Eddie Wood continues his unique A-Z of British courses, starting off with an evaluation of their altitudes
Continuing his informative A-Z of British race courses
We are entering the final furlong so to speak regarding the course descriptions and their associated factors.The next two articles will finish this important aspect of horse selections. Since my last article, I have continued my research on the effect of altitude on the performance of racehorses. The course configurations and associated factors are paramount in my evaluation process and should be in yours.I have discovered certain patterns associated with specific trainers and I believe that there are many more methods which I could compile using the “altitude factor.”
In the Racing Post, I was interested to read that we will get first-hand information on horses who have recently undergone wind operations. In many cases, horses which I know have had this procedure vary in the amount of improvement they make. I am certain that those who race on our higher altitude courses will benefit more in their individual performances because of the cleaner air and the exuberance this engenders. But we need to get down to the primary subject: the factors associated with our National Hunt course configurations.
AINTREE (LANCASHIRE) - ALTITUDE 28 METRES
BET-WISE: Any National Hunt Flat horses sent here by trainer Peter Bowen must be seriously considered.
COURSE-WISE: Most of the racing takes places over the Mildmay course. It is lefthanded, 1m 4f oval with eight normal birch fences. It is a fair but fast, flat track with some quite sharp turns.Nearly all the Handicaps are run on this course. The Grand National course is a long, flat and left-handed triangular circuit of 2m 2f with stiff fences which were taller and more solid than elsewhere, but have now been reduced in size. The drop on the landing side of many of the fences has also been reduced. There is a long run-in of 494 yards from the last.
HORSE-WISE: The track favours frontrunners and, with the relatively short run-in of 260 yards, few horses can win if they are too far off the pace turning into the straight.It is a galloping track where stamina and jumping ability are still important. In the past, Grand National form was unique, but this is not so significant now.
ASCOT (BERKSHIRE) - ALTITUDE 89 METRES
BET-WISE: Harry Fry’s hurdlers have an excellent record here.
COURSE-WISE: The track is a righthanded triangular circuit of 1¾ miles. It is somewhat undulating and is essentially a galloping course with ten stiff fences. Novices are often found out by one of the far side downhill fences approaching Swinley Bottom.The straight contains two fences followed by a stiff, uphill run-in of 240 yards. HORSE-WISE: Good jumping and stamina are essential.The track becomes very testing when the going is soft or worse. AYR (Ayrshire) - Altitude 17 metres BET-WISE: Champion trainer Paul Nicholls doesn’t send many horses to this course but when he does, take note.
COURSE-WISE: this is a left-handed oval circuit measuring 1½ miles.Ayr is a good flat galloping track with fair fences.There are three fences in the long straight, followed by a run-in of 210 yards. The obstacles are quite stiff, particularly the penultimate fence which is a formidable open ditch. When conditions are on the firm side this is one of the fastest courses of all.
HORSE-WISE: The course suits frontrunning strong gallopers.
BANGOR-ON-DEE (WREXHAM) - ALTITUDE 22 METRES BET-WISE: Any National Hunt Flat horse sent byWarren Greatrex and Jonjo O’Neill require scrutiny.
COURSE-WISE: The left-handed track is unusual since its 1½ miles includes no straight as such,but instead a succession of tight bends. It is relatively flat, with minor undulations. The proximity of the River Dee means that the track can be watered even in times of drought.The nine fences are fairly easy with the exception of one open ditch.The so-called‘paddock bend’ is very sharp indeed.
HORSE-WISE: The course suits front runners despite the long run-in of 325 yards. CARLISLE (CUMBRIA) - ALTITUDE 66 METRES BET-WISE: Jonjo O’Neill’s hurdlers should be backed. COURSE-WISE: This is a right-handed
pear-shaped track of about 1m5f, and is one of the stiffest in the country. It is distinctly undulating, with a most severe uphill finish of some 300 yards.There are nine well-built fences of no great difficulty. HORSE-WISE: When the ground is soft or worse, the course becomes one for a long-striding galloper with lots of courage and stamina.
CARTMEL (CUMBRIA) - ALTITUDE 32 METRES
BET-WISE: This is another track where you should seriously consider Jonjo O’Neill’s runners. The same applies to runners from the John Quinn stable.
COURSE-WISE: This tight, undulating course is left-handed and measures approximately one mile. The six stiff fences are particularly severe for a minor track,but despite their severity casualties are less than you would expect.This may be because the under-hoof conditions are quite often good. The run-in includes a separate chute missing out the fences on the back turn,and,with a half-mile from the last obstacle,it is the longest in the country. Despite this, the approach to the finishing-line is mainly on the turn like most of the course.
HORSE-WISE: Consequently,handy and adaptable animals are favoured rather than strong gallopers.
CATTERICK (NORTH YORKSHIRE) - ALTITUDE 60 METRES
BET-WISE: Michael Smith doesn’t have many runners on this course but don’t let them go by without a second look.
COURSE-WISE: The circuit is a lefthanded oval measuring 1¼m with a run-in of 240 yards. It is essentially sharp with the course turning most of the way. The undulations add some variety.
HORSE-WISE: The eight fences are very easy and are unlikely to educate a novice. The track firmly favours nippy, front-running types. CHELTENHAM (GLOUCESTERSHIRE) - ALTITUDE 74 METRES BET-WISE: Willie Mullins does well with his horses at the Cheltenham Festival but take great caution in Handicap Chases; they are best avoided.
COURSE-WISE: There are two undulating left-handed courses, the Old and the New. The former is a 1½ mile oval, with nine stiff bends.Only one is jumped in the final straight leaving a tough uphill runin of 350 yards.The New course is slightly
longer with ten fences, leaving the Old at the furthest point from the stands. Two fences are jumped in the straight where the run-in is 237 yards. Both circuits are very testing.
HORSE-WISE: Fences are stiff and punish the poor jumper harshly. The notorious third last fence on the hill before the turn into the straight finds out many horses. This is also true of the fence before it at the top of the hill. The last half-mile is uphill and countless races have been transformed on the long stride to the finish.
CHEPSTOW (MONMOUTHSHIRE) - ALTITUDE 96 METRES BET-WISE: Be wary of any National Hunt Flat horses sent here by the following trainers: Paul Nicholls, Colin Tizzard and TimVaughan.
COURSE-WISE: This left-handed oval circuit basically consists of two long straights and two sharp turns. It measures nearly 2m with changing gradients and eleven moderately stiff fences. The fourth last claims more than its fair share of victims.It is very undulating in nature.
HORSE-WISE: The 5f straight with five fences and a 240-yard run-in is daunting, particularly when it is soft underfoot.However, front runners do well here.
DONCASTER (YORKSHIRE) - ALTITUDE 16 METRES BET-WISE: Nicky Henderson does well with his horses here but avoid his Handicap Chasers.
COURSE-WISE: This is a left-handed pear-shaped galloping circuit of 2m. It is almost flat with fairly difficult fences.
HORSE-WISE: The run-in is 247 yards is ideal for the big, long striding galloper.
EXETER (DEVON) - ALTITUDE 239 METRES
BET-WISE: Don’t let any Harry Fry horse go off unbacked.
COURSE-WISE: The track is hilly measuring almost 2m.The right-handed circuit is laid out in a long oval with a reasonably stiff uphill run-in of 300 yards. The position of the eleven fences are varied between the summer and winter courses; in the winter four are placed in each straight whilst in the summer five are placed in the back straight and three in the home straight.
HORSE-WISE: This is not a suitable venue for the long-striding galloper although the home straight and run-in is certainly a test of character when the going is soft.
FAKENHAM (NORFOLK) - ALTITUDE 36 METRES
BET-WISE: Few from the David Pipe stable see this racecourse but his runners do extremely well. The same applies to the Dr Richard Newland stable.
COURSE-WISE: This is a very tight, lefthanded circuit of 1m with some severe undulations. Most of the course is on the turn. The fences are average and are claimed to be the easiest in the country by many trainers. It is uphill from the last obstacle and has a 200-yard run in.
HORSE-WISE: It is very suitable for front runners and those horses that may need a bit of “kidding.”
FONTWELL (WEST SUSSEX) - ALTITUDE 24 METRES BET-WISE: Novice Chasers from the Paul Nicholls and Venetia Williams stables do very well here.
COURSE-WISE: This is a left-handed tight little track of 1m for hurdle races. Chases are uniquely run on a figure of eight track and there is a run-in of 230 yards. HORSE-WISE: This is a course for spe- cialists. Despite the climb to the line, it is ideal for handy front running types and against big long striding animals.
HAYDOCK (LANCASHIRE) - ALTITUDE 50 METRES
BET-WISE: Certain stables should be avoided in Handicap Chases; Alan King, Charlie Longsdon and Jonjo O’Neill.
COURSE-WISE: This is a left-handed galloping flat track of 1m5f. The fences are difficult with a drop on the landing side like Aintree. It is a fine testing ground for Grand National prospects. The bends on the hurdle course are on the sharp side.
HORSE-WISE: The fairly long testing runin of 440 yards does not challenge front runners who have a good record here. A sound jumper is ideal.
HEXHAM (NORTHUMBERLAND) - ALTITUDE 228 METRES BET-WISE: George Bewley and Malcolm Jefferson do extremely well in Handicap Chases.
COURSE-WISE: This is a left-handed circuit of 1m4f with undulations and a stiff uphill finish. The subsoil is clay and the going tends to extremes becoming firm or very soft. The fences are average and
the long back straight slopes quite sharply down. The climb to the winning post is quite steep with a run-in of 250 yards that levels out in front of the stands.
HORSE-WISE: the premium is on stamina rather than speed.
HUNTINGDON (CAMBRIDGESHIRE) - ALTITUDE 14 METRES BET-WISE: This is one of Kim Bailey’s favourite tracks and anything he sends here should be given more than a second look.
COURSE-WISE: This is a right-handed, oval track of 1m4f.It is flat with easy bends and ground generally on the fast side.The nine fences are moderately easy except for the two in the straight.The penultimate fence particularly finds out many a novice.
HORSE-WISE: The flat run-in holds few terrors, but horses seldom have a chance to get a breather here, so stamina is the name of the game.The runners also need to be able to maintain a good gallop.
KELSO (ROXBURGHSHIRE) - ALTITUDE 56 METRES
BET-WISE: Nicky Henderson occasionally sends runners to Kelso but they usually win.
COURSE-WISE: this is a left-handed,tight little track of just over one mile for hurdles and 1m2f for chases. It has a stiff uphill finish and a long 300-yard run-in on the chase course. The track is especially sharp for the hurdles and tends towards heavy going because of the clay subsoil.
HORSE-WISE: the fences are easy and are suitable for front runners.
KEMPTON PARK (MIDDLESEX) - ALTITUDE 12 METRES BET-WISE: Paul Webber has a poor strike-rate here but pay special attention to those that contest any Chase for experienced horses.
COURSE-WISE: This is a right-handed, flat triangular circuit of 1m5f. The fences are stiff but fair and the course is on the sharp side.It stands on gravel,so it drains well and rarely has heavy going.
HORSE-WISE: This is a very fair track and suits horses of most types. LEICESTER (LEICESTERSHIRE) - ALTITUDE 90 METRES BET-WISE: Venetia Williams’ experienced Chasers require a second look, as do any runners from Philip Hobb’s yard. COURSE-WISE: This is a right-handed, rectangular circuit of 1m6f. Leicester is a stiff galloping track with undulations and an uphill finish with the accent on stamina. The course stands on clay and limestone and the going can get very heavy. The hurdles course (also the flat course, so watered in the summer) has raced a lot slower than the chase track in recent seasons. HORSE-WISE: Fences are easy but not a track for front runners.
LINGFIELD PARK (SURREY) - ALTITUDE 50 METRES
BET-WISE: Warren Greatrex and Dan Skelton do extremely well with their Novice Handicap Hurdlers here.
COURSE-WISE: This is a left-handed, conically shaped course of approximately 1¼m, with the main feature being the gradients. The most notable of these is a tight downhill 4f turn into the straight, before a comparatively short run-in of 200 yards. The 10 fences are no stiffer than average, but the fourth last catches out novices. The going, which is often on the soft side, can become particularly holding. HORSE-WISE: The turns and gradients do not suit many horses and course specialists. Handy types are worth following.
LUDLOW (SHROPSHIRE) - ALTITUDE 97 METRES
BET-WISE: Philip Hobb’s Novice Hurdlers and Chasers do well here but the Novice Hurdlers from the stables of Nigel Twiston-Davies,Robin Dickin,David Pipe and Venetia Williams are best avoided. COURSE-WISE: Ludlow is a righthanded oval track of 1m4f. It is fairly flat with average fences and is quick draining in nature.
HORSE-WISE: it rarely rides soft and the emphasis is on speed rather than stamina. Shortly,I will be talking to several trainers about various aspects associated with the effects of altitude levels on the performance of their horses. I will report them in my next article which will include the National Hunt courses which I have not covered today. Until next time, good investing.