How to spot the winner in the paddock

I believe the punter at the track has an enormous advantage when it comes to the final selection in a race. Unfortunately you can't learn the art of judging a racehorse's fitness by appearance overnight. I still feel it is well worth the practice whenever you can get to the track.
Horses come in all sizes and fitness in a large horse can be harder to judge than in a smaller one. There are some pointers you can look for, however and these will get you started. As with everything - practice approaches perfection.
General rules
I recommend starting with races where there are only a few runners, say no more than six or seven. Concentrate, at first, on only the top races of the day's card. The reason being that you can be pretty sure in the top races of the day the runners will be actually trying to win !! (Don't they always? If you really need an answer to this question, go back to square one, do not pass Go and miss two turns whilst you work it out :-) ). In races with a large field and poor race money many runners will simply be there for an outing.
Here are the basics . . .
1. Sweating
This is not a simple test because, like humans, horses tend to sweat either when they are very fit or very unfit. However a really fit horse is likely to sweat less than an unfit one.
Still, a light build up of sweat on a horse's coat can be a good sign. It means he's raring to go and keen to race. A light ring of sweat between a horse's back legs is also a sign of keeness. Be on your guard, however when you see a heavy sweat build up.
Some horses will sweat heavily regardless of fitness through getting worked up and nervous - so horses that have worked up a real sweat close to the start of the race should be avoided. It's unlikely they'll be at their best.
Light sweaters in the paddock, however, frequently dry out once they canter down to the start. Worth taking some binoculars to check how they're doing as they go down to the line. Sometimes TV watchers get a good enough view at this point to be able to make worthwhile decisions.
2. Coat Condition
Generally a glossy coat indicates a healthy and fit animal. Dullness tends to indicate the opposite. Again don't judge on this feature alone as some horses rarely have shiny coats nomatter what.
3. Muscle Tone
The definition of a horse's muscles is probably the most significant factor. There are many places to look but, for beginners, concentrate on the following:
First look at the hind quarters (behind the saddle). From a point about a quarter of the way down the rump through to the top of the rear legs look for a sharply defined line. This muscle line is quite obvious when it is there and it's a pretty good indication of a horse's condition. The sharper the line the better.
Second, look at the belly and the rib cage. A hint of the rib cage visible indicates no excess fat. Of course it shouldn't be too prominent or the horse may be under nourished.
Lastly look over the chest, especially the area just above the forelegs. Well defined muscles here are a clear sign of fitness.
Over all behaviour
Finally check the horse's over all behaviour and demeanour. A horse walking around the paddock with its head held low and looking listless is probably not fit. You want to see a springy step and bright eyes, looking keen and alert. Also a horse with calm appearance is likely to run better than one that is acting up in a nervous fashion.
Horses that are hurling themselves around and rearing up are wasting vital energy.
No matter how inexperienced about paddock judging you are - sometimes you'll just know by looking that a horse is supremely fit. That feeling is your instinct and, through practice, it can be built upon.
Remember you can never judge a potential winner by appearance alone. You should first have narrowed the field with some good prior research or system. If you learn to use this visual skill as the final 10% of your process then you'll certainly get an extra edge that other punters are not benefitting from.

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