Joe Takach

Article Library





You’ll often see us remark in our weekly SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA HORSES TO WATCH that this or that horse was too thin for our tastes, or that he held excellent flesh and color, or that he was nondescript and just “so-so”.

It is no great secret that heavily muscled horses win more races than those who are anorexic.

This is not to say that thin and ribby horses never win a race. 

But most often when they do, they only beat muscled horses who have major physical problems such as poor extension, swollen ankles, bad knees or barshoes.

If you intently study the population of any given backstretch for a short time, you’ll begin to notice most barns fit a pattern. 

In good barns, nearly every horse is heavily muscled.  In poorer barns, the muscling is less evident.  In mediocre barns, evidence of both persuasions is often clearly visible.  

In like manner to the varied barns, horses fall into 3 categories when it comes to muscling.  They have muscles, don’t have them, or fall somewhere in the middle.

Let’s first talk about the have-nots. 

They usually hail from very low percentage barns where saving feed money, saving vitamin money, saving vet money, and saving training money are essential.  These no-win barns survive primarily on “day money” which is the daily rate these know-nothing trainers have the audacity to charge an owner for “allegedly” training his horse.

If you’re a low-percentage know-nothing trainer getting $80 daily per head in “day money” and can save 20 bucks a day by offering smaller quantities of food, vitamins, veterinary care and morning workout exercise rider fees, that’s more money that goes into your incompetent pocket!

Let’s say that you have 10 horses @ $80 each in day money.   Saving $20 per head every day for a full year nets you a cool $73,000!

If you were getting paid $73,000 to be incompetent and do basically nothing more than keep 10 horses alive, why would you ever want to succeed or improve yourself or any horse under your care?

Being around this game for over 45 years, the one thing I’ve noticed than never seems to change is that poorer looking horses come from poorer barns. 

This is not to say that a good trainer won’t occasionally have a skinny horse under his shed row.  Horses come in all shapes and sizes, but a good trainer’s barn is not chock full of greyhounds.  For the most part, top flight barns have nothing but heavily muscled good-looking runners------that’s why they are a good barn!

Suffice it to say that if you can actually see the ribs protruding on any horse to the point where it is very easy to count them, you might want to look elsewhere if this runner was your “paper” choice when handicapping this race the night before.

If you are wagering via simulcast and the satellite beam, be rest assured that it is very easy to see these skinny horses when they are walking around unsaddled.  If already saddled, you merely need to look at the point of the hip that is directly behind the saddlecloth.  If it is prominent and seems to protrude outwards, he’s too skinny!

The next type of muscling is good or heavy muscling and it is evident in a few key areas. 

Foremost, the hindquarters, rump and upper rear legs should be massive and well endowed.  This is the engine of the horse. This collective group of muscles moves the horse forward.

When heavily muscled, there’s no indication of a protruding hipbone, nor are the ribs clearly visible.   

The stomach is firm and the chest is full.  

He looks like an athlete, he’s built like an athlete, and most likely he’ll run like an athlete.  He’s not on a starvation diet trying to save “day money” and he hasn’t been standing in the barn since his last race with very few published workouts. 

Heavily muscled horses will show a very steady morning worktab.   Closer examination of the entire worktab will show a well thought out pattern or series of morning drills that explains the excellent physical appearance of the fit and ready racehorse.   

Muscles are a result of hard work by both the horse and trainer.

Somewhere in between the “anorexic greyhound look” and the “Arnold Schwartzenegger look” falls the nondescript or “so-so looking” horse.   

He’s neither skinny nor well endowed.  Muscles are indefinable.  His attitude is flat, as is his energy level.  He doesn’t look “ready”, but at the same time, doesn’t look nearly as bad as a ribby half-asleep competitor. 

The nondescript horse wins far more races than their skinny and ribby counterparts.  But when facing a well-muscled “fit and ready” runner, they have no chance whatsoever.

We now have the basic prerequisites for a wager.  He must be a well-muscled horse with pricked ears.  He must also walk well with his tail well off his rump.

All these physical characteristics are clearly visible via the satellite beam if you pay strict attention to your monitors rather than burying your face in your Racing Form.  Do your “paper” handicapping at home, not at the racetrack!

We still need to add a few positive features to our “ready horse” prototype.  Next week we’ll take a look at color and what it tells us about readiness.



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