In the younger stages of racehorses’ lives, there are varying descriptions used to separate them based on age and/or sex.
In the racing press, you won’t need to know any symbols for foals or yearlings unless you read specific bloodstock articles. When the horses go racing however, you will see symbols such as ‘c’ for colt, ‘f’ for filly and ‘m’ for mare.
We’re taking you through what a ‘foal’, ‘filly’ and ‘colt’ is in the equine world, along with what they go on to become later in their lives.
A foal is basically a baby horse. Foals can of course be colts (male) or fillies (female). An older female horse, a mare, has her new baby she is said to have ‘foaled’.
When we say within the sport that a horse was foaled on April 20th, it simply means that this is when the horse was born. Mares are ‘in foal’ for around eleven months.
What Foals Become
New, baby horses remain foals for their first year. This, as you’d expect, is a crucial time in their physical and mental development. When they turn one, they are then known as yearlings.
Moving from being a ‘foal’ to a ‘yearling’ doesn’t impact on whether they are a colt or filly. ‘Foal’ and ‘yearling’ refers to the horse’s age, while ‘colt’ and ‘filly’ refers to the sex.
A filly is a young female horse, one still too young to be described as a mare. In the wider equine world, fillies remain such until four years old when they become mares.
In the racing world, especially in major territories such as Britain, Ireland and the USA, they remain known as fillies until they are at the end of their four-year-old year. When they turn five, they are then known as mares.
What Fillies Become
At five, not on their actual birthday but as the clock ticks over into the new year, fillies become mares. While racing, some people call such females ‘racemares’. When they go off to the breeding sheds, they are then known as broodmares. As the ‘mother’ of a foal, a mare is known as the ‘dam’.
From being foaled onwards, a young male horse is called a colt. Much like fillies, colts can keep this title until they are five years old.
Owing to their hormonally-induced behaviour, similar to much of the animal kingdom, some young males can exhibit a lot of excitement and can become unruly and hard to keep under control. This behaviour is often called being ‘coltish’.
What Colts Become
When a colt turns five, it becomes known as a ‘horse’. This will be displayed in race cards with an ‘h’ rather than a ‘c’ for colt. When speaking about such animals, commentators will describe them as a ‘full horse’ or an ‘entire’, meaning they are an older male who hasn’t been castrated or ‘gelded’.
At any point, even as a two-year-old, colts can be gelded (castrated). At this point, they are officially no longer a colt but a gelding instead.
Entires can retire can go off to the breeding sheds. At that point they are known as a stallion. The dad of a foal is known as the sire.
Races Restricted to Colts & Fillies
Even with a sex allowance, i.e., females carrying less weight in a race than males of the same age, it is hard for young fillies to compete with their male counterparts.
Strictly speaking, fillies are allowed to race in the 2000 Guineas and the Derby, known as ‘colts Classics’, but instead almost all such types are aimed at the fillies’ equivalents; the 1000 Guineas and the Oaks.
The colts and fillies do come together later on, usually after Royal Ascot in late June, but as two-year-olds and three-year-olds they are largely kept apart at the top level.
We often refer in Britain to fillies’ races, colts’ races or races at specific distances as ‘divisions’. With this, when there is a top-class event for 2yo colts over six furlongs, you will usually find a very similar race at the same distance for juvenile fillies.
As well as separating the sexes, some races are restricted to colts and fillies specifically, excluding geldings. This is the case with the Classics, as the sport must look after its long-term interests in terms of bloodlines. We need our male Classic winners to go on to become top stallions and keep those bloodlines going.
It is no coincidence that the great Northern Dancer produced Sadlers Wells, who in turn produced Galileo, who sired Frankel who then produced Cracksman & Adayar etc. This is why we do it.
These are some of the top Flat races in Britain restricted to colts and/or fillies:
|2000 Guineas||3||C*||1m||Newmarket||The first Classic of the season in early May.|
|1000 Guineas||3||F||1m||Newmarket||The second Classic of the year, run on the same weekend as the 2000 Guineas.|
|The Oaks||3||F||1m4f||Epsom||The third Classic of the season.|
|The Derby||3||C*||1m4f||Epsom||The fourth and biggest Classic of the year.|
|St James’s Palace Stakes||3||C||1m||Ascot||Group 1, run during Royal Ascot in June.|
|Commonwealth Cup||3||C&F||6f||Ascot||Group 1 sprint, excellent for those without the stamina for the Guineas.|
|Coronation Stakes||3||F||1m||Ascot||The fillies’ equivalent of the St James’s Palace, another Group 1.|
|St Leger||3||C&F||1m6f||Doncaster||The final Classic of the year, run in September.|
|Cheveley Park Stakes||2||F||6f||Newmarket||Group 1 in September.|
|Middle Park Stakes||2||C||6f||Newmarket||The colts’ equivalent of the Cheveley Park.|
|Fillies’ Mile||2||F||1m||Newmarket||Group 1 race. Winners of this tend to be favourites for the upcoming 1000 Guineas or Oaks.|
|Dewhurst Stakes||2||C*||7f||Newmarket||The race which essentially crowns Britain’s champion juvenile in October.|
|Futurity Stakes||2||C&F||1m||Doncaster||Mostly colts, the equivalent for them of the Fillies’ Mile.|
*Open to both colts and fillies, strictly speaking.
The above races are all Group 1’s. At lower levels, Group 2 and Group 3 included, juvenile races such as the Lowther Stakes (York) or the Albany (Ascot) are for fillies only. Male equivalents, such as the Gimcrack or the Coventry, or for both colts and geldings.