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Facing the Breeze

March 29, 2012

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Generally speaking owners, trainers and handicappers/punters don't want to hear a race caller say a horse is "three wide and facing the breeze..." This indicates that the horse is outside without cover and covering more ground and invariably using more energy to do so. While some horses (and jockey and trainers for that matter) do like to be a little wide and out of trouble, and relax into a rhythmical stride in doing so, this position (or any wider) generally exposes the (relatively) unfit horse quickly when the pressure is turned on. Researchers at the Structure and Motion Laboratory at Britain’s Royal Veterinary College have released results of a study showing horses and riders that use aerodynamic drafting to their advantage in races greatly influence the outcome. Of course Jockeys have long known about drafting, also called “covering up,” in horseracing, but this is the first time its importance has been pinpointed and data actually measured. Researchers had access to more than 4,500 races at 10 British racecourses from 2005 to 2007, using data garnered by British company TurfTrax Racing, which places a radio-frequency chip in the horse’s saddle, enabling the horse’s position to be triangulated at any point in a race. By tucking in cleverly behind the leaders, the horse uses “aerodynamic drafting” to its advantage, the study concluded.

 

One of the more interesting conclusions found was that contrary to what is generally believed, the 'final sprint' in the last furlong or so of the race in fact sees a slowdown rather than an acceleration in the horses. Essentially, it is the horses that slow the least over the final furlongs that win the race. This is in keeping with the central governor model of exercise physiology which we have discussed before. Fatigue is not absolute. It is not like a horse reaches its 'maximum' and then stops in its tracks, rather it slows itself to a pace where it can regain homeostasis and continue to race to the finish line. The winning horses are therefore those that slow down the least in this period. The data and study was also conducted on racing in Britain and given that TRAKUS has been in existence in North America for some time now, it would be interesting to see if similar conclusions could be made on North America data. The racing pattern in North America is quite different with horses not necessarily wanting to be as 'covered up' as they are in Europe (quite possibly because of the dirt kickback) and the pattern of fast first quarters and much slower final quarters of the race in stark contrast to European racing.

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