There are many features that make the sport of horse racing so uniquely exciting, from the huge festivals like Cheltenham and Royal Ascot to the charismatic jockeys and superstar horses. And underpinning it all is, of course, betting, what with the excitement and anticipation surrounding carefully (or not so carefully) selecting a horse, placing your bet, and cheering your selection on to the line.
Where will your noble steed finish? 1st of course being the ultimate goal, or perhaps even 2nd, 3rd or 4th in the case of each way punters. But – barring a dead heat – just the one horse can win the race, and only a select band finish in the placed positions. The majority of those who finish further back will earn unwanted form figures, such as 7, 8, 9 or 0, the latter signifying 10th position or worse.
Then we have those runners who don’t manage to finish the race at all. Rather than earning a number to denote their effort, those who fail to complete the course will be assigned a letter to represent their performance. Even a cursory glance at a race card – especially for a jumps race – will reveal an array of Fs, Us, and Ps, alongside the more obviously explained 1s, 2s and 3s. But what exactly do all these letters mean? Without further ado, let’s move on to a rundown of racing’s less desirable finishing outcomes.
- Noted on Racecard as – F
One of the major perils of jumps racing is of course the obstacles which stand between the runners and the winning line, be they hurdles or fences. Making it safely from one side to the other at each of these jumping challenges is, of course, a key part of the challenge these races present.
Whilst on the majority of occasions runners do successfully jump the obstacle, sometimes they don’t. Whether it be through starting their leap too early or too late, or simply not jumping high enough, horses do make errors when jumping, errors which if significant enough, result in the horse “falling”, sending themselves and their rider crashing to the turf.
Always an undesirable occurrence and, with remounting now being prohibited, an outcome which ends the participation of the horse in the race and sends your bet up in flames. Famous falls are legion throughout the sport, but in recent times there are perhaps none so famous as that of Annie Power in the 2015 Mare’s Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
With fellow Willie Mullins runners Douvan, Un De Sceaux and Faugheen all having won previously on the opening day, bookmakers were facing an estimated £50 million pay out were Annie Power to also prevail. All was going well, with the mare cruising clear approaching the last, and then this happened. For accumulator bettors up and down the country, one of the most painful falls in recent memory, perhaps all the more so because as a hurdles race some might argue it is harder to fall than actually get over the obstacles in question!
- Noted on Racecard as – U
An unseated rider refers to those occasions when the horse itself does not fall, but still manages to send their rider hurtling towards the turf. This usually comes as a result of a more minor jumping error which, whilst not severe enough to cause a fall, does result in the horse becoming unbalanced – an unbalance which spreads to the man or woman in the saddle making it all but impossible to hang on.
It should be noted, however, that not all unseats occur at an obstacle. A rider may be dethroned due to a horse veering suddenly and unexpectedly in one direction, or on occasion simply through jockey error. Again, there is never a good time for this to happen, but some times are better than others.
- Noted on Racecard as – P
Whilst falls and unseats both result in a parting of the ways between horse and rider, not all non-finishers are so dramatic. The term “pulled up” refers to those times when, for whatever reason, the jockey opts to bring his mount to a halt rather than continuing in the race. Possible explanations for this action include the horse being clearly too tired to continue, unable to recover from a jumping error, or the jockey simply sensing all is not right with their mount. Rather than continue when it might endanger the horse and when there is clearly no chance of it challenging for even a place, the jockey effectively retires from the race.
Refused/Refused to Race
- Noted on Racecard as – R
The use of the term “refused” can have one of two meanings. The first of these refers to those times when a horse refuses to even attempt to jump an obstacle – possibly sensing an impending fall or unseat and opting instead to pull themselves up.
Secondly, perhaps the horse didn’t even make it as far as the first jumping challenge; although rare, there are those occasions when a horse will simply refuse to race at all, standing stock still whilst the others set off towards the winning line. There have been a number of examples of this failure to start over the years, with a horse by the name of Mad Moose being a particularly frequent offender, refusing to race on no fewer than five occasions throughout a chequered career. Note that this refusal to race may alternatively be noted as (L), as in Left at the start.
- Noted on Racecard as – B
Whilst falls, unseats and refusals are largely the result of an error on the part of the horse or the jockey in question, there are other occasions when a runner’s race is ended through no fault of their own. Luck plays a part in most sports and it certainly does in racing, especially in races with larger fields.
One type of incident which falls firmly into this category is that of being brought down i.e., falling due to being impeded by another horse. Should a horse fall immediately in front of a rival, on occasion there may be neither time nor space for the second horse to get out of the way, with the result that they are also sent crashing to the turf.
- Noted on Racecard as – O
Being herd animals, horses are naturally inclined to run in a pack, however they can’t realistically be expected to remember the route they are required to follow. Sticking to the correct course is nevertheless an essential aspect of a horse race, with part of the role of the jockey being to ensure that their mount sticks to the right track. Failure to follow the correct course automatically earns a “ran out” classification and ends the runner’s participation in the race.
Running out tends to come in two forms. Firstly, it may be the rider who is at fault, such as the time Brendan Powell did everything right only to avoid the winning post in 2012. And secondly, it may be the horse who is more clearly to blame. One example of this was when Buachaill Beag gave Philip Donovan very little chance when opting to take this course of action at Towcester in 2016.
- Noted on Racecard as – C
Related to the already-covered run out, are those instances when a horse ends up taking the wrong course despite neither they nor their rider being at fault. To be “carried out” refers to being forced off the correct course and out of the race by another runner – a hugely frustrating occurrence for all connections and punters.
A relatively infrequent event in comparison to other categories of non-finisher, it nevertheless does occur, and sometimes on the biggest stages – such as this incident when Paul Townend and future dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo went off script in the 2018 in the Growise Champion Novice Chase ending both their own, and the unfortunate Finian’s Oscar’s participation in the race.
- Noted on Racecard as – S
Many of these racing terms are pretty straightforward to understand, and this is another, with slipped up referring to a runner slipping and falling during a race. Of the categories listed here, this is perhaps the only one more likely to occur during a flat rather than a National Hunt contest, due to the greater speeds at which the turning sections of a course are taken. Very rarely due to horse or jockey error, the most common reason for a horse slipping up is an unsafe patch of ground, possibly due to rain falling on quick ground to create a slick surface. Should you see a horse slip up during a race, don’t be surprised to see the remainder of the meeting abandoned on safety grounds.
- Noted on Racecard as – D
The final of the many possible letters which may appear in a horse’s form line is that of “D” – referring to those times that a horse does manage to complete the correct course, and may even cross the line in front, only to be subsequently disqualified by the stewards for a breach of the rules. Possible reasons for such a disqualification include severe interference with a rival, carrying the incorrect amount of weight, failing a drugs test or, in rare instances, due to a horse running under the wrong name.
Non-Finishers vs Non-Runners: Betting Implications
- Non-Finisher – Losing bet, no money back
- Non-Runner – Bet void; Money back unless bet placed Ante-Post
Part of the reason that non-finishers are so disappointing is the fact that bets on such runners are automatically settled as losers. Should your betting selection fall, unseat, slip-up or so on, then barring an act of extreme goodwill, or special offer from your bookmaker, you won’t be getting your money back, being left with only a tale of woe.
This differs from the area of non-runners, those horses who fail to even line up at the tape or enter the starting stalls. Back a non-runner and your stake will indeed be returned to you. The one exception to this being bets placed under ante-post conditions, i.e. those bets struck significantly in advance of the race, prior to the final declarations being made.
And really this distinction between non-runners and non-finishers is perfectly fair. For whereas a non-runner never had an opportunity to win the race due to not actually taking part, non-finishers all did at least have a chance to cross the winning line in front, only to fail in their quest as a result of one of the myriad reasons explained above.