At the most basic level, a gelding is a male animal which has been castrated. The term is most often associated with horses, in particularly race horses.
Being ‘gelded’ can refer to other animals too though. In terms of description however, while a castrated bull is on ox and a gelded ram or goat is a wether, the term ‘gelding’ accurately describes a male castrated horse, including thoroughbred racehorses.
To geld comes from the Old Norse word gelda. Geldr, the adjective, meant ‘to be barren’ which makes logical sense. In Old Norse, a ‘geldingr’ was a castrated animal which is how we get ‘gelding’.
What Effect Does Gelding Animals Have on Horse Racing?
There are numerous reasons that owners and trainers may take the decision to have a male racehorse gelded.
Thousands go through the operation every year, having the “cruellest cut of all”, which in fact can be good for many horses in the same way that doing it to cats and dogs works for health, mood and wellbeing.
Firstly, some colts show clear promise but are a little badly behaved. Gelding the horse can then improve its racing performance by focusing it more on racing rather than checking out the fillies.
On the downside, once a colt has been gelded it can no longer be used for breeding.
With that, owners do not take such decisions lightly at all.
Male Equine Behaviour
There are certain behaviours associated with horses which are hormonally driven. Castration, or gelding, is proven to allow the horse to be much calmer, less sexually aggressive and generally better behaved. With this, they are easier to train, they concentrate more and therefore can increase performance levels on the track.
Even for those with other working horses or pets, often retired racehorses, the gelding operation can improve behaviour. After becoming a gelding, horses tend to be gentler and quieter.
It is not uncommon to see older horses and some fillies or mares misbehave during or before races. It’s natural. Some are simply highly strung, some can be bothered by noise or heat, while some may have a problem they are trying to communicate.
The majority of the time in horse racing however, those causing problems in the parade ring, on the way to the start or near the stalls tend to be colts. Their bad behaviour is often referenced to as them being “coltish”.
Being coltish or mulish at home can hinder training efforts. Doing so at the races can directly spoil their chance of winning because of said behaviour’s effect on wasting energy and/or focus.
Some horses exhibiting such behaviour remain colts or ‘entires’ throughout their career. It is often the case that they are simply far too valuable to the breeding industry to be gelded. Stopping a very successful line by gelding a horse is sometimes a step too far.
When this is the case, either the trainer faces a tough task in keeping the horse in training and keeping them straight, as was the case with John Gosden and Stradivarius, or they are retired from racing to concentrate on a new career in the breeding sheds.
Famous Modern Geldings on the Track
We could write forever about geldings over jumps, which of course is a prerequisite. One of the major paradoxes of jumps racing is that the males are to be geldings, meaning there is a reliance on stallions often from the Flat to keep the very sport going.
On the Flat, things are a little different. Some of the top performers including Galileo, Dubawi, Frankel and many more have gone on to become champion sires. Their progeny continues to race today and thrills us all.
There have been plenty of geldings who have produced genuine top-level performances however, including these absolute superstars of the modern game.
Addeybb, by Pivotal, was rather slow to come to hand. Unraced as a juvenile, he was gelded at the beginning of 2017 before making his debut in May as a three-year-old.
He won two of his first three races before getting the better of a battle with Afaak, a future Royal Hunt Cup winner, in the Silver Cambridgeshire to end his first season.
At four, he began by taking the Lincoln at Doncaster under James Doyle with a scintillating performance. He was quickly moved up to Group 2 level, in which he won, though it seemed over the course of the remainder of 2018 that he would fall short of top class.
A love of the rain, Addeybb took the Wolferton Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2019 before landing a Group 3 at Haydock. A real breakthrough came when he was only narrowly beaten by Magical in the Group 1 Champion Stakes at Ascot in October and it seemed than that it was clear that in the right conditions, he was a proper performer.
Sent to Australia early in 2020, Addeybb twice beat Verry Elleegant in Group 1’s before returning home and winning the Champion Stakes after some other top-level performances.
Another Group 1 win came in Australia as the Aussies declared Addeybb “theirs”. At the age of 8, Addeybb finished off in France by winning a Group 2, maintaining his form right to the end.
Owned by Sheikh Hamdan, whose colours continue under the Shadwell banner, Battaash was truly the fastest racehorse in the world on his day.
Battaash made a winning debut at bath as a juvenile but he was known to be unruly. After disappointing at Royal Ascot, the decision was made to geld the son of Dark Angel. He was back that year for three consecutive third-place runs, but it appeared he wasn’t pulling up any trees.
That changed in 2017. He ran a fast time in the Scurry Stakes to win at Sandown and returned there for the Coral Charge. Despite Jim Crowley opting to ride Muthmir, Battaash was popular in the market and duly smashed the Sandown five-furlong course record.
The following month, a great treble was landed when Battaash was electric in the King George Stakes at Glorious Goodwood. He was truly on the scene now, but was unruly before the Nunthorpe at York and so his first Group 1 win evaded him.
That top level win came in France at the end of the year when Battaash was an eye-catching, wide-margin winner of the Prix de l’Abbaye.
A win at Haydock, a runner-up effort at his least favourite course to Blue Point (Ascot) and another King George win came in 2018, but the Nunthorpe evaded him again. Many put this down to him hating York.
In 2019, Haydock, Ascot and Goodwood went exactly the same way as before. Another course record was broken, this time at Goodwood, though because of past results Battaash somehow did not go off favourite for the Nunthorpe at York.
With two course records in the bag, both at premium tracks, Battaash let loose once again on the Knavesmire to smash York’s 30-year-old track record, held previously by great sprinter Dayjur.
In 2020, Battaash finally won the King’s Stand at Ascot as well as another Nunthorpe before being retired a genuine great in 2021.
The pattern of Addeybb and Battaash coming from handicaps or lower-level races to win Group 1’s continues with Lord North, another star gelding.
Once raced at two years old, Lord North was unbeaten early after winning at Newcastle but after being reluctant at Sandown he was gelded.
Narrowly beaten on his first run back after the operation, he was heavily punted for the Cambridgeshire at Newmarket and duly beat his 29 rivals under Frankie Dettori.
There was time for more as he was lightly raced, Lord North running second in the Balmoral Handicap before winning a Listed Race to round off his three-year-old season.
As a four-year-old, Lord North won well in a strong running of the Brigadier Gerard which had been moved to Haydock. He stepped up on that again, earning a first Group 1 success in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot and beating Addeybb in the process.
Another Group 1 win came when he scored well in the Dubai Turf in 2021, dead-heating for the race the following year.
In 2013 as a seven-year-old, Lord North scored in the Winter Derby before heading back to Dubai in pursuit of an unlikely third Turf win in a row. He managed it however, getting his prize money to over £6 million in the process. He is one of the biggest earners in the world, but perhaps doesn’t get the credit he deserves. We will never see his progeny.