A horse's long journey to the race track – St. George Daily Spectrum
Pete Monaco The Eighth Pole Published 1:26 PM EDT Aug 5, 2019 As horseplayers, we tend to take our four-legged racing friends for granted. Most of us have no idea of the amount of time, money and supreme effort that it takes to get these tremendous athletes to the racetrack and keep them sound and
As horseplayers, we tend to take our four-legged racing friends for granted. Most of us have no idea of the amount of time, money and supreme effort that it takes to get these tremendous athletes to the racetrack and keep them sound and healthy.
Here’s how a racehorse makes it to the starting gate.
The training of a racehorse usually begins at a training center or a farm. Young horses first learn the basic aspects of racing, such as feeling the weight of a saddle, a bit in their mouth and maybe a light person draped on their back for a short time. They next learn to stand quietly in a starting gate, carry the weight of a rider and get used to galloping with other horses.
As the horse slowly learns the game and matures, a good trainer will absorb all the relevant and crucial information and take appropriate measures to work closely with the horse and try to sort out any quirks he might have. Some trainers have the same horse in their barns for a long time but sometimes owners opt for a different trainer, or the horse is lost to a claim.
Most horses that plan on racing come and live at the racetrack at the age of 2-3, but others are late bloomers and may arrive at an older age. All Thoroughbreds are considered a year older on January 1, regardless of their actual birthdate.
They live in the stable area, which is known as the backside because it’s located along the backstretch.
The horses work out over the track that they’re stabled at and are sometimes ridden by the jockey that’ll be piloting him at the races, but most times a different jockey or exercise rider will climb aboard.
A horse in training usually jogs or gallops every day and the trainer will instruct the rider on how far and how fast he wants the horse to go in the outing.
Fast gallops are called workouts and are usually timed by the track’s official clocker and published for the observation of all horse racing enthusiasts.
Making it to the Gate
When the trainer feels the horse is ready to race he’ll scour the condition books for the best race option for the new runner.
The track racing secretary sets the conditions for each race, trying to line up a fair competition with horses of similar caliber.
Maiden races consist of horses that have never won a race and other races have conditions for horses that haven’t won a certain number of races in a certain length of time. Races without any restrictions on a horse’s number of wins are called open races.
But the majority of competitions are claiming races, where every horse is available for a set price.
Allowance races set certain conditions but the horses aren’t for sale.
Stakes races require an entry fee and of course, these top races get the most attention and a purse of a million dollars or more is not uncommon today.
As race time approaches, a groom will lead the horse to the saddling area, where the identifier checks each horse’s upper lip to confirm it’s identity from a tattooed number. The trainer will saddle the horse and give last-minute instructions to the jockey.
About twelve minutes before post time, the paddock judge calls out “Riders up!” and the trainer will give the rider a leg up into the saddle.
After a few laps in the walking ring, the horses head to the track for the post parade. They walk or trot alongside escort ponies as the public gets to observe them and then the horses jog to the starting gate.
The starting gate is pulled into place by a tractor and each gate latch is secured by a magnet. The gate crew leads the horses into the gate and keeps them calm. When all the horses are still the starter hits a button that cuts the electricity to the magnets and the gate doors spring open.
After the race is made official, the winning horse and his connections get their picture taken in the winner’s circle and head off to the testing barn for a urine and blood analysis.
Other horses that ran in the race might also be tested, either randomly or because they showed a complete form reversal.
Horses might also be tested if they ran poorly at a short price or ran a great race at long odds.
The horses are then returned to their respective barns where stablehands called hotwalkers walk the horses around to cool them down.
The trainer will thoroughly review the race and access if the runner might need some new equipment, a new rider or the horse needs to move up or down in class.
It’s a never-ending chess match for these trainers who try to put their horses in the best races possible and still earn the most money while keeping their runners healthy.
So the next time you watch a race, please realize the supreme effort that so many people and the horses put forth to put together this tremendous show for us on a daily basis.
Thoroughbred horse racing truly is the greatest show on earth and we should fully appreciate it.
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