American Turf Magazine
View Cart
0 item, $0.00

Oct 22, 2004

Half the Race is Out of Your Control (Part 8)

By: Joe Takach




I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen this happen for nearly a half century but one thing I can tell you, is how last second scratches can not only influence but can actually change the outcome of any race.


Last minute scratches happen for any number of reasons. 


Most common is when a horse gets himself into trouble once loaded into the starting gate.  If he’s the first loaded into the starting gate, it is not at all uncommon for him to be forced to stand in a very confining space for up to 3 to 4 minutes depending on how full his field. 


Very few horses are able to contain themselves for that long a period of time without getting “antsy”.  Once they begin thrashing around, they can injure not only themselves, but their jockeys as well.  Sometimes they break thru the starting gate and run off.  Or worse yet, they flip and get pinned underneath the starting gate itself.


Other late scratches come about during the pre-race warm-up.  For the last 40 years, I’ve been pontificating ad nauseum about the importance of the pre-race warm-up.  If you’re on track and paying attention to the pre-race warm-up, once in a while you’ll see a jockey not only put in the required 4 to 6 furlongs of light cantering under his mount, but much, much more.


There are only 2 reasons why this occurs.


Either the connections are really “going” that afternoon instructing their jockey to canter his mount continually from the post parade right up until loading to make absolutely sure that every dormant oxygen-delivering red blood cell is released from the horse’s spleen to optimize his performance, or the horse is a tad sore or stiff and the jockey is attempting to warm him out of it.  If the horse is a bit sore, it is always clearly evident in the paddock and post parade and can easily be seen even if you are wagering via a satellite monitor.  Nearly all will walk short, wide or both!


If a horse can’t be warmed up out of his soreness, the jockey will take the horse to the starting gate with a minute or two to post and ask the track veterinarian to scratch him.  The rider doesn’t want to injure himself or other jockeys by risking an on track breakdown during the actual running of the race. 


I’ve yet to see or hear of any track veterinarian refusing a jockey’s request to scratch due to infirmness.  If the veterinarian foolishly refused and the horse actually broke down during the race, he’d lose his job in a heartbeat, not to mention a certain civil lawsuit coming from any seriously injured jockey. 


If a scratch is requested by a jockey, the track veterinarian will contact the state stewards to get permission and the track announcer will announce that “on the advice of the track veterinarian, the stewards have scratched number so and so”.


Another reason I’ve heard for a late scratch is a horse’s paperwork.  This seems to happen most often with shippers from other circuits.  For one reason or another, a specific horse’s documentation is missing or incomplete.  Simply put, if a horse’s paperwork isn’t “right”, he isn’t allowed to race until the paperwork is deemed correct. 


Yet another cause for a late scratch will never see the light of day for “Joe Sixpack” because it is illegal.  Only the sharpest of paddock observers are privy to this one.  If caught, the parties involved could face not only stiff fines, but elongated suspensions.


It sets up like this.  A trainer enters a horse in a claiming race and the runner in question is brought to the paddock as is every other claiming horse in that race.  As the horse is being walked around and/or saddled, the trainer notices many different trainers are looking only at his specific runner while filling out “claim slips”.  Not wanting to actually lose his horse, the trainer will tell the jockey in the walking ring before the paddock judge hollers “riders up” that his horse isn’t quite right.  And although he tried to get him scratched, the track vet wouldn’t let him out of the race.  At this point, the “seed” of doubt has been firmly planted in the rider’s mind. 


He further instructs the jockey to canter him at least a mile in the pre-race warm-up to be absolutely sure that he feels “solid” and not ready to break down during the race.


Imagine yourself to be that jockey who will soon be traveling over 35 mph on a horse whose trainer just told you that his runner isn’t “right”!  Need I tell you just how fast that jockey will get that horse scratched?  When he does get him scratched, there can’t be a claim.


If you were to question any racing official about this scenario, all will lie to you straight faced and tell you that this never happens.  My suggestion to you at that point is to stand in the paddock for over 45 years as have I and you will not only see this happen, but it will occur more often than you might think---especially with very small barns.


The above are the main reasons for late scratches.


How do late scratches put part of the race out of your control?


Real simple! 


If a front running horse scratches in a field containing only 2 front running horses, suddenly there is only one “early” horse.  And if you’ve been around our great game for any length of time, by now you’ve learned the only axiom in all of horseracing----“Speed unchallenged wins at any distance and over any surface”!


Conversely, suppose a specific field contains many front running types and only a single closer.  You might rightfully favor the closer anticipating a very hot pace that will surely compromise the speed types and actually “set it up” for the latecomer.  If that closer is a late scratch, it suddenly becomes anyone’s guess who will survive the anticipated speed battle.


I could go on an on with other scenarios with stalker/pressers or mid-pack runners, but I’m sure by now you get the drift.


Once the integrity of a field changes at the last possible moment, so does the anticipated outcome!      





<< Back To Newsletter

Redeeming a gift certificate or promotional certificate? We'll ask for your claim code when it's time to pay.