How to tell if a racehorse is fit
As a punter, working out whether a racehorse is fit, or not, is a part of the betting conundrum that you have to weigh up daily and make an assessment on.
When you are wagering cash, you want to know that a racehorse is fit and at a level where it is capable of performing to its best. Much like human athletes, I think it’s safe to assume that a fit racehorse is capable of running faster than an unfit racehorse.
Making a judgement on a horse’s fitness levels is not an exact science. Unless you are privy to the horse’s work schedule at home then you are going to need to rely on more subjective matters.
Judging racehorse fitness on recency of form
From a form analysis perspective, recency of a horse’s run is one method of assessing a horses fitness. By this I mean the days since it last ran and the level of performance achieved on that run.
Generally speaking, the less time that has elapsed since a horse’s last run, the more confidence you can place in its level of fitness.
If that horse ran near to it’s best 14 days ago, you’d be fairly confident it is fit and won’t be compromised by a lack of conditioning. On the other hand, if the horse ran some level below it’s best you’d be left wondering whether the race and subsequent homework had brought the horse on to an optimum fitness level.
As I said previously, not an exact science but one of the charms of assessing a horse race is the multiple pieces to the puzzle!
Using the racecourse to get a horse fit
Technically, ‘using the racecourse as a training ground’ for the conditioning and schooling of a racehorse is a breach of the rules of racing.
Let’s be realistic about this, schooling or conditioning of racehorses takes place on the racecourse’s daily. You won’t need to watch many post-race interviews to hear a trainer say ‘they’ll improve for the run’ or they’ve ‘left something to work on’ or similar words with the same implication, that being the horse will be fitter for the run.
It’s an accepted practice and another factor that you need to feed into the formula ‘solving the outcome of a horse race’.
Profiling trainers horses
Add to all the above that different trainers employ different training methods and their horses in general terms will follow different patterns of conditioning with racing.
I’d expect on average an Andrew Balding trained horse to improve off the back of a recent run more than say an average Mark Johnston trained horse.
Understanding the profile of an individual trainers horses can assist in assessing levels of fitness and peak performance.
Physical appearance and racehorse welllbeing
Another method of assessing a racehorses fitness level is an examination of the horse’s physical appearance and well-being.
If you are on the racetrack, then there is an opportunity to view the horse’s pre-race in the parade ring. To a novice racegoer, it will be difficult to distinguish one horse from the other, never mind assessing how fit they are.
PADDOCK WATCHING - Attributes to look for in a fit racehorse
“Thoroughbred Horse” flickr photo by Rennett Stowe https://flickr.com/photos/tomsaint/40438506293 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
A shiny coat is a sign of a healthy racehorse
A good nutrition and feed programme along with regular exercise will promote a glossy coat on a racehorse and be a sign of well-being. Horse’s are individuals and it will vary by type, rather than comparing one horse against another, if you get to see a horse regularly you will be able to track and monitor its appearance through its race cycle. A shiny, healthy coat in a racehorse should be taken as a sign of well-being and fitness.
There will be seasonal variations in a horse’s coat. Horse’s coats will be longer and have less shine in winter months than in summer months. National Hunt horses who race through the winter months will have coats with less sheen than their Flat racing summer counterparts.
Grooming has an impact on a horse’s coat. Regular grooming will remove dead hair and dirt help keep a horse’s coat glossy in appearance. Horses out of the racing season will often be turned out into the paddocks. Returned to training with regular exercise, nutrition and grooming you will see an improvement in their coat.
A racehorses weight and muscle tone
You can learn a lot about a horse’s level of fitness from the amount of condition or weight a racehorse is carrying and its muscle tone.
Horses returning to the racecourse after a break or on seasonal debut will have had a training programme at home on the gallops to bring them to a certain level of fitness. Like human athletes, they will be at their prime and ready to run their fastest when they’re not carrying excess weight and muscled up.
In Hong Kong, the day of the race weighing of racehorses is mandatory. You can soon build up a picture of how the horse performs versus its body weight and build this into your betting analysis. The UK racing authorities are notoriously slow to embrace technology and change into horse racing, to its detriment in my view. Unfortunately, horses are not weighed at the track, so you need to rely on a visual inspection.
Racehorse fitness - Things to look for
Check the horse’s belly area. Does the horse appear to be carrying excess weight with soft muscle definition, or is it lean? Is the horse’s rib definition visible? A fit horse at its optimum racing weight will appear taught with little excess body weight.
Don’t confuse a deep girthed horse for one carry excess condition. A deep girth is assumed to be positive as it houses the horse’s heart and lungs. A big and strong heart and lungs are required to push the volumes of blood and oxygen needed around its body under extreme exertion.
A fit racehorse will have clear muscle definition on its neck and hindquarters? Lack of muscle definition may be an indicator of a horse below peak fitness.
Build of a racehorse
Much like human athletes, equine sprinters who run over shorter distances require a more explosive, less sustainable use of their energy. They tend to be more muscle-bound, rounded and compact than their staying counterparts. The power of a horse comes from its hindquarters through its rear legs. In sprinters look for large well-muscled hindquarters.
Horse’s more suited to longer distances are often leaner, longer and with less defined hindquarters.
Horses reach physical maturity between the ages of 4 and 5 years old. Expect 2-year-old newcomers to be significantly smaller and less defined than a fully mature 5-year-old racehorse.
Signs of greenness and mental immaturity in racehorses
Not a measure of physical fitness but mental fitness. You will often witness younger horses or horses making their racecourse debuts show clear signs of mental immaturity in the paddock pre-race.
Typically look for noisy horses as they parade, horses rearing and misbehaving, looking reluctant to enter the parade ring. All these can be taken as a clear sign that the horse is not mentally ready to deal with the situation and know what is required to put in their very best performance. Conversely, a horse taking all the preliminaries in their stride is seen as a positive with regards to mental maturity.