Racing’s jargon can confuse many.
When looking at a form guide or a race card, there are a range of letters as well as numbers used to indicate where a horse finished, or what happened if it failed to finish.
We often see U or UR for an unseated rider, P or PU for pulled up and the most common abbreviation for a non-finisher over the jumps, F for a faller.
This type of non-finisher is the easiest to explain.
When a horse tries but fails to make it across a hurdle or a fence in a National Hunt race, or hits the floor upon attempted landing across the other side of the obstacle, it is considered to be a faller and cannot finish the race.
There are a number of reasons why this may happen.
Some horses hit the fence or hurdle as they attempt to jump it, causing them to fall. Sometimes they fall when landing on the other side, especially in softer ground, while other times the horse does get their stride right heading into the obstacle.
Of the latter, some horses get too close into the obstacle and lose their momentum, while others stand off it and go for too long a stride, meaning they don’t get cleanly over the fence.
When any of these circumstances happen, the horse is a ‘faller’ and is officially a non-finisher.
In terms of the actual definition, a horse is a faller because of its own mistake, or that of the jockey, with no other horses directly involved in it falling. This differs from being brought down (see below), or unseating the rider.
Other Non-Completion Types
Fallers on a race card or form guide will show up as F. There are other types of non-completion in horse racing, noted like this:
- Unseated Rider (U or UR) – when the jockey falls off the horse owing to a mistake, then they have ‘unseated’ rather than fallen.
- Brought Down (B or BD) – when a horse is interfered with, often by a faller or during a similar incident, it may be impeded to the point of being brought down through no fault of its own.
- Slipped Up (S) – though thankfully not too common, some horses do slip up due to wet or unsafe ground which may cause them to fall. Such incidents are recorded as such, not as ‘fallers’.
- Refused (R) – sometimes horses will refuse to jump an obstacle, or refuse to race when the tape goes up.
- Pulled Up (P or PU) – a very common sight in jumps racing is horses pulling up. When a horse is tired or has a problem, the jockey may bring the horse to a stop, known as ‘pulling up’.
- Ran Out (RO or O) – all runners in a race must follow the agreed course. When a horse accidentally runs across from the hurdles to the chase track for example, or runs around an obstacles rather than jumping it, they have run out and can now not finish the race.
Betting: Faller Insurance
A bonus for those betting in jumps races is that these days, many online bookmakers offer types of faller insurance.
As a promotion or a special, your bookmaker may offer money back as a free bet if your horse falls at certain major meetings. They may also offer you the chance to get faller insurance yourself via their ‘promos’ page.
One of the key things a punter looks for is getting a full run for their money. When a horse falls, especially very early on, bettors often feel unsatisfied as the enjoyment of the race has been lessened. This way, there is at least a chance to effectively make the bet void.
Not all non-completions can be covered by insurance, unless your bookmaker is offering some sort of specific promotion. Fallers, often including those brought down, and those unseating their riders are often included in this special bet promo too.
How Often Do Horses Fall?
There are many reasons first of all for fallers. Some tracks have much stiffer obstacles than others. The pace of a race and the size of the field count, the race distance and tiredness of horses, the ground and much more.
In terms of averages, they are always skewed. Even within jumps racing specifically, you will see bumper races in which there are no obstacles to take at all, meaning no fallers. There are also hurdles which are fairly easy to take, then fences which are bigger and stiffer and cause the majority of fallers in the sport.
We can use the 2022 Cheltenham Festival as a quick guide. 405 horses took part in the 28 races across all four days. Of those, plenty pulled up as usual but just 17 were classed as fallers. That is only 4.19% of all runners.
Famous Falls in Horse Racing
There have been many, many high-profile falls in National Hunt racing over the years.
Favourites have come a cropper in many a Grand National or Cheltenham Festival race, but there’s nothing more dramatic when such an event happens at the very last obstacle.
Annie Power, 2015
Heading into the 2015 Mares’ Hurdle, Annie Power was red hot. She was sent off a very restrictive 1/2 favourite for the top-level connections of owner Rich Ricci, trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh.
Earlier that day, the same connections had won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle with Douvan at 2/1, before Walsh and Mullins teamed up again to win the Arkle with Un De Sceaux at 4/6.
After that, the Annie Power connections won yet again with Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle at 4/5 and it was reported that all four horses had been backed in various multiples across the industry.
With the first three legs of the bet having been successful, the bookmakers were set to pay out £50 million should Annie Power land the 4pm. The 1/2 favourite was four lengths clear of the field and completely in control going to the final hurdle, only to completely topple over to the huge collective groan of the Cheltenham crowd.
Benie Des Dieux, 2019
Four years after Walsh was criticised by many punters and accused online of helping out the bookies deliberately, lightning was to strike him twice.
On day one of the festival, Benie Des Dieux, owned by Ricci and trained by Mullins, was sent off the very well backed 10/11 favourite.
Once more, the mare travelled extremely well. Once more she hit the front to a great roar and pulled clear of the field heading to the last hurdle, and once more she fell.
More millions went down the drain.