How can I pick a winner from the paddock?
Eventually the likely performance of a racehorse on looks alone is, at best, an imprecise science. However, racehorses are, after all, athletes and, like their human counterparts, display outward signs of their health, fitness and well-being. Starting from the head, look for bright, alert, expressive eyes, full, fleshy jowls and wide nostrils.
Horses that are bred and trained to compete over shorter, sprint distances are likely to have more heavily muscled shoulders than endurance horses. A similar comment applies to the hindquarters, where bulky, powerful muscles are best for speed, while longer, leaner muscles are best for endurance. Either way, look for symmetrical, well-defined muscles and an indentation between the two large muscles of the haunches, known as the ‘poverty line’, as a sign that a horse has reached peak fitness.
The deeper the girth – that is, the distance from the top of the back to the belly – the better and look for wide, well-sprung ribs that give the lungs to expand. However, beware of horses that are carrying excess weight, or ‘condition’, which may be exhibited as belly fat.
A shiny coat is another visible sign of good health, but also consider the demeanour of the horse as it walks around the paddock or parade ring. Of course, you will only see the horse in its slower paces, but look for a strong, athletic, yet relaxed, walk to indicate that the horse is at ease in its surroundings and ready to run to the best of its ability.