Despite how caring, majestic-looking, happy and playful they are, there is something we should remember about the breed we love most.
Sometimes, thoroughbreds will bite.
What they do in the yard however won’t affect us. But do they bite during races? Well, yes.
We’re looking into how common that is and well as why they do it. We’re giving some high-profile examples, as well as noting some skirmishes their jockeys have been involved in too.
Horses Biting During a Race
There is no one definitive reason as to why a thoroughbred racehorse, or any horse for that matter, will choose to bite another horse. Generally speaking, it will tend to be one with a psychological issue as yet unaddressed.
When what is thankfully the rare occurrence of horses biting each other happens, it’s usually more of a teeth-showing threat than a case of sinking them in and drawing blood.
Why do they bite?
The main reason for a horse aiming a bit at another equine is fear. This is very much the same reason a cat will hiss, rather than simply because they are aggressive.
It may also however be the case that a horse is indeed looking to show dominance over another, or they are irritated by something, often physical such as an underlying injury, a cut, a scratch or something similar.
Lastly, they can sometimes choose to bite owing to finding themselves in an unfamiliar environment or situation, though this also pretty much falls under fear.
What may not surprise you is that it’s entire males that are the worst culprits. We often see such types acting, as we say in the industry, “coltish”, though it can reach a whole new level with some stallions.
Famous Racehorse Biting Examples
Here are some very real examples of racehorses attempting to bite each other.
In the States in 2021, there was a very famous case.
Six-year-old Firenze Fire was an experienced runner. Still a full horse and a sprinter, often wound up to the second on race days, it’s fair to say that the son of Poseidon’s Warrior had the propensity to be a little highly strung.
Having been in good form that year he was sent to contest the Grade 1 Forego Stakes at Saratoga in New York.
After braking well, Firenze Fire followed the leader which was strong favourite Yaupon. After a lovely run around the final bend under jockey Jose Ortiz, Firenze Fire took the lead and was about to go on and upset the market leader.
For some reason however, it was Firenze Fire who got all upset. He decided as he was passing Yaupon that he would cock his head and continually attempt to bite his rival while still travelling at 40mph. In the end, with Ortiz struggling to control him, he relinquished his lead and allowed the favourite to score.
Again, this happened in the States. Rich Strike was a fine if surprising winner of the Kentucky Derby in 2022.
Greg Blasi was riding one of the ponies assigned to accompany runners in America. His primary job after the race was to calm the winner down and accompany him back into the paddock while the winning jockey is interviewed for TV.
The three-year-old colt however didn’t take much of a liking to the pony and went mad in attempting to bite him viciously.
With Blasi’s leg in the way, Rich Strike couldn’t quite get to his intended target with his rider taking the brunt of the aggression.
The 1994 Ascot Gold Cup winner had previously shown a somewhat unnecessary side to his character.
In 1992, he was passed by Luchiroverte at Doncaster and he was clearly a little miffed at that.
Arcadian Heights lunged towards his rival’s back end while doing his best impression of Jaws.
He did it again in the Gold Cup later that season.
He was made to wear a muzzle in the Goodwood Cup.
There is little you can do in the way of punishment here.
Although in the case of Rich Strike, his team, and especially his trainer, were given a hard time on social media afterwards.
Nevertheless, there is no way at all to show the trainer did anything wrong in his prep that made the horse so aggressive, and it also didn’t affect the result.
Under British racing rules, a biting incident would be considered alongside any other evidence should it affect the result of a race, but if it doesn’t..?
Much like interference in running or taking another horse’s ground, a result could be altered by the stewards if one horse attempted to bite another and the incident stopped it winning or being placed higher up the field.
It’s not only horses that sometimes take a dislike towards each other. Jockeys do it too.
Often, it simply comes down to misplaced competitive spirit. Jockeys are suspended on a weekly basis for dangerous riding with prize money and bragging rights up for grabs.
Some incidents have been a little more extraordinary of course, such as jockeys seemingly deliberately taking another’s racing line or even grabbing and throwing away a fellow jockey’s whip.
The most recent and most extraordinary example however of a jockey seemingly deliberately attempting to cause injury to another happened in France in 2022.
Belgian rider Christophe Soumillon was banned for two months after the incident at Saint-Cloud. There, he elbowed British-based jockey Rossa Ryan right out of his saddle mid-race.
Though Soumillon later apologised for what he’d done while riding for Francis Graffard, Ryan acknowledged that he was lucky to walk away from the vicious and uncalled for action of Soumillon.
Ryan was thrown from his mount but, very luckily, was unhurt. Soumillon was banned for 60 days by the French authorities.
Thankfully, such moves by jockeys are very rare indeed. Shows of aggression among thoroughbreds and their horsemen are not the norm meaning they do hit the headlines when they happen to come along.