When The Going Gets Tough
Weighing up the chances of a horse winning a particular race is a bit like completing a jigsaw. And I’m not talking about the jigsaw you bought for your 2 year-old last Christmas. I’m talking about one of those 2,000 piece monsters you never seem to be able to finish.
There are so many things to consider. But each little bit of information, each scrap of historic performance, has a bearing on whether your horse is likely to finish in front, or to be an also-ran.
But there is one vital piece of the jigsaw that often gets lost under the sofa. Many punters gloss over it, and some leave it out of their calculations altogether. But I consider it to be one of the single-most important factors when weighing up a race-card — the Going.
It doesn’t matter whether I am analysing the runners for the Vodafone Derby, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, or a class 6 apprentice handicap at Southwell — the one question I always ask myself is “Will my horse be able to act over the prevailing ground conditions?”
This one piece of information, in my opinion, is more important than the distance to be raced, the track, the reputation of the trainer, and the jockey riding my horse.
The Going is the official state of the ground as judged by the race official known as the Clerk of the Course. The official Going is described from one extreme to the other by one of the following terms: Hard, Firm, Good to Firm, Good, Good to Soft, Soft, and finally Heavy. Traditionally the ground had been described after race officials had walked the Course and prodded the ground with a walking-stick. Thankfully, today the technology exists to provide a much more consistent and objective assessment.
The Going is very important because often horses will have a preference for running (or “acting”) on one type of ground over another. Its not surprising that horses of differing physical and genetic make-up will behave differently in they way they handle various racing surfaces.
So how can we as punters take advantage of these differences?
The first thing we can do is to get down to the paddock before a race and check out the size of the horses’ feet. Why? Well, generally a horse with big hoofs akin to ‘soup-plates’ will be much better suited to softer ground. This is because the weight of the horse is spread across a bigger area, and it is able to ‘skim’ over the ground rather than getting stuck in the mud. Horses with smaller ‘donkey’ feet are more likely to sink that little further, and their progress will be that more laboured.
Once the horses have left the paddock its time to take your position in the stands, and train your binoculars on the horses as they go to Post. Although the horses will not be running flat out, the shrewd observer can still take away a few more golden nuggets of information before deciding whether or not to place a bet.
The thing to look out for is the horse’s ‘action’. By that I mean exactly how the horse strides along. A horse with a ’rounded’ action lifts his knees up high in each stride, and is better suited to racing over softer ground. A horse with a ‘daisy-cutting’ stride barely lifts his hoofs off the racing surface. This kind of horse will probably find the firmer going much more to his liking. These generalisations are obviously never going to be 100% accurate, but you would be amazed how many times you can avoid placing a stupid bet on a horse who is not likely to relish the conditions. Making a profit from betting is just as much about avoiding losers as spotting winners.
When you are betting on a race for 2 year-olds there is often very little form to work on. So if the conditions underfoot are leaning towards either end of the Going scale, then you can uncover a value bet by observing the horses as they canter to the starting stalls. You can save yourself a bundle if you determine that the horse at the head of the market, is in fact showing signs that he will not find the Going to his liking.
Having a working knowledge of how and why different horses run well on various surfaces, will only add to your chances of making an overall profit versus the bookmakers.