Energy - Part 1

Joe Takach

Article Library





Energy levels and attitudes are big “tells” in paddock handicapping. 

For those of you on track, some will get unobstructed 5 to 7 minute views of horses walking in from the backside for the upcoming race immediately following the current race.  It is not uncommon for race participants to pass each other as some walk in from the backside and some are returning to the backside.   If you have binoculars with you, this is where you want to start looking at energy levels. 

If you have to wait until the horses enter your paddock, you still have plenty of time to make judgement calls on overall energy levels.  And even if you are playing via satellite, the many different times you see each horse will “tell” you who is ready to run and who is not! 

Understanding these pre-race attitudes will allow you to concentrate on horses with a positive mental outlook towards the upcoming race, while quickly dismissing those with negative postures.

There are 5 basic types of energy levels coupled with specific attitudes.


This horse is very easy to spot. His posture suggests totally lethargy.  Each and every step is an enormous effort as the groom encourages him forward.  The horse’s eyes are half closed.  His ears are most likely flopped over completely.  His head is low and bobbing.  He’s usually kicking up dirt with every step as his hooves barely come off the ground from his last step.  Just looking at him makes you yawn!

While not every single horse devoid of energy is hurt, lame or sore, many are!  Additionally coupled with this very negative profile are a host of other maladies to include walking short, flat tails, poor ear positions, undermuscling, walking wide, enlarged ankles, bowed tendons, liniment and poor color. 

The walking dead will offer little, if any, resistance during the upcoming race. While they might not have every negative trait mentioned, they will possess a few.   And a few are too many!

I waste no time dismissing these highly unlikely specimens and strongly suggest you do the same.


This horse is the first cousin to the walking dead.  While both members of this family appear utterly apathetic, the walking half-dead are just that.  There might be hints of life inside them unlike their fully comatose cousins, but these animals offer no clues of a willingness to run.

While not necessarily burdened with every aspect of the walking dead, the half-dead are merely nondescript contestants who would prefer the solace of their barns.  Few will be competitive at any stage of their upcoming race.

I pass these losers as well.


Paddock dwellers have learned over their handicapping careers that unruly and uncontrollable animals are always a no-no!

Much like the walking dead, fractious horses are very easy to spot in a crowd.  They’re the ones jumping around like kangaroos in heat for no apparent reason.  Take a good look at their grooms.  Most likely they are sweating profusely from trying to control them.

Rather than delve into the reasons for this negative behavior that could include sickness, fear, anger, lameness, legal or illegal drugging, our time would be better spent addressing the negativity of the fractiousness, the needed energy that is lost, and the signs that are readily evident.

Fractious horses are constantly wheeling or rearing up in an attempt to free themselves from their handlers.  Insensitive grooms will waste no time in giving their horse some very hard downshanks on the lead chain.  If that fails to calm the horse (which it rarely does), the indifferent groom sometimes uses the leather strap attached to the lead chain to smack the unwilling animal.  As a last resort, I’ve seen fractious horses punched in the head or kicked in the stomach.

These unacceptable methods of control only serve to further infuriate the beast!

Some fractious horses are frightened horses.  Their eyes offer the most convincing evidence.  It is not uncommon for the whites of their eyes to be overly visible.  They look as if they just saw a ghost.

The ears of a fractious horse sometimes flicker continually.  They randomly move in every direction imaginable.  It is obvious that the horse isn’t concentrating on anything in particular and doesn’t want to be where he is.  If he becomes excessively angry, his ears will pin themselves against his head and almost disappear.

Fractious horses are sweaty horses even during the colder times of the year.  All the hyperactivity involved in fighting their handlers and trying to run off causes their body temperatures to rise.  Massive amounts of kidney sweat (a white foamy lather) can run down the inside of their rear legs.  Neck lather, saddle sweat and front leg sweat are also very common.  Heavy drool from the mouth is frequently evident.  After unnecessarily expending all this precious energy in the paddock, the fractious runners won’t have much left in their tanks for the running of their upcoming races.

If you are on track and can get close to a fractious horse, you’ll notice his breathing patterns are exceedingly irregular.  One minute he’s huffing and puffing and appears somewhat exhausted. Then he’ll momentarily regain his composure, catch his breath and once again return to his craziness.  In addition to these deviate-breathing patterns, he could be chomping incessantly on the bit making a loud gnawing noise.  He doesn’t want that bit in his mouth and he’s trying to bite thru it.

A tail moving in every direction also denotes fractiousness.

They could be swishing east to west or angrily popping north and south.  The stomping of the hooves along with this negative tail movement further paints this very negative posture.

Random muscle twitching may also be evident with the fractious horse.  For no apparent reason, the muscles on the body will quiver as if attempting to dislodge an insect.  If you see this twitching and no insects are present, he’s totally nuts!

Fractious horses will often carry their heads abnormally high in a never-ending attempt to free themselves from their lead chain.  Additionally, they might vehemently twist their heads east and west in a very rapid motion.  If the groom fails to maintain a tight lead chain, they are sometimes successful in breaking free and running back to their barns.

If you are on track and are still uncertain as to the level of fractiousness in any potential wager, just watch the saddling ritual.   In fact, even if you’re betting via the “beam” at a satellite outlet, it pays to watch your TV monitors.  Some satellite shows such as Santa Anita have excellent views of the horses in their stalls, as does Hollywood Park where the horses are saddled in the open air. 

Fractiousness is very hard to hide when going under tack.  Most fractious horses are impossible to saddle.  I’ve seen it take up to four people to get them tacked up.  The instant the saddle or the saddle cloth touches their backs, they rear up or attempt to wheel backwards.  It is quite obvious that they want no part of this game!

Keep an eye on the jockey before he attempts to mount a fractious horse.  The word apprehension will be written all over his face.  He’s considering his options if this horse decide to prop (stopping abruptly without warning) or bolt for the outside fence nearing the far turn.  Have you ever tried to bail out of a car at 35 or 40 MPH?

If you think the factious horse has hit his “crazy peak” in the paddock, just wait for the post parade.

He’ll be bucking and rearing in an attempt to get free.  If accompanied by a lead pony, he might attempt to bite him on the neck or shoulder.  If you see this, take a good look at the lead pony.  His ears will either be flopped over or pinned against his head.  He wants no part of this insane beast. 

Finally, the fractious horse will be tough to load into the starting gate.  It often takes 3 or 4 gatemen to forcibly push him into his slot.  When the gates do open, this crazy horse either runs like a bat out of hell trying to get away from everybody for 2 or 3 furlongs before stopping abruptly, or he misses the break and is very slow to begin.  The fractious horse acts like a loser from the time you first see him until he finishes his race in the backstretch.  They very rarely offer any serious opposition.

Stay off them!

(Part 2 of ENERGY will be continued next week)


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