by Tom Carley
This afternoon I made a visit to my physician. As the doctor walked in the room, the first thing he asked me is “so Tom who is your Derby horse”.
I WANTED TO SCREAM OUT OF FRUSTRATION
What I want to convey out of my writings is that horse racing is a year round sport. It is a sport run by horses of all ages, all sexes, on a variety of sources. The one constant is that people & horses are involved and that involvement is MUCH more than 1 day a year. While many people think of horse racing as simply one Saturday a year that you drink Mint Juleps and wear hats, my focus is to educate those involved to realize that everyday people are getting up hours before sunrise to tend to their equine athletes.
Every day the aging group that has been the foundation of the sport’s fan base is declining due to health, income or other issues. This sport has to find a way to replace those fans with younger fans. Too many races are being run in front of nearly empty grandstands. The racetrack used to be a place for people to meet socially. Families rode the train to the racetracks and while the Dads handicapped the races, the Moms unpacked the picnic lunches they prepared the night before and the kids played catch and tag on the grandstand apron. Today’s fans choose to wager from home on their laptop. The beauty of this sport is only realized when one gets away from all the hoopla and digs deeper into the “behind the scenes” events that culminate with the opening of the gates and the mad dash for the finish line. The challenge of getting new fans to the sport is that horse racing has a complicated vocabulary and the information is presented in an almost cryptic fashion in the Daily Racing Form. To a newcomer, this is as confusing as Chinese Arithmetic.
While this column focuses on horses and connections of the age that are eligible to run in the 2015 Kentucky Oaks & Derby, I will begin within the next 15 days compiling another project for racehorse.com. This forum will break this sport down to its most elementary aspect and will teach the sport to fans from the ground level. My goal in preparing the material is for the newcomers to be able to make a solid selection when they go to next year’s neighborhood Kentucky Derby party. Nothing brings a fan back to the racetrack like cashing a wining ticket.
This week’s Featured Four:
When my doctor asked me on September 30 who my Derby horse is for next May, it made me realize that this is a constantly changing sport. That is especially evident in the case of this year’s 2 year olds. These horses are growing every day. Just because a horse is dominant in late Fall of the their 2 year old year, there is no guaranty that this form will carry over as the horse matures. Remember that we place a bet based on what the horse will do that day. Not what they did a month ago. Not what they will do 90 days from now. If you keep up with the happenings of this current group of 2 year olds, by next May you will know the abilities of the horses & personalities of the connections much in the same way you do characters in your favorite sit come or soap opera.
Today’s environment of big money races has led to a much more mobile group of horses. In days past, the horses used to stay stabled at the racetracks on one circuit (New York, Kentucky, etc.). Each circuit had their own group of races for the 2/3 year olds that progressively got longer in distance and worth more money. The advent of large purse races has caused this to change. Connections ship horses at young ages across the country to compete for larger purses. As the Derby point picture beings to clear and the races become worth more points, you see trainers ship horses to chase the points the horses need to earn to enter the starting gate. A horse shipping is no different than a person travelling on business. You are sleeping in a different bed (stall), eating different food than you are used to, the climate is different and you are waking up in a different time zone. Horses are effected the same way people are. Some horses are good travelers and others are not. Travelling is a traumatic experience for almost all horses. A horse van or airplane is a claustrophobic experience. It also dehydrates an animal tremendously. A horse shipping across the country the day before the race might not have time to rehydrate. I prefer to look for horses that ship well enough in advance to even have a workout or at least a couple of gallops over the racetrack. The horses have had few races as it is, and to confuse them by changing their routine many times proves to be a challenge that they can’t overcome.
A clue about the health of a horse can be found in whether they, as 2 year olds, are racing with wraps on their legs. Without getting too technical, trainers “wrap” horse’s legs with spandex like rolled material that looks as if bandages are on the legs. The inclusion of wraps can be a signal that the young horse is beginning to experience slight pain or need additional support in growing legs. The presence of wraps on lower ankle can also mean that the horse is “rubbing the racetrack” very aggressively that could lead to cuts & abrasions. These all could serve as red flags for handicappers. Trainers usually use wraps on back legs first. A horse showing up for the first time with all 4 legs wrapped is an almost automatic throw out (or not bet) for me. So, look at the horse’s legs for a clue.
The Kentucky Derby is run at a distance of 1 mile and a quarter. This distance is rarely seen in American racing. On Derby Day, the horses are being asked to do something they have never done before and run a distance of 10 furlongs. A good clue for how they will react to his challenge is to see how they have reacted each time they have been asked to increase their distance. Horses begin their careers by running 4 1/2 to 6 furlongs. The next start usually sees them try a 6 furlong distance. Soon they are running distances of 1 mile or 1 1/16 late in their 2 year old year. The horses usually have 2-3 preps as a 3 year old and those are 1 1/16 mile before running the last prep at 1 1/8 mile. Horses, like people, have different limitations on the distance they can cover. Look at how the horses react as they stretch out. The first clues are their physical appearance. Do they maintain their weight? Does their coat shine? Are their ears pricked and looking forward? A second clue is do they get stronger as the races stretch out. I look very negatively at a horse that gives up a late lead in a race when it is longer than 1 mile. A further clue can look at how the horse runs PAST the finish line. Are they exhausted or do they look like they could run around the track again? I look positively at horses that pass other horses in the 100 yards AFTER the finish line.