It’s always going to be a bit of an astonishing moment when a horse unseats its rider. Nobody can be sure of what the horse will do from that moment on. While it is the common route for the jockey to get out of the way as fast as possible, horses can continue.
Given horses are pack animals that naturally run together and like running and jumping they will often continue in the race and even make it to the finish line. Other times they have fallen themselves. It’s also the case that riderless horses have caused issues for the remaining runners. All these issues from loose horses are what we will look at here today.
We want to know the different ways that these riderless horses can affect races. Plus, we’ll have some stories on instances where horses have done their own thing. Is it possible that a horse can cross the finish line without their jockey and still win? That’s something else we’ll have a closer look at. Join us as we provide an insight into the outcomes of riderless horses in races.
Can a Riderless Horse Win a Race?
This is quite the enjoyable question to ask. It poses the obvious question of if they win, is there any reason for jockeys? Well, you can look at the example in 2019 at the Preakness event. One racer, Bodexpress, dumped his rider right out of the starting gate. He didn’t stop going, instead running alongside the other horses.
Many questioned whether it could actually go on and win the race without its rider. The answer to that question, according to official rules, is no. Horses are not able to win a race without their jockey, even if they do cross the finish line first.
Jockey John Velazquez ended up thrown from Bodexpress but people weren’t as concerned over him as they were over the horse. Most wanted it to go on and win the whole thing. The horse galloped on the outside of the pack early on in the race. Once the race was over and done, he decided to run around for a little longer, too.
In the end, an outrider caught up to him after giving chase for a short time. Velazquez wasn’t harmed in the incident, as it happens. He commented on the horse not behaving well while in the gate before the starting gun. Yet Twitter users got behind Bodexpress, showing their admiration for him.
The official ruling on that horse was “DNF” (Did Not Finish). This is despite the fact that it did finish the race. Yet this isn’t considered as true when the rider is no longer astride it. A horse cannot win without its jockey.
That rule is in place for various reasons. First, it is to keep things fair between all competitors. It is also a way of keeping the horses themselves safe. For the former rule, there is the necessary condition in place of jockey weight. This is of utmost important, for obvious reasons. To put it in a simple way, as long as a body is on the horse, it is eligible to win. Never was that the ruling taken more literally than in 1923 during a steeplechase.
In February of that year, Frank Hayes rode Sweet Kiss at Belmont Park, New York City. At some point during that race, Hayes suffered a heart attack and passed away. Somehow, he managed to stay in the saddle and Sweet Kiss passed the finish line in first place. The owner and trainer of the horse approached to celebrate, only to discover the jockey was dead. In a macabre turn of events, the horse became known to many as Sweet Kiss of Death!
Chaos on the Racetrack for Other Runners
One of the more frequent outcomes of a horse losing its rider is the chaos for other competitors. Horses without a jockey can often lose their way. Rather than moving off to the side or getting out of the way, they will often wander around in all directions. This can see them meander into oncoming horse traffic. This can cause chaotic and often dangerous situations for other horses and jockeys. For an example of this, we can turn to the 2001 Grand National event.
At the start of the race, there were 40 runners waiting to make it to the finish line. The eventual winner, Richard Guest atop Red Marauder, questioned the running of it. Looking back on it, he believed it was too muddy. “I’ve never run in worse”, he commented. Yet, the outcome could have been very different if more than four horses finished the race.
The Grand National received the go-ahead from officials. This was despite the adverse weather, including high winds. The two joint-favourites to win were Edmond and Moral Support. Yet the race was terrible from the early going. Eight horses had already fallen by the third fence. One of the runners, Paddy’s Return, continued on as a loose horse. It was this horse that caused pandemonium at the Canal Turn. Its presence there brought down several other nearby runners. That took care of nine horses, including Moral Support.
Only 13 horses remained in the race after the Canal Turn. Several more fell on proceeding fences. It was at the 19th fence that a couple of loose horses veered across the ditch. This caused upset for Papillon, Blowing Wind and Brave Highlander. Unsinkable Boxer then refused at the big ditch.
Yet it doesn’t have to be weather problems that causes horses to unseat their riders. Such was the case in November 2022, when Camprond caused chaos at Exeter. In his debut, the horse unseated jockey Aidan Coleman at the first of 15 fences. This didn’t stop Camprond from continuing, though. It leapt over the second fence better, although at the third, it cut in front of Merchant Milan. That horse took the fence at a 45-degree angle as a result. This almost led to its jockey Charlie Price falling from the saddle.
The two horses did a bit of head-butting, with Price steering his horse to the right. This looked like an effort to push Camprond off the course. What seemed like it had worked actually didn’t. Instead, Camprond ran around the next fence and back onto the track. Upon doing so, it ran right into the eventual winner, McFabulous. From there on, the horse continued to cause issues on the next several fences.
It doesn’t even have to be during racing events that a loose horse causes chaos, either. In 2014, a riderless horse caused its own sort of chaos at the Churchill Downs course. The two-year-old animal was an un-raced filly, trained by Dallas Stewart. With other horses and riders on the track in practice, the offending horse ran across the track. It collided with the rail, spilling over onto the opposite side. While managing to get to its feet, video footage showed it running wild up and down the inside. Others in attendance on horseback tried to catch up to it and put a stop to the chaos.
During the horse’s escapade, it damaged the rail, which needed replacing. The horse itself also suffered an injury to its left front leg. It received treatment for this via antibiotics.
You don’t have to look far to find instances of riderless horses causing chaos, either. It has happened many times in races over the years. In most instances, the horses remain on the racecourse, although that isn’t always the case. Some occasions have seen the horses run into other areas!
The Possibility of Crowd Invasions
The races can be a favourite event for the general public to attend. During the day, they get to wear their finest attire, enjoy the races, place a few bets, and so on. Yet it can also be a scene of sheer terror if a horse leaps into the crowd. It has happened on more than one occasion, too.
In fact, in May of 2011, it took place at the Grand Annual Steeplechase in Australia. The event, which occurred at Warrnambool, Victoria saw a panicked horse lose its rider. Confused, it took to leaping over a seven-foot boundary fence. Upon doing so, it landed amongst around 50 spectators in attendance.
Most of the time, the crowds at these events don’t expect to be the ones running. Yet with a rushing horse coming their way, they did exactly that. Amongst the “shocking” screams taking place, people entered into a slight frenzy. Seven people had to go to hospital after the incident, with five released on the same day. An 80-year-old woman and a boy of two remained in hospital but were stable. Witnesses also experienced a girl of four with blood pouring from her neck. Both the horse, Banna Strand, and its jockey remained unhurt.
Several years later, the racecourse at Sandown was the site of a riderless runner. Except this one escaped from the course altogether. On Friday, December 8, anyone driving close to Sandown would have faced an unusual sight. A horse escaped and found itself running into the road nearby.
That horse, Mustmeetalady, was being ridden by James King in an amateur’s race. Unfortunately, the gelding unseated his jockey at the first fence. While its initial route was to continue on with the circuit minus its jockey, things soon changed. Mustmeetalady ended up breaking through two sets of plastic running rails. It also smashed through the boundary of the Sandown racecourse. From there, it found its way to the nearby road. A cricket pitch at West End was its final location, where it was finally caught. This led to Sandown investigating its racecourse setup.
A Riderless Horse from a Head-butt
The final story here surrounds an incident from June of 2022. Jockey William Buick suffered quite the drama at the Derby that year. While in the stalls, he took a smack in the face from one of his rivals’ horses. While waiting for the start of the 14:00 race at Epsom aboard Blue Trail, he was head-butted. That came from the horse next to him, Approachability. Buick, stunned, grabbed a hold of the stall frame to keep his balance.
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) June 4, 2022
Seconds later, the stalls opened, and Buick was still clinging on to the frame. Unfortunately, this meant that Blue Trail set off at top speed, leaving the jockey behind. Medics cleared Buick to ride Nations Pride later in the Derby, despite his dazed status. In that race, he finished in eighth position.
Yet the remaining 13 runners in the 10-furlong race continued on. They had to contend with Blue Trail running loose throughout. It was Swilcan Bridge and jockey Hayley Turner who came out best from the chaos. She navigated the best path to finish first, despite Blue Trail’s veering.