Oct 24, 2003
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
a. Its most recent race was run not more than 21
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
d. It has had one or more workouts since running its
e. Today the trainer is dropping the horse in
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
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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