As December the 25th descends on us, the time of year will provoke thoughts of putting up the Christmas decorations, Santa’s on his way and most importantly having a few schooners on the boss at the Christmas party.
Like the Sun in the sky racing continues through the festive period as it takes us on the road to the Magic Millions in January.
The team at Pro Group Racing thought what better way to get in the Christmas spirit than to look at how the yuletide season crosses with the nation's favourite pastime.
Names Of A Christmassy Kind
Traditionally seeing the name of the sire and dam combine to form the name of the filly or colt foaled has been a standard throughout horse racing and has often led to some interesting names over the years.
If an opportunity has come for an ownership group to get festive, yet rare, it has been taken with a tongue in cheek approach.
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
As mentioned above there have been 17 horses registered in racing clubs globally that have been named Christmas. The most successful of those 17 is a horse called the Christmas Kid who spent most of his career running in North America.
The Christmas Kid carried excellent pedigree being a son of Galileo. As a 3yo in the US and later travelling to Europe he collected several group 1 prizes as well as a pair of group races in Europe.
Almost hand in hand with Christmas comes jolly Old Saint Nick, better known by his alias ‘Santa Claus’. The big fella in the red suit also gets an honorary mention in the Christmas list of horse racing names with there being 4 horses named Santa Claus over the years.
The most famous Santa Claus will always be the bloke dropping off the presents on Xmas eve, however in the 1960’s he wasn’t the only Santa Claus in town.
In 1963 Santa Claus came to the scene when he won the Curragh Stakes in Ireland setting him up to compete in the English and Irish classics in the coming season.
The following year saw Santa Claus go on to claim group one glory when Australian jockey Scobie Beasley steered the Mick Rogers runner to victory in the UK’s Epsom Derby 1964.
Looking all but gone 4 furlongs from home Santa Claus looked like he’d be saving himself for the Christmas period when a length down but rallied under the ride of 50 year old Beasley who was searching for an Epsom title in his 14th time of trying. An excellent comeback win saw him battle back to win by a length.
Santa Claus went on to have a huge career even finishing runner up in the Prix de l’arc de Triomphe.
Frosty The Snowman! Was A Jolly Happy Soul.
Outside of the best performing Christmas themed horses we have also seen some great names crop up in racing form guides across the world.
Although we don’t see much snow on the golden coasts of Australia, Frosty The Snowman has cropped up 3 times in warm climates racing in America and Europe. To this day he still holds a time course record at Woodbine in the US.
Going down more of a nativity led route there have also been several runners relating to the more traditional roots of Christmas. Over the years we have seen a Baby Jesus hit the form guides as well as a Japanese bred Virgin Mary.
There were Three Kings in the nativity and in our story we have twenty one or 7 runners under the name of Three Kings. We have also seen 6 runners called Frankincense of which two were sired by the greats Frankel and Galileo.
Christmas Carols are a popular pastime during the festive season and it seems naming your horse it as well is also popular. There have been 10 runners named Christmas Carols racing globally with runners under that name running in the US, Uruguay and Japan.
The Love Of Christmas - The Story Of Cynthia Phipps
In US horse racing the Phipps family have a rich heritage of breeding and training horses to compete at the highest levels. The late Cynthia Phipps was probably the most prominent to have multiple Group 1 victories with her Christmas Themed contingent.
Phipps unfortunately passed in 2007 however will always be remembered for honouring the holidays when naming her equine athletes.
The Phipps stable were single handedly accountable for registering runners Yule Log, Christmas Past, Buche De Noel (Yule Log In French), Kirs Kringle and Saint Nicholas to name a few.
Christmas Past, with probably one of the best records for the stable also foaled three more great names in Boxing Day, Wrapped and Myrrh.
With an extensive portfolio of Christmas themed runners already Phipps went on to breed the only ever Christmas Bonus who produced Christmas Gift, Bonus Money, Holiday Spirit and Checking It Twice and the previously mentioned Christmas Kid.
It’s amazing to think that there are only 17 horses in the world named Christmas yet Phipps named over 20 horses with Christmas connotations.
Across the month of December there are four races that give a tip of the hat towards Christmas and have a total of over $500,000 in prize money available for entrants.
On the same weekend we see two of those races take place with the Christmas Cup taking place at Randwick over 2400m and The Christmas Handicap taking place over 1200m at Morphettville Racecourse.
A listed race for 3 year olds and older, The Christmas Cup is a true staying test for horses in the summer conditions. In 2019 the race was won by former Godolphin runner, now under the tutelage of Richard Litt, Morton's Fork.
The Christmas Cup is run on the same card as the Villiers Stakes and offers stayers a great chance to gain a black type victory before the end of the year.
Out of all the 4 Christmas races the Cup is the only endurance race. After the Cup the Christmas Handicap, Stakes and Classic are all sprint races over the shorter distances.
Doubling up on the same weekend is the Christmas Handicap which takes place the same day as the Christmas Cup but over half the distance.
With over $150,000 available in prize money the 1200m sprint is one of the big races in South Australia during the holidays and gives speed demons another chance for victory after the WA Summer Carnival.
In 2019 the race was won by Tony McEvoy trained speedster Ef Troop. Out of Spirit of Boom and roots through Exceed and Excel, he was the favourite for the race and was never in doubt as the 4yo gelding went on to win by 1.5 lengths.
When most of the attention in Australia turns to Cricket on Boxing Day it is just as busy on the tracks where horses head back out across all states.
One of the big races on the day is the Christmas Stakes held over 1200 metres at the Caulfield Racecourse. With a prize of $140,000 the race is run under handicap conditions on the 26th December.
A listed level race the Christmas Stakes attracts a high quality field to compete for the sprint title under Handicap conditions.
The most recent edition of the race was won by Ciaron Maher and David Eustace trained runner All Too Royal who beat home Mystyko and Crystal Dreamer at a price of $4.60.
Under the ride of 2020 Melbourne Cup winner Jye McNeil All Too Royal was no match for the stacked field winning by 0.8l and beating Christmas Handicap winner Ef Troop by 2.2l finishing 4th.
The final race of the season to be jolly is the Christmas Classic run at Randwick in late December over 1200m. With $150,000 in prize money on offer the race is run the same day as the Vo Rogue Stakes at Eagle Farm.
Similar to the Christmas Stakes the Christmas Classic is run over 1200m for 3 year olds and older under quality conditions.
In recent years there has been a high pedigree of winners with 2018 seeing Alizee for the Godolphin stable win the race and go on to claim Group 1 titles through Autumn and Spring. The following year Chris Waller trained Madam Rouge took the title beating Glenall and Albmuin in second and third respectively.
The Christmas Classic served as an excellent lead in to the Magic Millions for Madam Rouge where she went on to win the $1m Magic Millions Sprint.
Last But Not Least - Rudolph $4 For Lapland Classic
Not quite, but one of the great things we get to cover in this Christmassy Magazine edition is the great sport of Reindeer Racing that takes place in none other than the great location of Lapland, Finland each year.
The art of Reindeer racing in the traditional sense sees jockeys piloting Reindeer from skis behind the animal holding reins to steer. It’s a bit like harness racing on skis rather than in a trap.
The racing takes place over a two month period and much like racing holds various styles of racing including sprint and endurance for a range of trophies. The season concludes with the Inari Reindeer Championship where the event is held on a frozen lake.
In Reindeer racing there are a strict set of rules in which racing takes place. A far cry from the cavalier approach that Old Saint Nick takes when trotting Rudolph and the gang round on Christmas Eve.
With the reindeers able to get up to speeds of 37 mile per hour all jockeys that enter have to be over 60kgs. Competition is open to both Men and Women however all must adhere to the 60kg rule and are weighed before racing takes place. Opposite to horse racing really.
Jockeys besides weight conditions are required to race in a squat position for the duration of the race in order to gain maximum performance through streamlining and speed. The pilots will often do miles and miles of Cross Country skiing in the build up to the event in order to make sure they are at the right level of fitness.
When horses are paraded in the ring prior to the race there can be tells that signal if a horse is in good condition. Things like a clean coat or bulging muscles are usually a good indicator in thoroughbred racing.
With Reindeer racing its a bit simpler. Long body, big nose and big feet are all good signs of a quality racer. The big feet are a sign of speed ability whereas the head and nostrils are a sign of good breathing and show ability for high lung capacity.
Reindeer racing takes place a little after Christmas unfortunately with racing taking place between February and April however we see it is nonetheless a Christmas event.
That’s All Folks
Christmas is definitely an exciting time of the year for everyone and none the less so for those in the racing industry.
With 2020 being a year without crowds it will be great to see a host of great Christmas competitions run and won in December to re-engage the punters going into 2021.
We look forward to seeing the results of all the Christmas races - the Christmas Cup, Christmas Handicap, Christmas Stakes and Christmas Classic and if all else fails it’s less than a month away by that point to the results of the Triple J top 100.