
How different is racing on turf from the all-weather, and what type of horse does better on each?
Lydia Patterson, via email
This is a complicated question with many factors that impact on it but, in general, all-weather tracks are flatter, which helps a lot of horses. There have been big improvements made to the quality of all-weather racing in recent years but it’s still mostly the case that horses racing on that surface are of inferior ability, and so there is less room for error.
There is more variation on the turf because the going description is such an important factor – you might need to be racing on the stands’ side, the far side or down the centre of a straight course, for example, depending on where the most suitable ground is. I always loved riding on grass because I think most people would agree that’s what racing is all about.
In terms of which type of horses suit each surface, a lot of it has to do with their action. For instance, if you have a horse with a big knee action, you would think it would prefer softer turf conditions, not a tight, faster all-weather track.
A horse’s breeding can also have an impact. Godolphin, for example, do well on the all-weather with American-bred horses, who have racing on artificial surfaces in their pedigrees.
Racing Post columnist Freddy Tylicki
First published July 6, 2017
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