So far, I have talked about some telling features of a horse — the eyes, the ears and sweating. The other end of the horse can also clue you in to its mood. Often you will not get a good look at the horse’s eyes, but you are generally guaranteed to get a view of the horse from the side or walking away from you in both the paddock and post parade.
So like the Zac Brown Band sings (with the help of Alan Jackson), “Don’t be falling in love as she’s walking away.”
Tail Swishing Violently
I’m not talking about the slow tail swish a horse uses for bug control. We are talking about a tail that is forcibly moving side to side. Think of it like how we blink. We blink once in a while during most circumstances, but, when we are upset or angry, we often blink at a higher rate. The same holds true for a horse. A violent-looking tail swish is the sign of an irritated or frustrated horse. This is often coupled with the head hung low and maybe even bobbing. The ears may also be flopped over.
North-South Tail Swishing
As opposed to the violent tail swish, this is a swish that is in line with the horse, not side to side. You may notice that the horse is urging the groom, rider or even the lead pony. It may also appear that he is lurching a bit like he wants to run. This is a good sign. This horse feels good and wants to race.
This is a tail that is flat against the horse’s hindquarters with no visible gap between the tail and the rump. This indicates that the horse is either lacking energy or has no interest in running today.
Forget being flat against the hindquarters, in this instance the tail is tucked between the hindquarters and legs. This is a signal that the horse is frightened and may have a wild look in his eyes.
The tail stands about two or three inches off of the rump. This is a good sign, indicating that the horse is excited and has focused its attention. When the tail is more arched, this is a very good sign, often indicating that the horse is at a peak level. The only caveat here is that you should not confuse a positive raised tail for when the horse is having a bowel movement.
This brings me to a question that probably many people have at this point. The inner third grader in you is dying to know and giggling about this right now, I’m sure.
What does it mean if the horse drops a deuce right before post time?
While I don’t have statistics to support any position on this matter, I will offer you the advice of my longtime track buddy, the late Albie the Hat. The first time I saw Albie squinting towards the Monmouth Park main track, I asked what he was looking so intently at. Albie the Hat exclaimed, “The tail, number four’s tail, he is taking a big dump as they are approaching the gate. Pass on him Ray, pass!”
I sat there wondering why I would pass on my critical pace horse, so I had to ask why. Albie the Hat turned to me, adjusted his worn brown fedora, looked me in the eyes and said, “You never play a horse that takes a dump within five minutes of post time.”
At this point, I was perplexed and had to ask why. With a chuckle and wry smile, Albie the Hat looked at me like I was stupid and offered some reasoning: “Have you ever tried to run really fast right after you took a big dump? Can’t do it, can you?”
Even though he has long since passed, my friends and I still laugh when a horse unloads within five minutes to post. We’ll all look at each other and say, “Albie!”
So, like the other characteristics I have discussed, you need to look at all them and see what they collectively tell you. Smart handicappers can pick up on these signals and use them to their benefit as they make their living playing the races. One feature does not normally give away what the horse is feeling at that moment. However, if you see the horse “lightening his load” as the race draws closer, ask yourself: “What would Albie do?”
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.