One of the things that may catch out those fairly new to horse racing is the description of horses’ sex.
While ‘colt’, ‘gelding’, ‘entire’, ‘sire’, ‘stallion’ or simply ‘horse’ are all used to describe males, ‘fillies’ and ‘mares’ are our female racehorses.
Essentially a mare is an adult female equine animal.
Female mules and zebras are also called mares.
In the wider equine world, mare can be used to describe any female over the age of three. In horse racing however, that is a little different.
At two, three and four, the females are still called fillies in thoroughbred horse racing.
When they turn five, all of them together in the Northern Hemisphere on January 1st, they are then described as mares.
What Changes When Females Move From ‘Filly’ to ‘Mare’?
Well, basically nothing.
This is just an age thing, more accurately describing the horse’s maturity. Maturity of course is very individual and open to some interpretation, much in the same way that people will argue over when a human female moves from being a girl to a woman.
One noticeable change is how the horse is described in the racing press.
Some people will colloquially say “filly” when a horse is five or over, which is fine, much like calling an older woman “girl” or “lass”. The racing press however much accurately display that a female over four is now a mare.
Al Husn, the example on the left, is still a filly at four years old. Hence her age, foaling date, colour and sex are listed as: 4yo (03 Apr 19) b f, meaning four-year-old, foaled on April 19th 2019, bay, filly.
The example on the right is Potapova, a five-year-old mare, hence the use of ‘m’ for mare instead of ‘f’ for filly.
Just to be thorough, females aged five and over still running on the track are often called ‘racemares’. This is almost to distinguish them from ‘broodmares’ which, as you can imagine, simply means a mare used for breeding after retirement from racing.
Fillies and mares are usually better behaved than male horses, especially colts. Many might say that this replicates human behaviour too!
The other major difference between the males and the females is how often they can be used for breeding. A typical stallion can cover 100 or more mares in a breeding season. This is why all the sons of Dubawi, Galileo, Frankel etc are not considered half-brothers.
A half-sibling is a horse with the same dam, or ‘mother’. Full siblings, naturally, have both the same sire and same dam.
A ‘breeder’ is not considered to be the person or entity owning the sire, but the person or entity which owns the broodmare. The risk is all on this side; once your mare is covered by a stallion, for which you will need to pay a fee, they may or may not be in foal afterwards.
Then, the hope is that there is nothing wrong with the pregnancy and only after that, you hope that your foal is fit and well and becomes a good racehorse a couple of years later or more.
Broodmares carry their foals for around 11 months. That gestation period means of course that the mare will produce only one foal each year, often less.
Mares Only Races
In the early part of a horse’s career, they will race only in their own age group. Two-year-olds race mostly against each other all season, even splitting into colts and fillies’ races.
Similar happens when they are three, including with the Classics, until midsummer when they start to go up against the older horses with a weight allowance.
Even as they get older however, there are races put on all season for fillies and mares only on the Flat, and for mares only over the jumps.
Here are some of the better examples:
|Jan/Feb||Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle||Jumps||Doncaster||2m||4yo+ M|
|Mar||Dawn Run Novices’ Hurdle||Jumps||Cheltenham||2m1f||4yo+ M|
|Mar||Mares’ Chase||Jumps||Cheltenham||2m4f||4yo+ M|
|Apr||Mares’ Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase Final||Jumps||Cheltenham||2m4f||5yo+ M|
|May||Middleton Stakes||Flat||York||1m2f||4yo+ F&M|
|June||Duke of Cambridge Stakes||Flat||Ascot||1m||4yo+ F&M|
|July||Lancashire Oaks||Flat||Haydock||1m4f||3yo+ F&M|
|July||Falmouth Stakes||Flat||Newmarket (July)||1m||3yo+ F&M|
|July/Aug||Nassau Stakes||Flat||Goodwood||1m2f||3yo+ F&M|
|Aug||Yorkshire Oaks||Flat||York||1m4f||3yo+ F&M|
|Oct||Sun Chariot Stakes||Flat||Newmarket||1m||3yo+ F&M|
|Oct||British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes||Flat||Ascot||1m4f||3yo+ F&M|