For the uninitiated, the phrase ‘pulled up’ may be one of those bewildering terms unique to horse racing which simply causes confusion.
In actual fact, it’s extremely simple and mirrors coming to a halt in a vehicle.
The point about a horse being pulled up is to understand how it affects result and betting, and also why it happens.
Understanding this will aid your future betting plans.
Pulled Up Explained
The term ‘pulled up’ has an official meaning within horse racing, so don’t let the simplicity of the words which can be used in other ways confuse you.
A horse can “pull up” beside another when walking for example, but in terms of actual racing terminology ‘pulled up’ can only mean that a jockey has intentionally stopped riding their horse, comes to a walk or a stop and withdraws the horse during the race.
If a jockey slowed right down, maybe believing something may be wrong but then crosses the line at the end, the horse will still be considered a finisher. Stopping in the middle of the race however, is pulling up.
Unless a horse absolutely comes to a stop standing up, a very rare occurrence, pulling up within horse racing is the decision of the jockey only. Nobody is in contact with the rider and it is entirely their decision, based on the horse not feeling right or being extremely tired.
To physically pull up a horse, the rider will pull on the reins and essentially instruct the horse to come to a stop.
At this point, the rider can choose whether to stay on board and simply bring the horse slowly back to the stables, or unseat the horse immediately if appropriate.
Pulling up does happen in Flat races, though rarely, while it is common in jumps racing. In a hurdle or chase race, the jockey will not take an obstacle when pulling up, but will stop in front of it or go around until they are able to exit the track.
Why Are Horses Pulled Up?
One of the major problems with the reputation of horse racing is that issues tend not to come from within, but from without.
One such example is the fact that many casual punters and occasional watchers still think of the thoroughbred rather like a machine.
With that in mind, it’s common for people to think that a horse should never be pulled up. After all, no matter how unlikely it seems that they may win, they should keep going to the bitter end shouldn’t they? Well, that’s not always the right course of action for the animal, something recognised by jockeys.
The welfare of horses and jockeys is paramount, always.
On the vast majority of occasions, a jockey will pull up a horse because they believe or know that something is physically amiss.
Sometimes it is an injury, often the horse isn’t breathing perfectly normally and could have a hitherto unseen illness. Other times, in a National Hunt race, the horse may be jumping badly and a continuation of that is therefore dangerous, while other times straight up fatigue can be detected.
Thoroughbreds simply love to run and do so for fun, voluntarily. Even if slowing right down, many will choose to keep going and even keep jumping, which is why for the animal’s future welfare the jockey pulling it up is the right thing to do.
While there are complications involved when some prize money could be gained, or where each-way bets can be affected, in some cases a horse can be pulled up under the rules just because it’s too slow.
If the horse in question simply cannot keep up with the field and will finish last, it does not benefit anybody for it to keep going until the end and risk injury or exhaustion. Instead, a jockey can pull the animal up and the trainer can reassess what to do next.
How Pulled Up Horses Are Recorded in the Form Book
So, regardless of the reason a jockey pulls up their mount, the result must be recorded. The abbreviation PU is commonly used, though on form figures a simple ‘P’ is used, i.e., 32/41P-2.
Often, especially in longer races, more than one horse can pull up. The order they are listed really doesn’t matter, for example the first to pull up doesn’t have to be recorded at the bottom. This is because all of those pulled up have not finished and don’t affect the result or the betting.
Pulled up horses cannot be eligible to receive prize money.
Should Punters Worry About Horses Which Have Pulled Up?
When reading the form book, many punters see a ‘P’ or read a race description when a horse has pulled up will often worry that the horse is unreliable or has injury or fitness concerns.
This would be a sweeping judgement however. Each horse should be assessed individually. Though pulling up can seem extreme, it can be done when conditions on the day are very much against a runner and it may have no bearing on their chances of winning next time out.
One factor to consider is when the horse in question was pulled up. If it was a number of weeks or months ago or was a few runs back, then it likely has no bearing at all.
Horses are given the chance to recover from whatever was wrong by good trainers, while running again since being pulled up and performing well means you can draw a line through the race in which the horse was pulled up.
Even if you are tempted to bet and do trust the trainer, it may be best in many cases to give a horse a wide berth after being pulled up, in case there is an issue the horse won’t fully recover its form from.
While in the race description you’ll be able to check on what was happening to a horse when it was pulled up, no explanation has to be given to the press ultimately. In many situations therefore, you won’t know what was wrong with the horse, if anything at all.
At the higher end of the sport, the racing press will always have info on why a horse was pulled up. Always look for interviews with trainers after this has happened as you will probably get your answer.
How Pulling Up Affects Betting Returns
It is crucial to remember that, ultimately, a horse when pulled up by its jockey is considered to have been withdrawn from the race. Any bet on that, of any type, is considered to be a losing bet.
There are no grounds for a bettor to claim any money back, nor for a bet to be made void, if a horse is pulled up. When it happens, no stakes are returned.
Even in a scenario in which your horse was of the last three standing but goes on to pull up, it cannot be considered the “third best” horse in the race for each-way purposes. To be considered third in the race, the horse would have to finish. All pulled-up horses are non-finishers in every circumstance.
Until a betting special is introduced to offer you some sort of insurance, a horse being pulled up is just about the worse outcome you could expect.
Placed horses could have been backed each-way, those falling or finishing runner-up to a specific horse could come with ‘money back’ offers, but when a horse pulls up it loses. End of story.
Faller insurance and similar deals are becoming commonplace now in racing, but up to now there is no insurance or money-back deal on the market to cover your horse being pulled up. This should be remembered, especially during races over extreme distances such as the Grand National.
Flat v National Hunt
As many will already know, cases of horses pulling up are far greater in jumps racing than in the Flat game.
The main reason is simply down to distance. The vast majority of Flat horses, unless a very sudden injury befalls them, can finish their race before a problem is known.
Over the jumps, horses are going over two miles, three miles and even more miles or more meaning fatigue has more chance of setting in, heat getting the better of the animal, or a small injury becoming known.
The obstacles themselves present another reason for jockeys to pull up a horse. On the Flat, even if a problem were known a jockey could give themselves time to check the horse and assess whether or not it is safe to carry on. Having to jump hurdles and especially fences, presents another risk.
With all of this in mind, it’s far more likely that on the Flat you will see horses finishing last or second last by many lengths. Jockeys can simply give up the ghost as far as riding to win goes, then allow the horse to simply canter the rest of the race up to the line.
Over the jumps, many more ‘P’s will be seen against horses’ form figures as it is safer and more prudent to pull up and head home.
The Grand National
The longer and more demanding the race, the more likely you are to see horses being pulled up.
The chief example would be the Grand National at Aintree.
The severity, even now, of the fences there means that a number of horses fall.
In fact, the main reason horses don’t finish the National is because so many are pulled up for not being able to see out the 4¼-mile distance.
Here are the results of ten Grand Nationals, showing the comparative number of finishers, fallers and those pulled up.
|Year||Runners||Finishers||Fell/Brought Down/Unseated etc||Pulled Up|
|2012||40||15 (38%)||21 (52%)||4 (10%)|
|2013||40||17 (43%)||9 (22%)||14 (35%)|
|2014||40||18 (45%)||15 (38%)||7 (17%)|
|2015||39||19 (49%)||11 (28%)||9 (23%)|
|2016||39||16 (41%)||11 (28%)||12 (31%)|
|2017||40||19 (48%)||8 (20%)||13 (32%)|
|2018||38||12 (32%)||13 (34%)||13 (34%)|
|2019||40||19 (48%)||7 (17%)||14 (35%)|
|2021||40||15 (38%)||10 (25%)||15 (37%)|
|2022||40||15 (38%)||14 (35%)||11 (27%)|
Average finishers: 165/396 (42%)
Average fallers etc: 119/396 (30%)
Average pulled-up: 112/396 (28%)
So, considering 30% of non-finishers in the National are split between ‘refused’, ‘fell’, ‘brought down’, ‘unseated rider’ and others, the 28% of horses pulling up is really a huge figure. Some insurance would be nice for bets, especially in races of this nature.