Joe Takach

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What’s in a tail?

Tails are readily visible during the entire viewing time via the satellite beam just as they are if you’re on track working the paddock.

Tail positions reflect both attitude and current disposition to racing.  If a runner is interested in his surroundings and the goings on in the paddock, his tail will be slightly raised and completely off his rump.

If, on the other hand, the tail is flush against his hindquarters, he has very little interest in running.

More often than not, a flat tail is found on a dull-looking and dull-coated horse.  It more or less complements his non-attitude.  Most are willing led around the paddock with their heads low and bobbing.  The groom probably has him on a very loose lead chain.  This horse isn’t going to run away----he simply doesn’t have the energy.

There are a couple other positive and negative tail positions.

Positive tails come in only 3 varieties.

As stated above, well off the rump is the most common of the positive tails and the one that you’ll see most often on winning horses before the race.  Of all the positive tail positions, I’d guess that this type of tail wins 95% of the time.  What you want to see is at least 2 to 3 inches of “air” between the tail and the rump itself.

Once in a great while you’ll see an arched tail and its name is exactly what it implies.  The tail is not only raised and off the rump, it is literally arched.  This signifies peak readiness and guarantees the horse is about to put in an exacting performance.   

Since you’ll see this tail in about 1 out of 100 winning horses, most good physicality handicappers lay in the paddock just waiting to spy such a tail.

And this type of tail can readily be seen via satellite as I caught one at Saratoga this past summer.  He won in a total romp and paid 8 bucks and change.

When you spy such a positive tail, either bet the horse or stay out of the race.   

About 3 to 4 out of every 100 winning horses display what I call a North-South tail.  You’ll see this tail on horses who are either urging their groom, jockey or lead pony onwards. 

Their tails will literally pop North and South.  Quite often gentle false starts or playfully lurching forward will accompany the North-South tail popping.

It’s a sign of superiority.  They feel good and want to get this thing over with as soon as possible and are letting the other horses in the paddock know it. 

As with the arched tail, horses with North-South tails should either be bet, or stay out of the race.  Never be foolish enough to bet against either one of these extremely positive tails.

And again, this is all visible via satellite for free!

Like positive tails, negative tails take 3 forms.

We’ve discussed the basic and generic flat tail that merely lays against the rump suggesting a lack of energy and lack of interest in racing.

An East-West tail is self explanatory.  A horse swishes his tail from east to west and back to east in a constant non-stop motion.  It looks as if he’s trying to rid himself of annoying insects.

Horses with this tail position are mildly upset about this whole racing “thing” and have very little desire to compete. 

For a moment imagine yourself to be a horse taking an afternoon siesta in the solace of your stall.  All of a sudden a groom slaps a halter on you and leads you over to the paddock to be saddled for a race.  If you were a tired, unwilling, or infirm horse, you’d probably start swishing your tail east and west in protest trying to rid yourself of the upcoming event much the way you would if you were trying to rid yourself of an unrelenting fly.

Horses with East-West tails usually walk with their heads low and bobbing.  At times you’ll see flopped over ears with a total disinterest in everything going on around them.  If their tails ever stop going east and west, they will quickly lie flat against their rumps.  They’ll offer no trouble to more willing and spirited horses who are interested in running.

Tucked tails are the 3rd variety of negative positions.  However, you won’t see this type all that often.  It is most often associated with a very frightened horse.  The tail itself will almost disappear between the hindquarters.  Horses displaying a tucked tail are usually quite fractious and at times have a very wild look in their eyes.  Racing is the very last thing that they want to do.

Stay off them!

In our first 4 installments of Physicality Handicapping we’ve discussed walking correctly, ears and tails.  By now, you’re probably painting yourself a picture of what a “ready” winning horse should look like.

Next week in installment #5 we’ll add to that picture and discuss muscling.


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