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Covering the Equine Elite

Covering the Equine Elite

By , Chief Underwriting Officer, Global Equine

It’s a glamorous and quintessentially British event.

T
he Ascot Racecourse was founded in 1711 by Queen Anne, and the first Royal Ascot horse races were held that same year. Located about six miles from Windsor Castle, the Ascot estate is owned by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. She and other members of the Royal Family attend every year. They arrive at the start of each race day in a procession of horse-drawn carriages, making their way from Windsor Castle up the home straight of the race course.

Running from Tuesday through Saturday in mid-June, it’s one of the major events in the British social calendar.

Royal Ascot has three “enclosures” where guests can watch the races as well as eat, drink and mingle. The most prestigious of these is the Royal Enclosure where the Queen and members of the Royal Family watch the proceedings from the Royal Box. To gain access, applicants must be sponsored by two Royal Enclosure members who have attended for at least five years.

Once admitted, a strict dress code is enforced. Men are required to wear “black or grey morning dress” along with “a black or grey top hat.” Ladies must come in “formal daywear” with “dresses and skirts of modest length.” “Hats should be worn.” And part of the unique flavour of the event is the range of showstopping styles on display; as its website notes, “Royal Ascot is synonymous with sartorial elegance.”

And they’re off

Royal Ascot also features superb horse racing.

Ascot is a big racecourse and the fields can be quite large. Around 450 horses will compete in 30 races – six per day – of varying distances and fields for a total purse of £6.6 million. The races on the straight course – no bends – might have up to 25-30 runners; some of these are like cavalry charges. It’s very exciting!

Royal Ascot is also special in that it doesn’t have just one big race each day; every one is a top quality event. That also makes it a good betting medium. In most races, many horses have a chance, so the betting odds are a lot better than, say, a race with six horses and one clear favourite.

Given the lovely venue, stylish ambiance and generous prize monies, it’s not surprising that Royal Ascot is a popular event for the equine elite and their owners. Although most of the horses are from the UK, Ireland or France, more and more are now coming from places like the U.S., Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand.

In fact, many of the best horses travel the world today for the major races, like leading athletes touring from event to event. After the Dubai Carnival from January to March, the spotlight shifts to Europe for the Classic trials, then it’s on to the U.S. for the Triple Crown, before returning to the UK in early summer for the Derby, Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood.

It then switches over to France for Deauville in August followed by Paris in early October for the Arc de Triomphe. After that, the scene heads to Australia in November for the Melbourne Cup, and ends in Hong Kong in December with the LONGINES International Races. While a top horse wouldn’t attend all of these events, it’s now more common for one to spend the year on at least two different continents. 

 

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Huge advances in equine transport have been made over the past 25 years. Today there are “air stables” that fit into wide-body jets, and traveling grooms whose job is to accompany horses during air travel.

 

Leaving on a jet plane

How do they get around? By plane.

Huge advances in equine transport have been made over the past 25 years. Today there are “air stables” that fit into wide-body jets, and traveling grooms whose job is to accompany horses during air travel.

Kevin Needham, Managing Director for BBA Shipping, one of the leading specialist horse transport companies in the UK, says the logistics of moving horses around the world “used to be daunting, but is quite routine today.”

Transport is usually via either commercial cargo jets or “combi flights” – aircraft that are partitioned to carry both passengers and freight. Each has pros and cons. According to Needham:

“To transport a horse from the UK to Hong Kong, for example, there is a regular cargo flight we often use. However, it makes a stop in Milan to unload cargo sent from Hong Kong, and add new cargo. So that makes for a longer flight.

“From Hong Kong, it returns to the UK via either Mumbai or Delhi, which isn’t an option because of quarantine restrictions. So we have to look elsewhere. Often that’s a direct combi flight. Because it’s carrying passengers, these flights keep to the schedule, which is a good thing. The downside is that space is limited, and it operates from the passenger terminal. So you have to load the horse in the cargo area, and then tow it all around the airport.”

Protecting elite global equines

The insurance industry has also evolved in response to the “globalization” of horse racing over the last quarter-century. In particular, coverages for international transit are widely available today, usually as an extension of the standard All Risks policy. (Click here to read more about the Kentucky Derby – the first leg of the U.S. Triple Crown – and for an overview on Equine insurance.)

For international transit cover, we look at the length of the journey, the route there and back, and the transport arrangements. Plus how long the horse will be away from its home base; many times a horse won’t travel for just one race, but will stay for a couple of months before returning to its home country. That’s especially the case for horses based in Australia, New Zealand or Hong Kong coming to the UK for Royal Ascot or other races. It’s a long journey, and trainers want to make the trip as productive as possible.

The biggest transit risk is a low-grade respiratory tract infection known as “shipping fever.” The risk starts to increase markedly after about seven hours, and when horses first started traveling between continents, there were a number of cases that were career-threatening and occasionally life-threatening.

Today, however, there is a good understanding of the ailment and good treatments. Plus, the traveling grooms that accompany horses on long flights are experts in spotting signs of distress or ill health, and in keeping the animals relaxed and content during the journey. So transit risks have lessened considerably.

Many equine insurers also provide what’s known as “first-past-the-post cover.” At major races like Royal Ascot, a winning horse can expect its value to jump considerably the moment it passes the winning post, especially if it’s a colt with good breeding potential.

When a horse wins a top race, having this cover in place means the owner doesn’t have to wait a week or so to update the policy to reflect the horse’s new value. This is pre-arranged in advance of the event, and goes in force immediately after the win; subject to a veterinarian’s certificate that the horse is in good health.

Quite a life

And it’s not just active race horses travelling the world today. The best stallions now also shuttle between hemispheres. The normal breeding season in the northern hemisphere runs from mid-February to mid-July; in the southern hemisphere, it’s from August to December. For a stallion based in either hemisphere, that used to be it; after the stud season was over, he would just go out to pasture.

Not anymore for these international studs.

For this reason, an owner of a top racing colt based in the UK, for example, could target international races in the southern hemisphere at the end of the year. If the horse scores some important wins in both hemispheres, he will then be in demand as a stallion in multiple regions. So when he retires from racing, he can stand at stud during the first part of the year in the UK, and in Australia during the latter part of the year. For his owner, that means double the income.

For the horse, it is quite a life!

Want to know more? Guy can be reached at: guy.morrison@xlcatlin.com

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