Joe Takach

Article Library





The “color” in a horse is an overall barometer of his health.

His coat is a very strong indicator of current condition and his chances of winning this afternoon.  Fortunately for both on- track handicappers and those at satellite outlets, this physicality handicapping factor can’t escape a trained eye.

(If you’re at a satellite outlet and forced to use a TV monitor, peruse the premises until you find the clearest screen.  Make it the only one that you look at for the rest of the day unless, of course, you can find more than one sharp and crisp viewer.  Looking at horses over a bad or a fuzzy receiver will make all horses’ coats appear dull and lifeless).

If a thoroughbred’s color is rich and deep while reflecting sunlight, he’s plenty healthy.  If his color is dull and actually absorbs sunlight, he’s either not feeling his best or he’s somehow lacking in nutritional make up. 

This is not to say that dull-coated horses are literally sick, but when you spy one, be rest assured that he’s far from top condition and most likely even further from the winner’s circle and your trip to the mutuel windows to cash a winning ticket.

“Ready” horses have often have brilliant coats.  The sun bouncing off their heavily muscled bodies nearly blinds you.  They are usually happy and well-adjusted animals who get the best of everything from their well-planned diets and megavitamins to the TLC (tender loving care) offered by their attentive grooms. 

At most major race tracks, winning grooms will pocket 100 bucks or more if their horse wins.  You had better believe that if the stable is “going” this afternoon and this good looking horse is being “sent”, the groom will have a tight hold on him and keep him away from other horses whenever possible.  There will be no “shanking” (pulling down hard on the lead chain by the groom in an effort to control him if too playful) or mistreatment of any kind.  A hundred bucks still goes a long way on the backside and the groom will do everything in his power to keep his horse calm and totally interested

Additionally, the “ready” horse also receives measured amounts of exercise between races that includes well-spaced morning workouts as well as long slow gallops to increase stamina.  These drills help him to stave off both boredom and staleness.  If he is both mentally and physically sharp, his coat is most likely radiant!  You simply won’t see too many unmuscled lethargic horses with resplendent coats! 

Many “ready” horses with brilliant coats are also dappled.  As horses come closer to top condition, the color of their coats gets deeper and deeper.   At peak in some horses, small dark oblong circles or “dapples” are evident.  They appear to be under the skin itself.  They travel from the base of the neck (withers) to the hindquarters (rump).  It is a sign of perfect health.

Not all brilliant coats are dappled nor must they be for you to accept them for wagering purposes.  As long as a horse has good color and reflects sunlight, he’s acceptable.

So where do you learn to separate good coats from bad ones? 

The best place to start is in bright sunlight in the paddock of your choice.  Even if you normally play at a satellite facility, seeing good color in person while on track will further help you identify it when quick 5 second glimpses of runners are “beamed” in.

As mentioned above, a good coat will reflect sunlight.  It is quite easy to see in any paddock when up to 12 horses are parading in front of you.  Some will have poor color, some will have so-so color and some will appear to be like fine pieces of furniture with deep and rich color.

Assuming you have paint on your car, whenever you get done waxing it, it reflects sunlight and looks like it just rolled out of the showroom (a horse with good color).  As time goes on and the wax thins due to frequent washings or sitting out in the direct sunlight for too long every day, the brilliant color soon begins to fade in degrees.  The blinding reflection of the sun is now muted (a so-so horse).  This slow mutating continues until direct sunlight has no effect on the car’s color and almost swallows the light (a dull horse with poor color).

Once you’ve established this basic understanding of good and bad color, transferring it to satellite monitors will be a snap!  Even on cloudy days, horses with good color will still stand out much like your newly waxed car would under the same conditions.  Good color is good color and very hard to hide in any degree of light.

If you’ve ever played a racing meet at night such as the Meadowlands, Garden State Park or even special Friday night racing at Hollywood Park, the flood lamps substitute nicely for the sun.  If a horse has great color, the white beam from the flood light is quickly reflected back to its source.  If a horse has bad color, the light almost gets absorbed in their coats like the sun would on a dirty automobile.

Once you see a few horses with bad color and/or ragged coats and notice how poorly they perform, you’ll begin to appreciate the importance of good color.   

If a horse’s color is not up to snuff, he’ll probably have other readily recognizable negative characteristics such as a flat tail, zero energy, poor muscling, flopped over ears, leg problems etc.  Colorless coats often encase the totally negative package that suggests a need for extended downtime.

Good color on the other hand, always implies good health and you don’t have to be Einstein to know that healthy horses win more races than unhealthy horses.

Next week we’ll take a look at energy levels in the thoroughbred and how they can translate into more winners and fewer losers at the mutuel windows.


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