The most famous jump race in the world is the Grand National at the picturesque Jockey-Club affiliated Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool, England.  The race has been held annually since 1839 and the 2018 renewal is scheduled for April 14, which concludes a three-day race meet with a card of seven races each day.  The Grand National has a purse of £1 million with £561,300 going to the winner.  In keeping with its aura of prestige, the event has a portfolio of sponsors like Bentley.

The Grand National is run at a distance of 4 miles and 514 yards and over 30 fences.  In every one of the 21 Grand National betting events, bettors have to search for horses that are in peak condition to stay the course and contend.  Trainers try to exploit their horses speed and build stamina through a combination of actual works and long and leisurely gallops over trails.

As with racehorses on the flat, chasers only have so many runs in them at peak levels before they begin to taper off.  And the Grand National races are so esteemed that trainers do everything they can to have their charges at the top of their games.

Bettors should initially satisfy themselves that leading up to a Grand National race, an entry has shown improvement in form in its two or three most recent races.  Clues to a horse’s fitness can also sometimes be picked up by watching the animal in the paddock or during the warmup.

Once the current form question has been answered with a yes, the next issue is about the horse’s class.  The fittest of horses is unlikely to be competitive if it is placed in a race with others who have consistently raced in much higher-level races (class and form are the subject of yesterday’s article “Class and Form at Cheltenham.”)  It is asking a lot for a horse that has been racing in nondescript races to abruptly move up and compete against proven Group I or Grade I winners.

In the Grand National especially, absolutely no win can be counted on until the horse in front has passed the finish line.  In the 1956 race, the famous mystery writer and then-jockey Dick Francis had cleared the final hurdle in front with Devon Loch, owned by the Queen Mother.  The horse proceeded to do a belly flop and defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory.

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“Class” is an essential factor a bettor should consider when handicapping the jump races at Cheltenham.  Class is inferred from the caliber of races a horse has been running in.  It projects how a horse measures up to the other horses in a given race on criteria of speed, pace, and stamina.  (Racing angles like class are available at Cheltenham betting tips.)

In other words, besides just looking at how a horse has fared in past races, a bettor needs to make a judgment about the level of competition the horse has encountered.  If a particular horse in an upcoming race appears to be in above his head that diminishes the importance of other elements such as who is riding him, the weight he is carrying, and the distance of the race.

Class can be determined by looking at the overall history of a horse.  Especially relevant for campaign veterans with substantial career starts are the last six or seven races; for younger horses with few or no prior races, estimating class is more elusive; for first-time starters, it comes down to reflecting on how well the horse is bred or how he has performed in workouts.

As with human athletes, equine competitors have their peak performance level.  An older horse that has been contesting ungraded races is unlikely to have the talent to take on the competitors in a Grade I or Group I event.  This is not a hard-and-fast fact, however, as there are many exceptions in which former claiming horses have won graded stakes.  Zeroing in on a horse that may be an exception to the rule opens the door for a savvy (or lucky) bettor to score big time.  Clues to a vastly enhanced future outing might include a recent change to a leading trainer or a dramatic improvement in form.

“Form,” as opposed to class, refers to how a horse has done in his most recent races.  A bettor can tell whether a horse is “on his game” or is “tailing off” by consulting the last two or three races.  When a horse has not raced in several months, the past couple of races may not be indicative of the horse’s current form.  In this case, it helps to consult statistics on how successful his trainer is in racing horses after layoffs of various lengths.

A horse like the once-formidable 10-year-old gelding Faugheen, is difficult to assess.  He has been a stellar performer throughout his career but is coming to Cheltenham to race after finishing second in his last start on March 2nd after being pulled up in a December 2017 race at Leopardstown in Ireland.  A handicapper might dismiss the old horse’s chances, thinking he has seen his better days, or, alternatively, glean that Faugheen’s second-place showing in his last race means that he is possibly coming to form just in time for Cheltenham.  Moreover, his trainer, Willie Mullins, is one of the best jump conditioners of all time and his horses are to be reckoned with whenever they are entered.

A horse like Faugheen has all the class one could desire in a chaser, but his form is in doubt.  This conundrum is typical of the challenges and opportunities of handicapping Cheltenham.

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American Quarter horses are descended from crosses between equines of Spanish and English origins, with a large component of Thoroughbred blood, as far back as 1660.  By the late 17th century, Quarter Horses were racing short distances at courses in Rhode Island and Virginia.  Agile and fleet Quarter Horses became popular with the cowboys in the American West of the mid-to-late 19th century.

The breed registry, however, was not founded until 1941.  The American Quarter Horse Museum and Hall of Fame in Amarillo, Texas explains on its website how the breed registry began:

“In March of 1940, a group of influential ranchers gathered one night around the dining room table of one of the wealthiest and largest ranch owners in the country with one goal–save the short, stocky, good-minded horses that ranchers and cattlemen, like themselves, preferred.  At the time, these horses were commonly referred to as Steeldust horses, after a fabled horse that could drive Longhorns through any weather or terrain and run the quarter mile faster than any other breed.

In every point of the conversation, it was clear these horses had already made a significant impact on history–they had been companions in war, work partners on the ranch and wild frontier, and athletes on the race track in early colonial settlements.  That night marked the birth of the American Quarter Horse Association and its mission to preserve and improve the bloodlines of the Steeldust horse, known today as the American Quarter Horse.”

It was decided that the honor of being designated number one–or P1–in the brand-new breed registry would go to the winner of the stallion class at the 1941 Fort Worth Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show.  The prototypically conformed–but inaccurately named–Wimpy won the stallion class.  He was born and raised on the famous King Ranch in South Texas and was the grandson of King Ranch’s foundation sire Old Sorrell.

Today, the American Quarter Horse is the largest breed registry globally, with over 5 million horses worldwide.  The breed is very versatile; Quarter Horses are used for pleasure riding, showing, working cattle, and racing.

The AQHA allows crosses between Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses into the registry, providing that the AQHA approves of the Thoroughbred.  The Quarter Horse/Throughbred foal is placed into what is called an Appendix Registry.  The foal is permitted to compete in Quarter Horse races but the AQHA places limitations on how it can be bred.  For example, the get of a mating between two Appendix registrants cannot qualify as a Quarter Horse.  In some cases, the AQHA designates an outstanding mixed-blood horse as a Quarter Horse.

Quarter Horse racing is held in both Canada and the United States, but is concentrated in California, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Texas.

Prominent Thoroughbred trainers Bob Baffert and Wayne Lukas began their careers with Quarter Horses and Lukas is in the Hall of Fame for both Quarter Horses and American Thoroughbreds.  Similarly, American Quarter horse Hall of Fame inductees Clarence Scharbauer Jr. and Robert Kleberg Jr. owned famous Thoroughbred racehorses, such as Alysheba (Scharbauer) and Triple Crown winner Assault (Kleberg).

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