Joe Takach

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Last week we explained how easy it was to spot horses who were walking “short”.   

I vividly recall teaching a friend this extremely negative factor very early in his horseplaying career.  I’ll never forget the first time he saw the actual ramifications of a horse with poor walking extension. 

To this very day he still tells me that it convinced him that “physicality” handicapping was just as important as speed, pace, trip, bias or breeding!

It came in one of those mindless and all too frequent $3,500 claiming races at Keystone (eventually renamed Philadelphia Park).  The event was a conditioned claimer for horses who hadn’t won a race in 180 days----as if $3,500 claiming races weren’t bad enough without conditions!  This race was carded nearly every day for the “walking wounded” of the backside, of which there were many at the old Keystone Park.

My friend noticed a horse coming into the paddock who he wanted me to confirm was actually walking short. 

“Short” wasn’t the word and failed to do justice to how poorly this horse was moving.  If he had been walking any shorter, he would have been going backwards! 

It was hard for me to believe that this horse passed the track vet, but back in those days (mid 70’s), track management yielded enormous power.  They merely gave a directive to the backside that everyone ran unless the trainers wanted to pay a “day rate” for the stall space of all their non-runners.  After all, the “Suits” could fill their stall space in a heartbeat if they wanted to with a “live” ambulatory runner.  If horses were firm enough to take their free stall space and train at their racetrack, they were firm enough to run.

We watched this poor beast reluctantly get saddled by his trainer, assistant trainer and 2 valets.  He positively didn’t want to run, was very fractious, and refused his saddle for as long as he possibly could.

Once thru the post parade, the horse was literally walked to the starting gate and there was absolutely no warm-up of any kind-----not even a fast trot------NOTHING!

Soon after the start, the horse broke down on the backstretch after feeling a stiff whip out of the gate and was vanned off.  Luckily for him it was only a bowed tendon which is very serious of itself.   But he lived to race again at minor league Penn National where he won a $1,500 claimer the following year. 

No amount of  words nor any kind of video would have had the same impact on this new body language student.  Picking out a “short” horse in the paddock all by himself and very sadly watching him break down during the race, is now imbedded in his mind forever!

I’d wager my current bankroll that to this very day, he’s never bet a horse who was walking short in the paddock.

This brief diversion was to hammer home to you the negative ramifications of horses who can’t walk properly.

This is not Rocket Scientry,  just common sense----if a poor beast can’t walk, how the hell can he run?

Unlike trainers and jockeys, horses actually tell the truth 100% of the time!  They are incapable of lying!  If they are hurting, they clearly offer many signs to those wise enough to pay attention!

Which brings us to walking short and satellite wagering.


A 5 second glimpse of a horse may or may not be enough time to make a proper assessment.  It certainly isn’t the same as being there in person where you can continue to look at a horse for as long as you wish.   But if you’re at a simulcast outlet or using your home computer, it is better than nothing at all!

Spotting “short” horses over your satellite monitor is hard to master because you have to train your eyes and your brain to make an essential decision within 2 or 3 full steps.

For example, if the horse you’re looking at is accompanied by a lead pony (as most runners are in the post parade) and he’s walking short, sometimes it is difficult to ascertain if the lead pony is causing the shortstepping.  Quite often they are!

Frequently you can’t make a decision because of the lead pony.  Other times you’ll have no problem because the pony is not interfering with the runner’s walking stride.

The trick is to see if the pony is restricting forward movement of the thoroughbred in any way, shape, or form.  If the rider of the lead pony has your horse on a very short lead chain, the runner can’t walk properly!  Or if the thoroughbred’s head is over the lead pony’s neck, you simply can’t tell how he’s walking.

Fortunately, today’s simulcast shows from virtually all race tracks offer extended views of each runner walking in the paddock both saddled and unsaddled.  This is the time to see how a particular horse is walking via your satellite beam.  Grooms usually allow their horses to stride freely when circling the walking ring before mounting. 

Again, it isn’t the same as being there, but I have no problem doing it and neither do thousands of owners of my BEAT THE BEAM video.

Before closing, I want to touch on horses who are walking wide and/or sore.

Walking wide is always a big-time no-no!

Walking wide is when a horse throws out either of his front or rear legs to a fault.  They walk wide because they are a bit tender.  Often, a low and bobbing head will accompany horses who are walking wide.  Legs will appear to be “paddling” as they are thrown out to almost a 45 degree angle.  Every step is painful if extremely sore.

Horses who walk well do so in a very straight line. 

The difference between the two is easy to differentiate if on track vs. a satellite outlet.

When on track in the paddock, all you have to do is to draw an imaginary line thru the horse from top to bottom as he is walking towards you so as to split him in half.  (You might have to try a few different locations in your specific paddock area, but you need a head on of the horse coming directly at you).

His front and rear hoofprints should be very close to this imaginary line.  If the fronts are more than 3-4 inches away from center, he’s probably sore.  In fact, the further his front hoofprints are away from this imaginary line and his allowed 3-4 inch tolerance, the greater the probability of lameness itself!  Most leg problems are in the front, but do yourself a favor and repeat this process from a rear view angle. 

If you spy any abnormalities (front or rear), you might want to rethink your wager and/or pass the race.

With a little concentration and practice, you will be able to quickly see who is walking wide and who is not. 

The easiest place to start is in the lowest claiming races at your home oval.   

If you inspect each and every entrant in about 5 or 6 of these bottom-feeding events, you will see horses walking wide.  Some more than others, but you shouldn’t have a problem finding a few because this is where the “walking wounded” congregate.  Once you catch one horse walking wide, you’ll have grasped the concept and others will follow.

As mentioned above, walking wide is always a no-no, be it a lowly claimer, a Stakes’ horse, or anyone in the middle.  And believe me, I’ve seen them come in all classes!

Before closing, we should discuss just how a horse is putting down his hooves as he walks 

Does he walk gingerly?  Does the hoof appear to hesitate before touching the ground, or does the foot hit the ground with no concern? 

If he takes short choppy steps, he’s most likely sore.  And if sore while walking, imagine the excruciating pain if running!

Never forget that runners who are muscle sore give many signs.  If a horse is extremely tender in the hip or in his rear, he will noticeably drop his hip and limp.  After he puts down his rear foot on his good side, he’ll quickly slide the bad rear foot up to the good one.  This is called studderstepping.  These horses are gravely injured and should be rested.

And again, this is not Rocket Scientry-----only common sense.  

Next week we’ll look at ears and the significance they can make in a betting situation.


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