The saying horses for courses has made its way into everyday life.
It’s origins, however, lie firmly in the world of horseracing to describe how some horses are better suited to a particular track. These course specialists often build up a loyal following of regular racegoers at their favourite venues.
This weekend, loveable grey Bristol De Mai will attempt to win a record‐equalling fourth Betfair Chase and, overall, his fifth Haydock victory.
Here’s a look at some other course specialists who have, down the years, always been at their best when returned to their spiritual homes. In no particular order…
The greatest Grand National hero started his career at his beloved Aintree doing what he was bred for.
Incredibly, the winner of three Nationals over the fearsome Aintree fences, kicked off on the Flat over five furlongs when Red Rum dead‐heated for first place at the Liverpool course.
Having arrived at Ginger McCain’s Southport stables, behind his second‐hand car yard, via several other trainers, he found his calling in staying chases.
Red Rum defied his Flat pedigree when winning his first National in 1973 by collaring runaway leader Crisp in the shadow of the winning post. He retained the trophy the following year.
After twice finishing runner‐up he finally landed a record third Grand National in 1977. In retirement, he was so popular he was often asked to open pubs and supermarkets.
To racing fans of a certain vintage, Stratford‐upon‐Avon was more about Gambling Prince than William Shakespeare. In the 1970s and early ‘80s he was the star attraction at the Warwickshire track.
Trained and owned by John Jones until his death when his widow Gill took over, Gambling Prince won seven times at Stratford. He bowed out with his final victory at the course in May 1986 having run 99 times during his long career.
Although he was at his best at the tight left‐handed course, he was good enough to run at eight Cheltenham Festivals. His biggest victory came in Newbury’s Game Spirit Chase in 1980 but he will forever be linked with Stratford, where a race is run in his honour every summer.
For nearly ten years very few Plumpton meetings took place without Manhattan Boy. From his hurdles debut in 1985 to his retirement as a 12‐year‐old in 1994, he made an astonishing 64 visits to his favourite track.
Although most of his 14 course wins came in low‐grade handicaps and selling hurdles, he was a firm favourite with regulars at the Sussex jumps track.
He was trained at nearby Lewes by John Ffitch‐Heyes and regularly ridden by his daughter Penny until her retirement in 1989. Many top riders, including Richard Dunwoody and Adrian Maguire, then took over the reins, while Ryan Moore’s auntie Candy Morris was twice placed on Manhattan Boy.
He was never destined to join the greats of National Hunt racing but, to his many fans that flocked to see him at Plumpton, that didn’t matter one jot.
The David Nicholson Mares‘ Hurdle had only been introduced to the Cheltenham Festival the previous year when Quevega lined up in 2009.
It was to be the first of six wins in the races in a domination never seen before at jump racing’s biggest meeting. She was never beaten at Cheltenham and Willie Mullins’ mare was also a favourite at one of Ireland’s top tracks.
In nine runs at Punchestown, she won six times, including four races at the prestigious spring Festival. Without doubt, one of the great mares of National Hunt racing.
When Fatehalkair made his debut in a mile maiden at York in 1995 no one can have had any idea his future was going to be shaped by a track 60 miles away on the other side of the North York Moors.
All of his 13 jumps wins – nine over hurdles and four chases – came at Sedgefield. Trained throughout his nine‐year career by Yorkshire‐based Geordie Brian Ellison, he simply loved the undulations of the County Durham track.
Usually held up in the early stages, he generally made his move on the downhill run into the straight. He had 25 visits to his favourite course between 1996 and 2004, which means he was successful in more than half his runs there.
His record on the Flat was not bad, either. He won seven times and both Paul Hanagan and Robert Winston rode him to victory while still apprentice jockeys.
Not every horse enjoys Fakenham’s tight turns. Cool Roxy loved them. One of the smallest jumps tracks in Britain, Fakenham poses an unusual test for jumps horses.
When he retired in 2011 as a sprightly 14‐year‐old, Cool Roxy had won 11 races at the Norfolk course. Often mixing hurdling and chasing for his permit holder owner‐trainer Alan Blackmore, his only other victory came at Fontwell.
He returned to his favourite course in 2015 to open a new owners’ and trainers’ bar named in his honour where a large crowd gathered to catch another glimpse of their local hero.
When he made his first visit to the seaside course in the spring of 2015, he had run 15 times without success. Whether it was unique rolling track or the south coast sea air, there was something about Brighton that brought out the best in Roy.
In little more than three years after his first course run, he rattled up nine victories. He never won anywhere else and will forever be remembered at his favourite venue – a mural by racing artist Darren Bird in one the bars sees to that.
Whenever he turned up at Beverley, Rapid Lad lived up to his name. From 1983 to 1989 he won a dozen races at his favourite track with his trademark storming late run having been invariably held up in the rear.
Trained by John Spearing and often ridden by Dandy Nicholls, he never won at any other course. He landed his last victory at the age of 11 carrying top weight to victory. Such is his standing at Beverley, he has a bar named after him the East Yorkshire course.
A race is also run every year over his favoured distance of 1 mile, 2 furlongs to remember his exploits with Rapid Lad’s owners Steve and Pam Borsberry often on hand to present the trophy to the winners.
Goodwood was made for Battaash. Few horses in history could match the searing speed of Charlie Hills’ sprinter. So it was no surprise he put in some of his best performances on the downhill five‐furlong course at the picturesque Sussex track.
He won the Group 2 King George Stakes a record four times in consecutive years from 2017 with some lightning‐fast performances.
His Group 1 wins in the Nunthorpe (twice), Prix de l’Abbaye and the King’s Stand Stakes mark him down as one of the great sprinters but it was at Goodwood where he was at his very best.
It was not easy to keep the Wolf from the winners’ enclosure door at his beloved Pontefract. In 36 runs at the West Yorkshire track, he notched up eight victories and he hit the frame on a further 11 occasions.
Sprinting was Mr Wolf’s game and it didn’t matter if it was five or six furlongs. He was lightning‐fast from the gates, set out to make all the running and challenged his rivals to catch him. That wasn’t easy to do despite the stiff Pontefract climb.
Originally trained by North Yorkshire‐based David Barker before switching to John Quinn, he had run in 113 races when he retired in 2012. One of those durable sprinters loved by racegoers, he won a total of 13 races but it was at Pontefract where he captured the hearts of the regulars.
No horse can match Yeats’ record in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. In the showpiece race of Flat racing’s biggest meeting, from 2006, Aidan O’Brien’s star stayer was unbeatable.
He won four successive Gold Cups with the stiff finish suiting his bottomless reserves of stamina over the two‐and‐a‐half mile distance.
His impressive defeat of Patkai and old rival Geordieland in 2009 made him the most successful horse in the history of the prestigious Group 1 contest.
Yeats dominated the stayers races during his career. He won two Goodwood Cups, an Irish St Leger and a Prix Royal‐Oak but he will be best remembered for his wonderful Gold Cup exploits.
Strangely, his first run at the Nottinghamshire venue came in a three‐mile chase when he unseated his jockey two fences from home. Six weeks later, in November 2008, he got his first taste of the track’s Fibresand all‐weather surface. He won.
In the next couple of months he completed a five‐timer with victories at Wolverhampton and Chelmsford but Southwell remained his first love. In all he won 16 times, often mopping up claimers over trips from a mile‐and‐a‐half to two miles, at his favourite track.
He was still racing as a 14‐year‐old and when he headed into retirement in 2017 he had won 27 all‐weather races – just one shy of old rival Stand Guard’s record.
Is there one on our horses for courses list we’ve missed out? Let us know on social media.