THE KENTUCKY DERBY ISN’T until May 4, but you won’t have to wait until then to see top-notch Thoroughbred racing. Festivities kick off in April at two of the four tracks in Texas that host the sport. Don’t know a bobble from a bolt? We’ve prepared a primer to turn you into a racing-savvy aficionado.
With apologies to Mr. Ed, a horse isn’t exactly just a horse. The Thoroughbred is a distinct, distinguished breed with a lineage that can be traced back to the early 1600’s. Developed from crossing Arabian stallions with English mares, today’s Thoroughbreds demonstrate the qualities of both—the power and strength of a stallion with the elegance of a mare.
Racing plays an important part in a Thoroughbred’s life. Training begins after a Thoroughbred’s first birthday (that’s January 1, north of the equator). The animals are taught skills that test their strength and speed so that they can accept the weight of a rider and race around a track. At age two they are eligible to race.
A Thoroughbred’s age often determines placing but usually skill determines what races a Thoroughbred may enter. For instance, only two-year-olds can compete in juvenile race. And, interestingly, a Thoroughbred does not become a horse until he turns five. Note the “he”—only male Thoroughbreds are called horses; a female of the same age is called a mare.
In addition to its display of equine athleticism, racing is a profitable industry for two-legged creatures as well. There is money to be made—and lost—for anyone ranging from the breeders to the owners to the average Joes who try their luck at the tracks. If betting is involved, a Thoroughbred must be 21-years-old.
All out: A horse who is trying to the best of his ability.
Bobble: A bad step away from the starting gate, sometimes caused by the ground breaking away from under a horse and causing him to duck his head or go to his knees.
Bolt: Sudden veering from a straight course.
Closer: A horse who runs best in the latter part of the race, coming from off the pace.
Dead heat: Two or more horses finishing in an exact tie at the finish.
Derby: A stakes race for three-year-old colts.
Maiden race: A race for horses who have not won races before.
Nose: Smallest advantage a horse can win by.
Post: Starting point or position in starting gate.
Stretch: Final straight portion of the racetrack to the finish.
Where to go:
Lone Star Park About .5 mile north of I-30 on Belt Line Rd, Grand Prairie. Thoroughbred season begins April 4 and lasts through July 14 (Thur—Sun: Thur & Fri at 6:35, Sat & Sun at 1:35; in May, June, and July races are also held Wed at 6:35). General admission $3, clubhouse and reserved seats $6. Daily simulcast racing year-round at the Post Time Pavilion; $2. Call 972-263-7223 for details.
Manor Downs 10 miles east of Austin off U.S. 290, Manor. Thoroughbred meets will be held on Saturday and Sunday from April 27 through May 26 at 1:30. General admission $2, main grandstand $3, box seats and Turf Club $5 (senior citizens, students, and military with ID $1). Simulcast racing shown daily except Tuesdays; free. Call 512-272-5581 for information.
Retama Park 1 mile east of Loop 1604 off I-35, San Antonio. Thoroughbred season starts August 2 and lasts through October 26. General admission $2.50, clubhouse $3.50 (military and children 15 and under free). Simulcast races daily; $2. Call 210-651-7000 for information.
Sam Houston Race Park 7575 N. Sam Houston Pkwy West, Houston. Thoroughbred season ends March 30 and resumes in November. General admission $3, box seats $5 (senior citizens $1 and children 12 and under free). Daily simulcast racing; $3. Call 281-807-8700 for details.