December 2018

Can We Really Trust The Clerk Of The Course?

The going or, in other words, how hard or soft the racing surface is on any given day, is an important factor in determining the outcome of a horse race. Indeed, it may also dictate which horses participate in the first place, because trainers are often loath to run their charges on going which they know is unsuitable. If the horse in question does run, you’ll often see a statement from the trainer that the horse was unsuited by the prevailing going on the ‘Why They Ran Badly’ page of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) website.


It has been suggested that the best horses can act on any of the official going designations (hard, firm, good to firm, good, good to soft, soft or heavy) but, while this may be true for the superstars, every horse tends to prefer specific types of going. It’s worth noting that even the all-conquering Frankel, officially the highest rated horse in Flat racing history, never raced on going softer than ‘soft’ or firmer than good to firm.


On turf, moisture softens the racing surface, allowing horses’ hooves to penetrate deeper below the surface. Some horses relish ‘cut in the ground’, while others prefer firmer underfoot conditions. Serious punters will therefore want to know (i) the state of the going as accurately as possible and (ii) which horses are capable of reproducing their best form on the prevailing going.


The state of the going at any racecourse can usually be determined by reference to the official going description published by the Clerk of the Course on the day on which racing takes place. In addition, the Rules of Racing stipulate that the official going description must be accompanied by an objective, numerical reading taken with a device known as a GoingStick. The GoingStick measures the penetration and shear of the racing surface at a given point and converts these variables into a final, mechanically consistent reading.


The GoingStick has eliminated the subjectivity associated with traditional going descriptions but, of course, it’s possible for the going to change after the initial GoingStick reading is published. Serious punters know to keep an eye on winning times during the day as an indication of possible going changes.


The trick, of course, is for punters to know which horses are capable of reproducing their best form on the prevailing going and which are not. For ‘exposed’ horses, going preference(s) can usually be determined by reference to the form book but, for ‘unexposed’ horses, which may have very little, or no, form in the book, punters need to rely on other factors.


Breeding, configuration and the way in which a horse moves its legs, known as its ‘action’, may determine which type(s) of going it prefers, but there are no hard and fast rules. It’s true that the progeny of some sires perform better on one type of racing surface or another, but don’t be mislead by commentators peddling outdated, often inaccurate, opinions. There are plenty of websites offering up-to-date sire statistics for all racing surfaces, including synthetic surfaces, free-of-charge, so rely on these if need be.


It stands to reason that, for horses of approximately the same size and weight, one with larger hooves, in terms of surface area, applies less pressure per hoof than one with smaller hooves and is therefore less likely to become ‘bogged down’ by soft or heavy going. It has been suggested that prospective ‘mudlarks’, or otherwise, can be identified by inspecting the size of their hooves in the paddock but, as this luxury is only available to on-course punters, off-course punters must rely on seeing a horse in motion.


Some horses have a pronounced knee action and lift their feet relatively high off the ground with each stride. As a result of this ‘rounded’ action, their feet strike the racing surface much harder with each stride than their counterparts who have a less pronounced, ‘daisy cutter’ action and keep their feet relatively low to the ground. It makes sense that the former type of horse is more at home with cut in the ground, on which it can fully let itself down without fear of injury, while the latter type is more at home under firmer conditions.


Of course, there will no doubt be an exception to prove every ‘rule’, but we hope we’ve provided a little insight into the going and why it’s important to everyone involved in racing. We hope you enjoyed ‘Can We Really Trust The Clerk Of The Course?’ and we will be back soon with another advanced betting guide. In the meantime, we would love to hear your thoughts on ‘Can We Really Trust The Clerk Of The Course?’ in the comments section below. If you missed our previous post in this series, ‘The Zen of Form Study’, you can read it here.