by Craig Braddick
On my travels in the U.S., one difference I notice between racegoers at steeplechases versus flat meets is that many steeplechase fans still use binoculars to view races. Recently, I was asked what to look for when buying binoculars for steeplechases and how best to use them on the racecourse.
I am not going to give you a breakdown of binocular types (there are plenty of websites where you can learn about that), but I am going to recommend two models. Please note, I do not get paid by any of the manufacturers to promote their binoculars.
As a race caller I use a pair of Zeiss Dialyt 10x40B binoculars. This model has been used by race callers in the UK for decades, and indeed mine date from the mid-1970s. It is true that modern lens coatings allow for greater light transmission, but as I am not looking for deer at twilight, it is not a concern to me. My subjective view is there is slightly better color rendition in the older models. That is important to me because I need to see the jockeys’ silks as accurately as possible when I am calling races.
You can find these binoculars for sale on eBay for $450-$600, so there is still a demand for them. Because Zeiss offers a lifetime warranty and I send mine in for a yearly cleaning, my binoculars are still as good as new. That really makes them an investment for a lifetime.
I am somewhat skeptical if modern Zeiss binoculars will still be in regular use in 40 years’ time. However, if you want a more modern pair, the Zeiss Terra line appears to be a very solid addition to the Zeiss line, and when I have tried them, they have been very pleasing to use. Around the $400-$500 mark, they are also waterproof.
While I use binoculars with 10 times magnification, I recommend 7-8 times magnification for the average racegoer. This is because the greater the magnification, the less stable the image because the effect of inadvertent hand or body movements are greater.
However, you do not need to spend hundreds of dollars. Nikon’s Action EX 7×35 binoculars sell for around $130 and fit the bill perfectly for most racegoers. Well-built, durable, with a wide field of view, and excellent color rendition, they light enough to be worn all day.
They come with a lifetime warranty and, although made in China, they have the good quality you expect from Nikon lenses. I use these as my secondary pair and could use them anywhere except on the biggest courses where I need the high-power magnification. Just a great value!
Although it is tempting to use binoculars to try and focus on “your horse” during a race, I suggest using binoculars to observe the whole field as they travel around the racecourse. If you do a little research beforehand and find out the running styles of horses in the race, you can easily tell if each one is running in his regular style. Similarly, if you catch a horse making a mistake at a fence, watch out for him when he jumps the next fence. Was it a one-off error, or is a pattern developing?
On occasion, you should look up from your binoculars and take in the big picture. If the field is stringing out, it indicates there is a good pace on the front end. If suddenly they are stacking up on the front end of the field, start looking for those late-closing horses or horses who have done well in the past over longer distances to start making their move.
Another way to use your binoculars on the racecourse is to observe how the horses are moving on their way down to the start. Is the jockey having to take a hold, or is the horse having a nice relaxing canter? Similarly, once the horse is at the start, use your binoculars to check if he is nice and calm, or maybe on his toes. (Has he done that before races in the past?). Also, did a horse have to be re-girthed or a breastplate adjusted?
In a future post, we will talk about how to use binoculars to hone your “race-reading” skills so that you can develop your own in-running notes for the next time a particular horse faces the starter.