by Craig Braddick
If you want to learn how to make the most of every steeplechase you watch, this post should help.
In our last article we talked about some of the things you can observe by using binoculars when you go steeplechasing. In this posting, we will expand on how you can watch, notate, and catalog the performance of horses to develop a better understanding of the sport.
Race-reading is a vital skill if you want to understand what may happen in future races. It is also a great handicapping tool, but its primary purpose is to increase your knowledge of how horses run and give you a way of making your own personal notes for future reference.
You do not actually have to be at the racecourse on the day to do this thanks to livestreaming of races by the NSA Network in 2019 and from viewing the replays on the NSA website (see more, below.)
- You will notice more about how the horses perform.
- You will have your own cataloged notes for future performance evaluation.
- You will be able to make an accurate prediction on the factors that will come into play during a race.
- If you are at a racecourse (such as the Virginia Gold Cup or Fair Hill this spring) where you can legally wager, it gives you a competitive edge.
- There is no better way of getting to know the horses as athletes.
You Must Prepare
Race-reading starts the night before the races. Go to www.equibase.com and purchase the past performances for the day’s racing. Look at every horse and every race, and mark up the program thus:
- If the horse is a front-runner, put a plus mark (+) next to their name. If the horse usually makes progress late put a minus mark (-) next to their name. Do not worry if they do not appear to have an established running style, you can leave it blank.
- If the horse is increasing in race distance (stretching out in the American racing lexicon) put an up arrow (↑) next to their name, and a down arrow (↓) if they are reducing race distance (shortening up) next to their name. Similarly, if they are running over the same trip, I use a horizontal arrow (→) to denote it.
- If the horse is moving up in class, put two dollar marks ($$) next to their name; if they are moving down, put a single dollar mark ($) next to their name.
- Next to their weight, put in their official NSA Rating, which is available on the NSA website for all winners of hurdle races. Maidens and timber horses do not have ratings.
Having done this, you should then at a glance be able to work out the likely shape of the race from a pace standpoint as well as an understanding of the distance challenges the horses face and whether they are running against horses of a similar caliber.
Let’s go racing!
Once you are at the racecourse, grab your official program and transfer all your notes from the night before into it. This program is now your notebook for the rest of the day. Here is what you should do next having transferred your notes:
- Take a yellow and orange highlighter and alternate highlighting the horses names in the program for easy reference. I also highlight any gray horses with a blue highlighter for ease of identification. You might also want to take a few marker pens or colored pencils and roughly sketch in the jockey silks so you can more easily identify the horses during the race.
- Record any changes as they are announced through the day.
- Draw out the course map with the fences numbered for each race in the program.
- Go to the paddock before each race and observe the horses. If a horse is relaxed, note it in the program “relaxed” or conversely “on edge” or “sweating.”
Watching the races
The first time you read a race you are not going to pick everything up, so I suggest the following:
- Watch the race through your binoculars. Note any on-course incidents, such as a lost rider (LR 5th or pullup (PU before 9th).
- Write in the finishing order of the horses in the program by putting 1,2,3 etc. in there.
- If possible, try to come up with a brief sentence about the first three home. But do not worry if you can only do it for one horse. The notation would be something like: “Always on the lead, mistake 7th, ran on strongly.”
By the end of the day you should have a good record of the day’s events.
- A couple days after the races, go to the NSA website and view the replays to finish off your notes for each runner.
- Enter the details into a spreadsheet. I use the following categories:
Date | Racecourse | Type of Race | Distance | NSA Rating | Finishing Position | My Comments
- Next time the horse races, I can use the official info from the Equibase program with all the stats and pull up my notes on the horses most recent runs (as the season goes on) by just searching the name of the horse in the spreadsheet.
Obviously, this takes some time and effort, but I believe it is one of the best ways to get to know the horses, and it gives you the opportunity to learn from their races, improve your skills at interpreting races, and then taking that acquired knowledge and applying it in the future.
Above all, I think it will give you a greater appreciation of the skills of both the horses and jockeys and add to your enjoyment of this wonderful sport.
If you have any questions about race-reading, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I shall always be happy to help in any way I can!