Joe Takach

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I don’t know what I’d do to come up with “fresh ideas” each and every week for my handicapping article were it not for the readership of my SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA HORSES TO WATCH.

I received an excellent question from a new client who asked me why bad-looking horses won races and continue to win them every day.

I could most likely write a book about this question after viewing over 100,000 races on track in my 40+ year horseplaying career.  I’ll scale it down a bit and offer you reasons that will answer your questions 98% of the time!


Much like the NFL or the NBA, 4-legged athletes in our great game race everyday at less than 100% readiness.  With some horses, this is done quite intentionally as the economics of our game dictate that regardless of malady, you keep running as often as possible because you can’t make any money to pay bills by “standing in the barn” or relaxing on the farm. 

Small things like the mild swelling of an ankle that might be cured with a 60 to 90 day rest in a pasture, are given “quick” fixes by adding front wraps for support.  Most inept trainers often do this to keep the horse running non-stop, instead of backing off and then adding the wraps for the support when the ankle fully heals. 

A horse in question might even win races and momentarily do so on the rise, before the inevitable downward spiral to the bottom rungs begins.  And if this injury is bad enough, it could cause the horse to literally break down forever while in the midst of a race!

An enlarged ankle is only 1 minor example of running “hurt” where I could have easily listed at least 50 physical ailments that horses run with on any given afternoon, but that isn’t the scope of this writing.  

I only want you to be aware that horses run “hurt” every day at every race track in this country to include Del Mar and Saratoga.   If given enough “bute”, Lasix and/or any other “illegal but undetectable goody” that the mixing of bute and Lasix together often masks, hurt horses can and in some cases do continue to win.    

Again, this will only happen to a specific point before all the drugging (both legal and illegal) will fail to momentarily correct the injury.  Usually at this point, it’s too late for any rest on the farm and the horse’s potential ability is sadly lost forever. 

But again, keep in mind that up to this point, they often win races!


The cheaper your track, the more you’ll see this type of race and runners. 

Were I to view every 8K claiming race at Hollywood Park (their bottom level), or the 10K stock at either Del Mar or Santa Anita (their bottom level), I can usually find major “knocks” on every single runner with the exception of breathing difficulties.

If viewing 8K runners at Hollywood Park, quite often I’m faced with dilemmas like is that enlarged right front ankle as bad as another’s walking short or not getting a pre-race warm-up?  Are that’s one’s double “stops” as bad as another’s double “blowouts”?  Is that extension running bit as bad as a barshoe?  Is that martingale as bad as another’s walking wide?   Is this one’s front leg sweat as bad as another’s dripping kidney sweat?  Does this one’s poor color make him a better prospect than that skinny and ribby one?   Does this one’s bowed left front tendon still make him a winner over a fractious horse with covered frogs?

I could go on “ad nauseum”, but I’m certain that you get the drift by now.  And if you don’t, you never will.

A “problematic runner” is a “problematic runner”-----period!

To say that one malady isn’t as serious as another in this specific upcoming race is absolute lunacy------at least from a handicapping and wagering standpoint!  

How bad is that ankle, knee or bowed tendon today?  Realistically, I have no idea since I can’t speak “horse” and neither can anyone else to include all veterinarians!   

To try and gauge or fully evaluate any specific problem on any horse on any given day is sheer folly unless the malady in question is incapacitating to the trained eye (vet, trainer, jockey and/or astute paddock observers).     

If an ankle is bad enough, a horse will limp or favor it. If his extension is exceptionally poor, he can’t and won’t warm-up properly before a race.  If he’s wearing a bar shoe or has a covered frog, the negative hardware isn’t there for fun or decoration!

I’m just thankful that I and others who are willing to put in the time to learn, have the ability to spot problems and refrain from betting.  And face facts, a “saved wager” is the same thing as cashing a ticket on an even-money favorite!

If you find yourself in a situation where you have major physical “knocks” on every single runner, simply PASS THE RACE!  There’s another one in 30 minutes!



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