One thing I get continually asked about from novice racegoers is what to look for in a horse.
The parade ring and going down
There is ample time, both in the pre-parade ring and in the parade ring itself, to indulge in ‘paddock inspection’ of each runner. Beyond general admiration for the magnificent sight of a well turned out thoroughbred, what should you look for? With horses, as with humans, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and fitness in a horse is easy to spot (as with humans, a fat tummy indicates lack of condition). But generally the encouraging signs in a horse before the race are a coat with a good sheen to it, an intelligent and alert countenance, high head carriage with big ears pointing slightly inwards, a well-muscled body and a springy step.
A horse which is well muscled may be said to ‘carry plenty of condition’, whereas one with a lean and ribby look will have ‘run up light’. Be cautious of a horse sweating up but not necessarily dismissive, as some horses run better when they are on edge. Sweating around the eyes and ears is not a good sign. Beware colts and horses, especially two-year-olds, who make obvious displays of their gender – their mind and energies may be focused elsewhere.
Consider how the horse walks
An easy, loose stride is ideal, and a little jig jogging suggests that he is on good terms with himself, whereas the horse that will not be led round calmly is getting agitated and wasting valuable nervous energy. Take account of the equipment the horse is wearing.
Blinkers – a hood fitted over the horse’s head to prevent backward vision, focuses his concentration on what is going on ahead, and can transform the performance of a horse with a short attention span.
A visor- is similar to blinkers, but has a slit in each eye-shield to allow some lateral vision. It is commonly thought that the fitting of blinkers or a visor suggests an ungenuine horse, but this is not necessarily the case, so do not be put off if all the other factors appear to be in his favour. Try to watch each horse cantering down to the start, and have a good look at his action. If he strides out well, in an easy, flowing motion, he is comfortable on the ground, whereas if he moves to post scratchily he is not happy with the surface and is likely to be even more unhappy at galloping speed.
But the most beautiful and sweetly moving horse in the world is not much of a betting proposition if he cannot run fast enough, so at some point you need to get to grips with the basics of that mass of information which, once interpreted correctly, should yield the winner – form.
Back next Tuesday.
The Shrewd Tipster