Horseracing: Reading Workouts
One can definitely draw a direct parallel between a thoroughbred racehorse and a professional athlete. This is because neither entity simply walks out onto their respective playing field and performs at the highest level without first putting in an ample amount of preparation. Just as every NFL quarterback who hopes to reach the Super Bowl must endure a strict fitness regiment, the rigors of training camp and preseason scrimmages, equines who earn their keep by racing must also hone their God-given ability if they wish to visit the winner’s circle.
When a handicapper tries to access the aptitude of a particular horse, it is certainly logical to begin with an examination of the runner’s previous races. However, the difference between ultimately cashing and shredding a mutual ticket also hinges on ascertaining what an equine has been up to between their starts on the oval. To do this, a horseplayer must become versed in interpreting posted workouts that accompany the past performance lines.
Handicapping publications usually print a thoroughbred’s workouts in bold type underneath their individual running lines. Workouts are performed at a variety of distances, but most fall between four and seven furlongs (a furlong is an eighth of a mile). A run-of-the-mill workout might read: “Jan 21 Pha 5f fst 1:02.8 B 4/12.” In layman’s terms, this means that on Jan. 21 at Philadelphia Park, said horse had a five-furlong workout on a fast track. The exercise was completed in 62.8 seconds while breezing and was the fourth fastest of the day at the five-furlong distance.
You have probably figured out by now that in this 20-character abbreviation, a plethora of information exists. This is certainly true, but now a set of parameters must be established to give the workout a grade. The work tab will always commence with the date and track where the drill took place, then it usually reports a distance and surface condition. Surface abbreviations are many, but the most common aside from fast are: “gd” (good), “my” (muddy) and “sly” (sloppy).
Now we get to the meat and potatoes of the workout line. The abilities of racehorses are infinite, but the standard measuring stick for a quality runner in a normal workout is 12 seconds per furlong. This would apply to say a beast competing in the mid-level allowance ranks, but lower-level horses running at the claiming level will usually be a tick or two slower. Conversely, equines that are stakes quality should post fractions that come in a little faster than the 12-second-per-furlong barometer.
When a thoroughbred works out under no urging from their rider, the clocker reporting the exercise will place the letter “B” after the time to denote breezing. If the rider asks for run at anytime during the work by shaking the reigns or using a whip, the clocker will place the letter “H” after the time, which signifies handily. In most instances, one would prefer to see a B next to a solid workout time, because this means that the horse gave maximum effort with no encouragement. This in turn leads us to believe that this entrant is fit and ready to roll.
The time of a work is definitely important but may be misleading unless it is compared to the efforts that other runners put in at the distance on the same day. A four-furlong workout from an allowance horse that reads “Mar 24 Tam 4 fur sly :49.8 B 2/21” might seem subpar from a fractional standpoint, but notice that it was the second fastest drill at the distance on the day. We can see from the “sly” abbreviation that the horse skipped across a strip laden with moisture, so the work must be upgraded due to the torrid conditions it was contested in.
Finally, always be on the lookout for the all important bullet work. A bullet is put in front of a work that was the fastest at the distance on a particular day and would read something like: “*Oct 10th Bel 6f fst 1:09 B 1/59.” Not only did this animal throw in a sensational time under no urging, they also bested every other horse that exercised at the six-furlong distance that morning.
Though interpreting workouts can be highly subjective, it will often be all you will have to go off of when figuring a race with many first-time starters or horses that are coming off lengthy layoffs. The ability to decode these drills takes time, but it will ultimately bring you one step closer to the enviable rank of equine soothsayer!
For more horseracing tips, visit: www.southerngaming.com/horseracing
Author Bio: Eric Vaughn Floyd is a turf writer for various gaming publications and is a consultant to several nationwide media outlets in regards to the Triple Crown. Excerpts of his gambling memoir “The Backstretch (My First Decade Playing the Game)” can be viewed at LULU.com.