The Going

In this section, which concerns the state of the ground, certain principles which govern the ability of the racehorse to act at full racing pace on different degrees of ground conditions have been set down. These rules, however, can nevertheless prove invaluable if adopted into your mode of thinking when assessing a race. The state of the prevailing ground conditions probably has more influence on the outcome of a race than any other factor - and there are many.
• A rounded action of the foreleg is usually indicative of a horse with a preference for some degree of give in the ground which will absorb and neutralize some of the shock to the joints generated as a result of the action. An exaggeratedly round action, however, is not a good thing because the horse's feet will spend too long a period in the air, thereby losing valuable ground in the process: this particularly applies on a downhill gradient, where the ground "runs away" from the horse, so to speak.
• A big, powerful horse which has big feet can - providing it possesses a suitable knee action - gallop well at racing pace through soft ground conditions, and may well be suited to this type of going; in contrast to the animal with small feet that will be slowed to a greater degree as its feet penetrate deeper into the mud. However, when the ground is very heavy, sticky or dead a horse that is built in a lighter mould and possesses a fairly light action may be able to gallop through or "over" this type of going to a less than average slowing effect because it will not have experienced so much muscular fatigue as a much heavier horse, who may flounder in such holding conditions. The size of a horse's feet, its knee action, body weight and distribution are all interdependent factors which, when combined with the prevailing ground conditions are related to, and greatly affect, racecourse performance.
Accurate descriptions of the positive physical attributes - or otherwise - of each racehorse, its stride pattern, action and probable going preferences appear in the best racing publications.
• Because of their disproportionately large-size bodies, heavy-topped racehorses generally require a measure of cut in the ground. These types often exert an excess of pressure to the forelegs, and even more so if possessing a rounded action.
• A one-paced horse will often show "improved" form when the going is soft: this is merely because wet ground will have a slowing effect on its quicker opponents. However, when taking betting considerations into account, the one-paced animal is not one with which to entrust one's life savings; they have an awful habit of finishing second, even when dropped in class.
• Horses which dislike firm ground "feel" it even more when running downhill because the ground is running away from them, whereas, when racing uphill the ground rises to meet them, thereby lessening the concussive effect on the foreleg joints and shoulders as the feet strike the ground. It is the forelegs which have to absorb much of the shock when a horse is galloping.
• Be cautious about backing a horse whose legs are heavily bandaged and is racing on very firm or soft ground because:-
a) The horse in question must obviously have had sore shins or some other foot or leg problem and, when the ground is firm, may not be willing to fully stretch out when asked to do so at the business end of a race.
b) When the going is very sloshy, the bandages may hold a fair amount of water. In the racing world there is an old saying: "An ounce on the foot is worth a pound on the back". These rules apply even more so in the most competitive races. In these affairs, the horse will need everything in its favour in order to win.
• Always be wary of backing horses which reappear quickly after having experienced a hard race on their last outing if run on firm or very soft going, particularly younger horses and fillies: they may need time to recover from the physical excesses of a punishing race on soft ground - this applies even more so over the longer distances - or they may be feeling rather sore after having to really stretch out on firm ground. There will, of course, be exceptions to this rule, but the thoroughbred racehorse is a quite highly strung, sophisticated and in many ways delicate animal both in the physical and mental sense, and many will not readily absorb and then recover from the stresses and strains of quickly successive hard races, particularly under unsuitable conditions.
• Although there are a few horses that like to hear their feet rattle - and these are very much in a minority - it must be said that few actually like racing on very firm ground even though they act well enough on fast and good to firm ground. Also, few flat racers actually enjoy running through very soft conditions unless their physical attributes, knee action and constitution are suited. Good ground, with a very fine cut in it is the ideal criterion for the majority of racehorses.
• A horse that acts well on fast ground will still usually run up to its best when there is a bit of give in the ground: conversely, however, the soft ground specialist will rarely run up to its best form on a fast surface because:-
a) It's action is unsuited and so the animal will be reluctant to let itself fully stretch out: in other words, it will be "saving" itself.
b) The horse will be beaten for speed by the low, economically-actioned runners.
• On fast ground, note the runners which go to post with a relatively low head carriage and a low, raking and fluent action: these are the ones that will be stretching out freely throughout the race.
• When under pressure towards the end of a race, it is not an uncommon sight to see a horse "hang" to the left or right: this invariably means it is "feeling" the ground, or possibly that something else is hurting it. Otherwise it-may be ungenuine, or just very tired and is being asked to do too much. Be cautious about backing any horse which has run in this manner, on its next outing - particularly if reappearing fairly quickly.
• Sharp-actioned horses usually require fast ground to run up to their best; also they tend to be sprinters.
• An animal that has been operated on for a wind infirmity will be best served by fast ground conditions - providing action and conformation suit – because of its restricted breathing condition. Softer ground conditions make for a harder race which, in turn, will mean harder work for the respiratory system.
• Often a horse that is not a natural fast-ground performer will run well on its first encounter with a fast surface; but after this particular run may be unwilling to stretch out again on fast ground in future races, and so run below form. They are normally from amongst the younger brigade and can be seen hanging to left or right when being asked to quicken.
• Although some horses are out-and-out fast-ground performers, many who had previously shown a distinct preference for a fast surface may want some cut in the ground as they get older and their joints become worn and arthritic.

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