A Potted History of Becher’s Brook

A Potted History of Becher's Brook Becher’s Brook has been a fixture of the Grand National course at Aintree since the inaugural running of the Liverpool Grand Steeplechase, as the Grand National was originally known, in 1836. In fact, at the time of the first ‘official’ running of the Grand National, in 1839, the obstacle – which is jumped twice, as the sixth and twenty-second fence – was known simply as the ‘First Brook’. That was, of course, before Captain Martin Becher famously took refuge in the brook after parting company from his mount, Conrad, and the fence was renamed in his honour.

In its modern incarnation, Becher’s Brook stands an unremarkable 4′ 10″ high – by contrast, the tallest fence on the Grand National course, The Chair, stands 5′ 3″ high – and if followed by a 2′ wide brook, filled with just 1″ of water. Although apparently benign, at least from the takeoff side, Becher’s Brook still features a steep drop, of up to 10″, depending on where jockeys elect to jump the fence, on the landing side. The sudden, unexpected descent can cause horses to come down too steeply and thereby crumple, or pitch forward, on landing. In the past, Becher’s Brook has been likened to ‘jumping off the edge of the world’ and, while the fence has been significantly modified, in the name of safety, in recent years, it remains a formidable obstacle.

The drop on the landing side, on the inside of the track, was previously 2′ or 3′, but was regraded, albeit slightly, in the Fifties, while more significant modifications to Becher’s Brook took place from the late Eighties onwards. The ground on the landing side, leading into the brook, has been levelled off, more than once and the brook, itself, was partially filled in, before being completely remodelled and equipped with rubber mats for the protection of stricken horses.


Estimate On June 20, 2013, the four-year-old filly Estimate, owned by Queen Elizabeth II, won the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot and, in so doing, became the first winner owned by the reigning monarch since the race was established in 1807. The daughter of Monsun was already a Royal Ascot winner, having justified favouritism when easily winning the Group Three Queen’s Vase at the Royal Meeting in 2012, and was sent off favourite once again, on her first attempt in Group One company, in the Gold Cup.

Estimate took the lead with a furlong to run and, although edging left under pressure when strongly challenged by the eventual runner-up, Simenon, in the closing stages, battled on gamely to win by a neck. To add to the drama, Estimate had to survive a stewards’ inquiry and, although the placings remained unaltered, winning jockey Ryan Moore was stood down for two days for causing accidental interference to the placed horses. Of course, the Gold Cup is one of just three races at Royal Ascot offering a perpetual trophy, which is traditionally presented to the winning owner by the Queen; on this occasion, the Queen herself was presented with the trophy by her son, Prince Andrew, Duke of York.

Estimate went on to finish second, beaten just a neck, in the 2014 renewal of the Gold Cup, but was subsequently disqualified after testing positive for morphine, attributed to a contaminated batch of feed, after the race. Nevertheless, she is commemorated by a life-sized statue, cast by Tessa Campbell-Fraser and presented to the Queen by King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain, which stands outside Sandringham House, the private country retreat owned by the Royal Family in Norfolk.

Emotional Mastery: Don’t Let Your Heart Rule Your Head

Emotional Mastery: Don’t Let Your Heart Rule Your Head Acclaimed Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky once said, ‘A real gentleman, even if he loses everything he owns, must show no emotion.’ A ‘real’ horse racing punter, on the other hand, should never be in a position to lose everything he owns and is free to show any emotion he feels, provided that emotion doesn’t interfere with his betting activity.


Let’s start with never being in a position to lose everything you own. If you’re thinking about betting seriously on horse racing, you must acknowledge that losing runs are inevitable. You must also acknowledge that you are ultimately responsible for your own actions. No-one is forcing you to bet, so it’s up to you to set aside an adequate sum of money, known as a betting bank or betting tank, which you can lose without compromising your quality of life in any way.


Even if you experience a sequence of unfavourable results, the worst that can happen is that you lose your entire betting bank and have to start all over again.


Now let’s consider emotion and how it affects your betting decisions. Another important function of a betting bank is to detach you, emotionally, from the money you bet on horse racing. If you bet with money that you’ve borrowed, or that’s earmarked for paying bills, losing takes on a great deal more significance, emotionally, than if you bet with money set aside exclusively for the purpose. This emotional attachment can lead to feelings of anger, disappointment and resentment, none of which are conducive to your psychological and physical well-being.


Furthermore, such negative feelings are likely to affect your ability to think clearly when it comes to placing your next bet. If your judgement is clouded by desperation, or fear, you’re much more likely to make rash decisions than if you think of every bet you place as a cold, calculated business transaction. Logic has been described as the language of the conscious mind and emotion as the language of the subconscious mind; consistently profitable betting on horse racing relies on the former, not the latter.


It has been suggested that the best way of avoiding emotional attachment to the money you bet on horse racing is to avoid watching the race(s) on which you bet altogether. As a serious punter, who’s spent thousands of hours watching horse racing, on and off course, I can see how this might work to avoid feelings of betrayal or frustration over ‘unlucky’ losers but, if you’re still emotionally attached to the money with which you bet, I frankly don’t see what difference it makes.


In fact, one of the most satisfying aspects of betting on horse racing, apart from financial gain, is seeing opinions formed on paper translated into events in the real world. If you don’t watch the races of which you bet, you’re denying yourself this satisfaction, not to mention the opportunity to draw your own conclusions from watching a race first-hand.

The important point is that, as far as any future betting activity is concerned, you remain indifferent to any individual result, favourable or unfavourable. A degree of emotional attachment to horses and horse racing is what elevates champion thoroughbreds to more than just numbers on a race card and, along with the ‘glorious uncertainty’ of the racing game, makes the sport as enjoyable and exciting as it is.


However, euphoria after a win can be just as dangerous as despair after a loss. If you back a winner, you’ll naturally be happier than if you back a loser but, either way, you shouldn’t attribute any individual result to your astuteness or lack of it. Try to think of all results as neutral, rather than positive or negative, as far as your skill, judgement and self-worth are concerned. In other words, if no individual result censures or endorses these qualities you’ll find it easy to focus on your next bet, rather than your last one, and bet consistently, however things are going.

Carlisle Bells

Carlisle Bells The Carlisle racing bells, which date from the second half of the Tudor period – in fact, from the latter part of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I – are reputedly the earliest surviving racing trophies in Britain. The original bells are delicate, precious artefacts, but a replica is presented to the winning owner of the Carlisle Bell, which is still run annually each June at Carlisle Racecourse, effectively making them the oldest sporting trophies still contested anywhere in the world.

The Carlisle bells are typical of horse racing trophies of the day, which often included ornamental embellishments, such as bells, which could be attached to items of tack, such as bridles and saddles.

The larger, gold bell, which was first awarded in 1599 – the earliest record of organised horse racing in Carlisle – bears an inscription, in Tudor English, which reads ‘The swiftest horse this bell to take, for my Lady Dacre’s sake’. The Lady Dacre in question is believed to be Elizabeth, wife of William, Third Baron Dacre of Gilsland, who served as Warden of the West Marches under Queen Elizabeth I. Although not explicitly date-stamped, the bell is believed to date from c. 1560. The smaller, silver bell is easier to date because it bears the inscription ‘1599 H.B.M.C.’; the initials are believed to stand for Henry Baines, Mayor of Carlisle.

Nowadays, the Carlisle bells spend most of the year at the National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art at Palace House, Newmarket, but make a 267-mile annual pilgramage to the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle in time for the Carlisle Bell. Indeed, they often make an appearance at Carlisle Racecourse on its most prestigious raceday of the year.