“He’s a mudder. His father was a mudder.
His mother was a mudder.”
(Kramer from Seinfeld)
Just as one of the certainties of life is taxes, another certainly is that we will strike plenty of wet tracks during the winter months. Whilst some punters steer clear of betting in the wet - others believe that such conditions provide a good betting environment simply because they can separate the 'wheat from the chaff' - those that can and those that can't handle the conditions.
Below are some things to look for when assessing a horse’s wet track credentials -
1. Form in the Wet
A horse’s form is the most reliable indicator as to how it will perform in wet track conditions. However, having said that, form can also be misleading. For example horses can win their maiden in the wet but not really handle the going – their superior ability can be the factor that gets them home. Just to further complicate things, a horse with good wet track form early in its career, and therefore possessing seemingly ‘good wet track credentials’ on paper, may fail in the wet when it gets older. Older horses can get a bit wily and refuse to put in when the conditions get too tough and uncomfortable. When assessing a horse’s wet track ability, it pays to place greater value on recent form.
2. Breed’s Form In The Wet
Some breeds possess physical conformations that predispose them to performing well in the wet. (See Horse Characteristics below). A website that tells you which breeds perform well in the wet and the ones that don’t is www.racenet.com.au (Go to the home page click on ‘Statistics’ and then Wet Track Sires). Scroll down the page to ‘Best Wet Track Sires’ and ‘Worst Wet Track Sires’ - and you’ll see that some breeds are such wet track duffers that they have never had a runner win a race on a wet track. This is powerful information for a punter to be armed with during the rainy season.
3. Sire and Dam’s Race Records in the Wet
If dad and mum were good in the wet, there is a strong likelihood the progeny will be as well. The former Sydney sprinter Snowland’s progeny have one of the highest win rates in the wet. It’s no surprise that Snowland was also a nob in the wet in his hey day. Arguably the greatest player ever to take the field in Australian Rules football was Geelong star Gary Abllett. It’s no fluke that his son Gary junior is now hailed as the best player in the AFL. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
4. Horse Characteristics
(a) Physical Conformation
Different muscles come into play depending on the type of going a horse is racing on. For example, on a firm, good rated track, a horse’s feet do not sink into the surface, and most of it’s energy is directed at going forwards. Therefore the muscles that help propel him forward are the ones he calls upon most. On the other hand on a very rain effected track, a horse’s feet dig into the surface, and the muscles which help him haul them up and out are brought into play. As horses by the same sire often have similar physiques and muscle conformations it isn’t surprising that certain breeds are better equipped to handle rain effected going than others.
(b) Hoof Dimensions
Imagine if you will, a woman attempting to run across a muddy paddock in stilettos. The small, petite shoes with their pointed heels would penetrate deep into the mire and impede her progress. Another woman wearing wider, flat soled shoes, could sprint across the same muddy paddock with relative ease. Similarly, horses with big, wide hooves tend to handle wet tracks better than those with small feet. The greater amount of ‘splay’ in their hooves minimizes the degree to which they dig into the surface. The more a horse’s hooves dig into the ground, the more energy it will need to expend in pulling them out again – and the less energy it will have left to put towards it’s forward motion.
(c) Thoroughbred Size
Small horses tend to handle rain effected going better than do big, bulky types. The smaller a horse is, the lower it’s centre of gravity, and therefore the less likely it is to become unbalanced in running. Rain effected ground, especially uneven ground, is just the sort of going to upset a big, heavy horse’s balance. A good example was the Bart Cummings trained mare Empire Rose. In the Spring of 1988 she finished last on a heavy track in a 12 horse field at Te Rapa in New Zealand. A huge mare, she simply became unbalanced and floundered in the heavy going. Several weeks later she won both the Mackinnon Stakes and Melbourne Cup on firm tracks. That’s the difference moisture on the track can make.
(d) Degree Of Speed
Horses whose greatest attribute is their speed, are often hindered by rain effected going, as they are slowed down by the wet ground. If a horse goes like a greyhound on good track surfaces, you can bet it will also ‘paddle’ like one when its wet.
(e) Racing Style
A horse’s racing style can impact on its ability to win in the wet, especially in heavy conditions. As mentioned, such conditions can take the edge off the speed of front runners diminishing their winning prospects. Back markers can also be handicapped by heavy going. Such conditions slow down their characteristic fast finish, as they tend to ‘plough’ home rather than power home. Back markers can also experience the hardship of having rain soaked clods of earth kicked up into their faces by runners in front of them. Many a horse has had it’s winning hopes dashed by getting a mud pie in the eye or worse still a clod in the gob causing them to choke down. By default, on heavy rated tracks, it can pay to focus on horses which race just behind the pace.
(f) Soft Feet and Jarring Joints
On rock hard racing surfaces horses with soft or ‘shelly’ feet can put in a below par run as they ‘feel’ the ground. Some horses with suspect joints can also ‘jar up’ on such ground. These horses can bounce back at good odds at their next starts in wet conditions or on tracks which have some ‘give’ in them so are worth keeping an eye on.
(g) Geographical Origin
Horses get used to racing in certain kinds of conditions in their own region and can be out of their comfort zone when taken to another area to race in unfamiliar conditions. For example, UK and Irish raiders which come here for the Melbourne Cup each year are used to soft track surfaces and can jar up if they strike a very firm track surface on Cup day. The opposite tends to be true for horses from Western Australia. Perth champion Placid Ark, used to racing on very firm track surfaces back home, performed at his top on firm tracks when he ventured east to compete in races like the Lightning Stakes and Newmarket Handicap. On the flip side, mud larks to come from the west are as rare as chook teeth.
When its wet and miserable, and a track surface has turned to mud, some horses will put in whilst others will pack it in. It’s a case of ‘when the going gets tough, the tough horsesget going’. Look for horses which show great stamina and fight to slog through heavy conditions and win as they often repeat the feat. On the other hand, there are horses which would much rather be back in their box than out on the racetrack in such conditions. Just as it is human nature to dislike tough conditions, it is also 'horse nature'. As that doyen of the racetrack Roy Higgins once said, ‘Horses are only human’.