When controversy hits the sport of horse racing, it’s usually the actions of the jockey or trainer that cause the problem. However, in the recent Forego Stakes held at Saratoga, it was a horse trying to bite another of the runners that hit the headlines. How often does this happen in horse racing?
Firenze Fire and Yaupon had drawn clear of the rest of the field in the Grade 1 event. An exciting finish saw gasps by the racegoers as Firenze Fire suddenly turned towards his rival and tried to bite Yaupon.
This has happened several times in horse racing. Ascot Gold Cup winner Arcadian Heights bit another horse during a race at Doncaster. Stewards forced the horse to run a muzzle next time out.
Moonax won the St. Leger but was also known for is biting activities. His groom Joyce Walsgrave resorted to wearing padding on her arms and torso to prevent injury.
A race in Maisons-Lafitte in France two years ago saw Palomba twice try to beat the arm of the jockey Francois-Xavier Bertras who was riding Lucky Lycra. More a case of lucky he didn’t get badly hurt. Lucky Lycra did go on to win the race though.
Why do these incidents happen though? There can be some psychological problem that causes this behaviour. Often the case is of a horse threatening to bite rather than actually going ahead and doing it.
Firenze Fire Take a Chomp at Yaupon
Fear can cause this behaviour or an attempt to assert their dominance. The two instances mentioned in this article illustrate that. Both Firenze Fire and Palomba were in a close race, and it was touch-and-go on who would go on and win the race. Biting the other horse might just be the action that wins the race. Earlier in the Palomba race, there had been a brief collision with Lucky Lycra, perhaps revenge was being attempted.
The horse may be inexperienced and unable to cope with its new surroundings. That’s not an excuse that can be used for these two horses though. It’s often stallions that do the biting, so with the filly Palombo it was a surprising act.
With Palombo and Firenze Fire, the ‘victim’ went on to win the race. What if it was the horse that had been guilty of biting who went on to win? A race at Churchill Downs in the USA, saw Chilled finish ahead of Zimmer. However, Chilled didn’t live up to its name and had bit Zimmer close to the finish.
On this occasion, the stewards decided to disqualify Chilled because of the runner intimidating Zimmer. There have been other instances where the result stood but action was taken for future races for the guilty party.
In 2018, Bartholomeu Dias bit Dr Richard Kimble in a race at Goodwood. No action was taken by the stewards, but trainer Charlie Hills had his biting runner gelded soon after.
Thankfully, no serious injuries have been reported for either horse or human. Biting isn’t a regular occurrence in horse racing, but the possibility is always there.