The Last Two Minutes

Joe Takach

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In a race you intend to bet, what will you be doing with 2 minutes to post?

If you are a body language handicapper or incorporate body language into your overall handicapping methodology as most handicappers today do, you’ll have your binoculars intently focused on the race’s participants as they begin their walk to the starting gate.

First off, you should try to understand what is going thru the horse’s mind as he makes his final turn and slowly approaches the starting gate.  He knows it’s the afternoon and this isn’t going to be a morning workout, as that exercise period ended long ago.  He further knows that if he’s being loaded into a starting gate in the afternoon, he’s about to race against all the horses around him. He’ll most likely be asked for everything approaching the lane just as he has countless times before.  And this afternoon, if he’s not moving fast enough turning for home, he’s going to get his rump repeatedly smacked----and smacked even harder if he’s out of gas and can’t offer more.

That’s hardly an exciting prospect for any horse that doesn’t “feel like” running.

Knowing what we now know, we can interpret a horse’s attitude to the upcoming event as he slowly gets into “numerical” line and walks in single file to the gate for loading.

OK, let’s play “You Are The Horse”!

We generally have 3 types of horses in the walk to the gate.


He’s not hard to spot!

If he’s the embodiment of “readiness” he’ll surely have good flesh, color and muscle.  Additionally he’ll have an extremely high energy level that is hard to miss.  At times, he’ll most likely offer “false starts”. 

A false start is the MOST POSITIVE visual sign that a totally “ready” runner can offer a visual handicapper.  The body language devotee knows the “false starter” is about to turn in an outstanding performance. 

A false start is just what the name implies.  It occurs whenever a “ready” horse gently lurches forward once he’s saddled.  A false start can occur with or without a jockey. 

If in the walking ring before mounting, false starts look something like this.  The horse willingly strolls around the walking ring once under full tack with his neck bowed and turned in towards the groom.  Every once in a while when parading in front of the paddock crowd, he’ll gently lunge forward into the groom and might even head-butt him.

The operative word here is “gently” and I can’t stress that enough!  This “ready” horse is fully tractable at all times and willingly responds to his groom’s every command, even after a gentle false start.  The groom is fully aware of the horses’ readiness and gladly puts up with the extra effort of trying to keep him calm to save as much energy as possible for the actual race itself.  If the groom’s horse wins, most likely there will be a hundred dollar bill in it for him from a grateful owner, not to mention whatever he pushed thru the mutuel windows once handing the horse over to the outrider.

“Gently” isn’t charging forward with the groom attempting to hold on to the lead chain as he’s dragged thru the paddock.  “Gently” isn’t fractious.  “Gently” isn’t rearing up or wheeling in a state of rage while trying to free himself from his groom.  “Gently” isn’t acting like a nut case!

“Gently” is gently!  “Gently” is controlled.  “Gently” is playful.   “Gently” is not only fully acceptable, but greatly desired.  “Gently” usually signals total readiness!

OK, what does the “false start” look like once a jockey is aboard and the runner is handed over to an outrider?  Well, one thing is for sure, if he was offering “gentle” false starts unmounted while being led by his groom in the walking ring, he’ll begin to get a bit more aggressive once mounted.  He knows it won’t be long until the gates fly open and he can let it all hang out!

With a jockey aboard, the false start becomes even more meaningful.  There is no doubt in the horse’s mind that he WANTS TO run and the jockey can surely sense this.  If the stable is “going” this afternoon, the jockey will do all in his power to keep his horse calm.  The false starts are quite evident in the post parade, though on occasion the false starts won’t begin until that final 2 minute walk to the gate when all the race’s participants clearly know what is about to transpire.   

If you catch a false start in the post parade, the false starter will begin almost rocking forward and backwards as he gently head-butts his lead pony.  But this sign of aggression and total readiness is fully controlled and measured.  The horse willingly responds to his rider to calm down and does so---at least for a minute or so.  Keep in mind that this ISN’T a fractious horse tossing his head around every which way in an attempt to free himself from the outrider and jockey so he can run away and/or drop his jockey to avoid the rigors of the upcoming race. 

If a “ready horse” is really full of himself, the horse will be taken out of the post parade early and be lightly cantered 4 to 6 furlongs during his pre-race warm-up.  This good pre-race warm-up, of course, only further enhances his possibilities of visiting the winner’s circle as it slowly prepares him for the upcoming event.

After a solid 4 to 6 furlong pre-race warm-up, he’ll begin his 2 minute walk to the gate.  If he’s still offering false starts after he’s seen the starting gate, there isn’t a better sign in all horseracing.  Win or lose, he’s about to give you everything he’s got, and with a clean trip, hopefully it will be enough.

Not every winner will offer you false starts—in fact most won’t!   But most other winners do offer you very similar signs indicating readiness.   Quite a few will be “up on their toes” with good energy, but not necessarily offering false starts.  Their coats will be gleaming and reflect sunlight.  Their muscles will be well-developed.  Their tails will be well off their rumps.  Their ears will be pricked forward.  Their overall domineering deportment will be very hard to miss!

You can easily see all of these positive characteristics in those last 2 minutes when they turn and walk to the gate.




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