Like life, every race has a start, a middle and an end. Also like life, all can be disastrous.
On the flat, virtually all races use starting stalls in a determined but still sometimes failed attempt to get the horses off on level terms. Having been driven 200 miles to the racecourse, a horse sometimes refuses to go into the stalls although he is perfectly happy to be driven 200 miles back home for dinner.
It is not unknown for the stalls to open and an occupant to stand perfectly still, as content and untroubled as his rider is the opposite.
More commonly, a horse emerges, slowly, resulting in an analyst’s final comment, ‘Started slowly, faded.’
At some tracks, over certain distances, the horse’s draw – the stall it is allocated – can be very important. Stalls are numbered from the inside running rail, so the horse drawn nearest to the rail is in stall 1. At Chester and Beverley, for instance, particularly in sprints, over five or six furlongs, a low draw bestows a significant advantage. Horses drawn badly have a tendency to fall sick and be withdrawn with a vet’s certificate. If they run, it is part of a jockey’s expertise to exploit a good draw or overcome a bad one.
Reading the race
Interpreting what is going on, is a skill that takes a while to acquire. At a higher level, it involves knowing the characteristics of individual horses. Whether or not they are likely to be suited by the distance of the race, by a fast fun race, by the conformation of the track and the state of the going. Some horses perform best when making the running, preferably without being harnessed by another horse. While others, particularly those with a ‘‘turn of foot’, the ability to accelerate, are more likely to be ‘held up’ and brought with a ‘late run’.
Jockeys prepare for a race by trying to work out how it is likely to unfold. Which horses are likely to make the running? What is the pace likely to be? What tactics should the jockey adopt, to maximise his chance of success?
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