Another afternoon at Monmouth Park and Rail Guy is back sounding off again as the horses are being led around the paddock. He’s yelling as loud as he can: “Da four horse’s ears are pinned back, you gotta toss dat one!”
All the while I am thinking to myself, maybe “da four horse” has his ears pinned back because you are starting to piss him off? Heck, my ears are getting pinned back after having to listen to this moron pontificate before, after and during each race!
A racehorse weighs over 1,000 pounds, but those two little ears can tell you a lot about how he will run today. As my late Uncle Dutch would say, “Horses are people too.” Like humans, horses express themselves through their physical presence.
In an earlier article, I discussed how to interpret the physicality of a horse by observing how they are sweating. This article will focus on what the ears can tell you about your horse in the paddock and post parade. While reading this, think about how your own facial muscles move your ears during the same emotions. You’ll be surprised how similar we are to them!
The other thing to remember is that there will be momentary changes in the horse’s appearance as the horse is introduced to new elements of the race track. The crowd, jockey, walk out to the track from the paddock, and a change in the weather conditions all can change how the horse is acting. It is important to consider this and see how whether the horse adjusts back to their previous state or not.
When a horse is racing, pinned back ears is a sign that the horse is focusing on the race, however in the paddock it is a different story. If you see this in the paddock, it is a bad sign. This horse is angry or mad. Pinned back ears are often coupled with another telltale characteristic. Usually the horse is also showing the white of its eyes, its teeth, is stomping the ground or even swishing its tail. If you see these additional signs, this horse is not happy!
This is a good sign. The horse is showing alertness. He is showing interest in what he is doing and is aware of his surroundings. Typically this will be coupled with a horse that is holding its head high and showing a controlled amount of energy in the paddock.
When you see this you need to look at other visual cues the horse is showing. Alone, it suggests that the horse is attentive. If coupled with flaring of the nostrils or widened eyes, the horse could be scared or focused on something. Having ears pricked slightly forward is positive, but you will need to watch the horse’s gait, demeanor, tail and other facial cues to see if this is a positive or negative sign.
This horse is relaxed. Actually, he is too relaxed. Coupled with half-closed eyes, a low-hanging head and/or a lethargic gait in the paddock, this is a sign of fatigue.
Normally this signals that the horse is nervous, afraid or panicked. It also can indicate that a horse is hurting, so you may want to look at other physical aspects of the horse. Conversely, if the twitching is slow, it means the horse is relaxed or at ease.
Like any other physical characteristic of a horse, you need to assess the entire horse, not one body part. Every horse is a little different. Some will thrive on being a little nervous, while others will falter. Knowing your meet and keeping paddock notes on each horse is an invaluable resource to have and will give you an edge over the other horseplayers.
Oh yeah, and if Rail Guy had been paying attention, “da four horse” only had his ears pinned back for a few seconds when entering the paddock and returned back to his normal, attentive state. Maybe Rail Guy’s tone was making him mad?
Being able to read a horse physically is an amazing tool to have in addition to your own sound handicapping. Who knows, maybe it will be the final push that will finally allow you to make a living playing the races!
Ray Wallin is a licensed civil engineer and part-time handicapper who has had a presence on the Web since 2000 for various sports and horse racing websites and through his personal blog. Introduced to the sport over the course of a misspent teenage summer at Monmouth Park by his Uncle Dutch, a professional gambler, he quickly fell in love with racing and has been handicapping for over 25 years.
Ray’s background in engineering, along with his meticulous nature and fascination with numbers, parlay into his ability to analyze data; keep records; notice emerging trends; and find new handicapping angles and figures. While specializing in thoroughbred racing, Ray also handicaps harness racing, Quarter Horse racing, baseball, football, hockey, and has been rumored to have calculated the speed and pace ratings on two squirrels running through his backyard.
Ray likes focusing on pace and angle plays while finding the middle ground between the art and science of handicapping. When he is not crunching numbers, Ray enjoys spending time with his family, cheering on his alma mater (Rutgers University), fishing, and playing golf.
Ray’s blog, which focuses on his quest to make it to the NHC Finals while trying to improve his handicapping abilities can be found at www.jerseycapper.blogspot.com Ray can also be found on Twitter (@rayw76) and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.