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Racehorse Fitness Levels

Obviously one of the keys to backing a winner is betting on a horse that you believe to be fit. It is one of the major considerations in any method of assessing what does and what doesn't constitute a "reasonable bet" - that is, all things being equal, you have a reasonable chance of success.

Note we say reasonable and never certain bet or great bet because certain and great should not exist in the assessment vocabulary of anyone trying to win a few dollars. (Read our series on X Factors elsewhere on this site)

In a study of nearly 24000 races in Australia it was shown that 77.1% of all races were won by horses that had started in the last 21 days. On the outer margin, 82.9% of races were won by horses that started in the last 28 days. Doesn't leave a majority of races for the others, does it? Yes, we all know about the great first up specialists, the ones that "can't be beaten first up" etc etc, ad infinitum, but the reality is that in the long term there is very little future in backing horses that haven't started i at least the last calendar month.

It is one of the first "elimination" rules that we look at in any selection method. I'm blowed of I can see the point of betting in to a 18% chance when I can bet in to an 82% chance - can you? I am very happy lo leave out any horse that doesn't meet these criteria. Is there in fact then a method of laying any horse that hasn't started in the last calendar month, who does not have a good "first up record" with the current trainer and who is less than $4 on Betfair? Could be an avenue for your further investigation.....

One of my friends who has been a life long jockey and trainer assures me a horse starts to lose fitness after 18 - 22 days of intensive training. Why should I doubt that? He knows way more about it than me and it bears out the previously quoted figures. He has won with his horses against much better performed animals, and ones with far more class, simply because his were fit and the much better ones were coming back from a spell and unfit.


Think about it - do you really thing Keiron Perkins today would beat Geoff Heugel, just back from the Commonwealth Games success? And most people would reckon Keiron, if fit, would swim the trunks off Geoff (with all due sincere respect due to Geoff!)

The other point to consider is what is called "the bounce effect". This is where a horse does not perform as well as it otherwise might because it has not fully recovered from the exertions of its previous race.......particularly if it has been a "Herculean" effort at its previous run.

Most horses will need at least a week to get over a race and if it has been a particularly strenuous event because of the competition, distance or going it could take longer.

In my trainer friend's opinion fitness should count for at least 35% of your weighted factors in trying to pick a winner.

Some points to consider if you are at the track and can go to the mounting enclosure and physically have a look at them. (or you may get enough of an idea off, say, TVN. where they have more time before each race than the Sky "sausage machine gun" approach.

1. Fit horses are less likely to sweat than unfit horses.

2. A fit and healthy animal will generally have a shiny coat.

3. A fit horse will generally have good muscle definition.

4. A horse that walks around the mounting enclosure with its head hung down, looking listless, is probably not fit.

Note that we use words like "probably" and "generally" because this is not an exact science and some can be deceptive.

Fitness normally improves with physical exercise and an incremental, repetitive training. However, many horses are raced too early in their race preparation because they look ‘fit’ and win a trial, but in many cases, these horses are probably 70% muscle fit relative to oxygen uptake and it can take 2-3 races before they achieve a fitness level which increases their chances of winning on a repeated basis.

Many gallopers are probably not as fit as they could be after 10-12 weeks of training.

At the end of the day, it is financial suicide to bet on horses that are NO chance of being fit. The long term odds appear to heavily favour a fit horse, and the ONLY way most punters can evaluate that (without being closely tied up with a stable) is to use the old 28 day rule.

Long term it is a worthwhile approach.