How To Watch a Horse Race
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How To Watch a Horse Race

Anybody looking to build up a knowledge of thoroughbred racing needs to learn how to watch a race properly and interpret what they're seeing.

It's very difficult to glean anything from a cricket match if you aren't familiar with the positions, rules or scoring system – thoroughbred racing is a bit more straightforward as the race is all about who crosses the line first and there is no complication from the Duckworth-Lewis Method.

However, knowing what factors impacted a race and why the winner was the winner is really one of the first things you need to realize before you start handicapping races properly.

Knowing Your Conditions

Obviously being familiar with the conditions of a given race is important as all horse races are run at different distances and at different purse levels. In different parts of the world they tend to divide the horses up in various ways – some divide by official ratings (most of the world) while others divide by how many races a contender has won and what type of races (North America).

After having examined and interpreted the racecard you should be expecting certain horses to go to the lead, certain horses to sit just off the pace and certain horses to be happy loping along at the rear of the field looking to run on late towards the end.

Depending on the type of race that you're watching, and the surface that the race is being run on, it's important to see whether those horses got the type of start they wanted. Is the best horse in the race a front-running speedster? Did he get to the front at the start of the race like he wanted to?

Body Language

If you're watching a race and looking to see how well your contender is doing you can usually tell by examining the jockey. If your horse likes to run up front and he's gotten on the lead then look to see if the jockey is riding high or low in the saddle (higher means he's relaxed while lower means he's driving the horse hard).

If you see your horse out on the lead in front and the jockey takes a quick peek behind him, it usually means that your jockey has plenty of horse left and is just waiting to see when he needs to pour it on again. The advantage of getting out to a good early lead can be that your horse gets to take a breather before re-rallying on the run-in.

Watch how the jockey deploys the crop (whip), as it is one of the main mediums by which the jockey communicates instructions to the horse. The best case scenario is when the jockey doesn't need to use the whip and the horse is “under a hand ride”, which means the jock is using just his hands to guide the horse home.

This means the horse is winning easily without need for much urging. Knowing a horse won a race off a handride usually means he has a lot more gas in the tank for when the jockey needs to push him. If your horse has been on the lead and the jockey has taken out the whip before the run-in and given the horse a few sharp reminders, this is a clear indication that your jockey feels the horse is starting to run out of steam.

During the course of a race, you are basically looking for anything out of the ordinary happening. The more unconventional the running of a horse race was, the more unconventional the result might be. If a 50/1 contender romps home to beat horses that were supposedly much better, several factors in the running of the race will have aided that result.

It's not like the betting public is usually that wrong and oftentimes you'll find out that the jockey of a beaten-favourite dropped the whip on the run-in or the horse threw a shoe coming out of the gate or may have been bumped a few times on the stretch.

Little things working against a horse can sometimes undo a race that looked to be setting up as a sure thing. Occasionally an entire race can be undone by a horse getting jammed up behind a wall of horses and simply not being able to move through.

Watching lots of races is the best way to get a working knowledge of thoroughbred racing within a reasonable time frame. Knowing how races unfold and what factors can contribute to a win or a loss is a vital part of betting on thoroughbred racing.

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