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May 29, 2007

Searching for a Sound Investment

By: Ray Taulbot

Racing fans could undoubtedly improve their winning percentage by confining their selections to horses that are physically sound. Racing today is cluttered with unsound and partially unsound horses, which tends to complicate the work of making solid selections.

In bygone days, Thoroughbreds enjoyed the benefit of substantial rest periods between the late fall and winter racing, and again between winter racing and the spring session. Today, however, racing schedules are arranged so that horses receive little or no respite from the weekly grind, unless their trainers find it absolutely necessary to withdraw them briefly because of staleness.

This continuous grind has taken a toll so great that today we find an excessive number of bad-legged horses cluttering up racing cards, even at higher-class tracks.

It is not uncommon for the player to encounter several races a day where there is not a single sharp, thoroughly-sound horse in the field. Bandages have become the rule rather than the exception, and these leg wrappings seen on so many horses as they approach the paddock are nothing less than billboards proclaiming "Bad Legs".

The reader might point out that horses wearing bandages do win races. This is true. One horse has to win every race run, but this truth in no way alters the fact that backing unsound horses is a dangerous practice.

Many horses today that appear to be "quitters" have legs that are so bad that the horse simply cannot withstand the discomfort that develops as each additional furlong is covered. These bad- legged horses do not quit because they are faint of heart, but only because of the pain they feel. Physical unsoundness also accounts for the apparent inconsistency of many horses. The cripple or partial cripple is physically unable to turn in two good consecutive efforts.

No one knows how many dollars are lost by racing fans just because of the physical unsoundness of the horses they back, but the total must be in the millions.

For his or her own good the racing fan should learn how to distinguish between a sound and an unsound racehorse, and should then shun the unsound horse as he or she would the plague.

How can the racing fan tell whether or not horse is sound or unsound? The answer is found in the work pattern. A cripple or partial cripple cannot withstand the same amount of work as a sound horse. Thus the work pattern, consisting of both actual races and workouts, gives one a good line on any horse's true physical soundness.

From the horseman's point of view, racing is a business, and he will start his charges as frequently as possible. A trainer will race a thoroughly-sound horse more frequently than one that is partially unsound and still more frequently than the horse that is an outright cripple.

The same line of reasoning applies to workouts. Therefore, we find a marked difference between the racing and workout schedules of a sound horse and one with bad legs.

In the claiming divisions, we find sound horses racing on an average of every 21 days or sooner. We also find that physically sound horses receive workouts between races in most instances, except following a race of very recent date, where the horse turned in a bang-up effort last start within the past 10 days or so.

But the picture is entirely different where partial cripples and cripples are concerned. These horses race less frequently and their workout schedules differ widely from that of a sound contender.

The physically-unsound horse has to be patched up between races, and because it is unsound it cannot be worked out too frequently. Further, when it is worked out the trainer dares not ask it for real speed. The horse simply has to be nursed along until such time as its trainer believes it can be raced again without too much danger of a complete breakdown.

We find physically unsound horses receiving only one workout following a period of recuperation, and that workout usually takes place several days before the horse is to be entered. The cripple has to return to the races with inadequate preparation, and with a hope and a prayer that it will garner at least a part of the purse.

Sound horses, on the other hand, are handled in an entirely different manner. If a physically sound horse becomes stale from over-racing, it is given a temporary layoff. During this rest period, the horse usually receives some light form of work. This work during the early part of the rest period is not found in the horse's workout line beneath its charts, because this exercise is not in the form of a standard workout. The horse may be galloped on a lead line, or it may be given walking exercise combined with slow gallops which take place during hours not usually devoted to workouts.

Most noticeable of all is the fact that before a sound horse is returned to actual racing, it will receive several morning workouts during the two weeks prior to its return to active racing.

After a sound horse had resumed its regular racing schedule we find that it receives more or less regular morning work. Contrary to popular opinion, workouts are not always used as a means of bringing a hose to top form. Their more common usage is to keep a horse on edge after it has attained sharp condition. This explains why workout times are a very poor guide to a horse's true current sharpness.

Once the horse has attained sharp condition, it could be foolhardy to ask it for anything like its best speed in morning drills. To do so could be to run the risk of the horse leaving its best speed on the training track. Therefore, the workout times are often moderate or even on the slow side, and these times in the majority of instances have little meaning insofar as the horse's true condition in concerned.

This brings us to an angle or work pattern which can be employed effectively to avoid horses that are unsound. To put the angle briefly: If the horse has started within the past 21 days and if its last race was clearly one that did not overexert it, and if it has received one or more workouts since running its last race, then you may be sure that the horse is thoroughly sound.

We believe that one of the better spot plays is pointed out by the following rules of play:


1. Play is confined to claiming races only.

2. The horse must be one of the logical contenders on any type of handicapping. (Fans who are pressed for time and cannot do their own handicapping may assume that the horse is a contender if it is one of the first four post-time betting choices.) It becomes a play if it meets all of the following requirements.

a. Its most recent race was run not more than 21 days ago.

b. This top race was run at the track or a track that is part of that circuit.

c. The horse finished fourth or farther back last time out.

d. It has had one or more workouts since running its top race.

e. Today the trainer is dropping the horse in claiming price.

f. The horse is the only horse in the race that qualifies on all stipulated angle requirements.


The inclusion of Rule e and Rule f makes this angle very restrictive. The payoffs are generally on the short side but the win percentage is exceptionally high. This is the type of angle that should be played by fans who have no time to do their own handicapping but who desire to do well over the long haul.

The first four requirements insure physical soundness, and the fifth is evidence that the trainer is satisfied with his horse's condition and intends to shoot the works.

This physical soundness angle, together with the trainer's intention eliminates the necessity for demanding an impressive finish last start. In many instances a physically sound, well meant horse will go to post at profitable odds.

In the fifth race at Santa Anita on January 24, 1995, the only qualifier was Lord Byron who had raced 20 days ago at this track, finishing seventh, and was dropping in price today from $12,500 to $10,000. He had received a workout (handily from the gate) on January 14. Sent off as the third choice in the betting, the gelding paid $12.60 to win.

In some races there will be two or more qualifiers on Rules a to e but only one qualifier on Rule Two, requiring the horse to be one of the top four betting choices.

For example, Ucantstopthemusic was a third choice and paid $11.60 in the fifth race at Gulfstream Park on January 11. Major Funding was a fourth betting choice that paid $14.20 in the eighth race at Santa Anita on January 19.

Despite the lack of action with this profitable angle it will pay you to look for more qualifiers in future races.

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