Horse Fitness 7 minutes

As with athletes, a horse needs to be in peak condition to perform to its full potential.

A trainer brings his / her horse to peak condition using a combination of training, trials and actual racing, with the characteristics of the individual horse and style of the trainer dictating the preparation adopted.

After holding its peak condition for a number of runs, a horse will begin to tire both physically and mentally from the rigours of racing / training and may need to be sent for a break or spell. Some horses can handle long preparations with many starts, while others can only peak for a few runs before they begin to taper off. It depends on confirmation, constitution and overall wellness. Trainers also have preferences; some get their horses very fit early in a preparation, while other steadily build their horses with racing and they typically peak after a number of runs.

A horse’s fitness should be considered an important element in your assessment of each race and the following guidelines will help keep you on the right path.

Top 10 Fitness Guidelines


1. Contrary to some schools of thought, there is no such thing as a “key fitness pattern” that you can apply across the board to reliably isolate winning chances and rule out others.  Further to that, so-called punting rules like “the horse must have run in the last 21 days” add no value to the selection process and only serve to eliminate otherwise good bets from your action. Treat each horse and decision individually.

2. When assessing a horse’s form you can classify it into one of the following fitness groups:

a. Should be at peak fitness and able to show its best.
b. Should be fitter than last start and can improve on that run.
c. Likely to be short of peak fitness and condition.
d. Possibly on the decline and not going to produce its best.

3. Horses are individuals and it is often worthwhile to look at past preparations. Most trainers tailor their actions to the horse and will repeat patterns that have previously been successful with the horse. How many runs from a spell has it taken the horse to fire in the past? How many runs does it usually have in a preparation? How are the horse’s races usually spaced? How does it typically perform off a quick back up? Or when given a short break of 28 days or more?

First Up Horses

4. First up statistics can be misleading. Always check the class, conditions and beaten margin of a horse before making a judgement about its first up effectiveness. A horse’s first up runs in races of similar class to today should carry more weight than overall first up stats and races in much lower class.

5. If there is limited first up history to go on, look at the record of the trainer. Some trainers are known to get their horses to fire first up, while others prefer to make a steadier start to the preparation and build to peak fitness through racing. For example, Peter Snowden’s first up strike rate is better than at other stages of the preparation. On the other hand, Darren Weir’s first up strike rate (even on fancied chances) is lower than all other stages of the preparation.

6. The jockey booking can often provide a clue. The appointment of a high profile or regular winning jockey can be a sign that the stable believes the horse is fit enough to win. However if a low profile rider is booked (assuming he / she isn’t the regular rider of the horse) then the stable may believe that the horse “needs the run” and will be short of winning condition (especially if the horse is coming off a short or long break.)

7. Do not presume that a wet track, big weight or wide barrier makes a first up horse a risk. Statistically there is no meaningful difference in returns from first up horses when assessed on these factors. In fact, first up horses with a big weight or wide barrier more often than not provide better returns.

Fitness Danger Signs

8. Read the stewards extracts for upcoming meetings to identify horses that may have fitness and condition risks. Changes that affect a horse’s feet or legs (i.e. bar plates, synthetic filler, bandages etc.) are often a sign that not all is 100% right with the horse. Also, reports on previous runs like the horse bleeding, being galloped on, pulling up with respiratory distress or an injury all provide some cause to be wary of its condition for today.

9. If a horse is well into its preparation and suddenly starts to be less competitive, then it is likely to be declining in condition. Make sure you assess this in the context of the class of race, how well suited the horse was by the conditions and whether or not it had every chance in the run. Good trainers will immediately detect when their horse needs a spell. However, it’s amazing that many trainers keep persisting with a horse that is racing below its best in the hope that it will win or at least pick up prize money. If you can pick up on declining horses earlier than the market then you have an advantage to exploit.

Use the Betting Market

10. If you are concerned about whether a horse is in the right condition for today’s race then the betting market is the best guide you can use. The market eventually reflects the combined knowledge of all participants, so movements one way or another can provide important clues. For example, let’s assume a scenario where a horse that otherwise looks like a strong chance in the race has had 42 days off and doesn’t have a past pattern of that type of break. You like the horse in the race, but have a query about whether it’s going to be fit enough. This is how I would view the horse’s prospects depending on how the betting market behaves:

  • If the horse tends to drift in betting then it could be a sign that the horse is short of its best condition for today. If everything else says the horse should be a key chance in this race then why hasn’t it attracted support? The 42-day break stands out as a plausible and most likely answer to that question. There may have been a setback that prevented the horse from racing, it may have missed some track work and now needs this run to regain peak condition.
  • If the horse does attract support in betting then it’s reasonable to assume that it’s in the right condition to run well in this race. Like you, everyone else can see the 42 day break in the horse’s form and must be somewhat concerned, so why would it attract support? Big punters and others with stable insight aren’t going to wager heavily if they also have reservations about the horse’s condition. It’s highly probable that there is information somewhere out there in the market to suggest that the 42 break is not a concern.

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