Question: “Do jockeys ride differently when their horses carry high weights in important stakes?”

Answer: “Yes,” says Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero Jr. “The rider is conscious of the weight and wants to avoid trouble if possible. When a horse is stopped by trouble under high weight, it is difficult to get him going again. Very often in this situation a rider is willing to lose ground in order to have a clear shot through the stretch. The idea is not to lose too much ground, but that is where judgment comes in.”

Q: “Why do they say that front-running horses are particularly affected by a tiring track when horses who come from behind are running on the same surface? Shouldn’t they tire, too?”

A: “Speed horses, racing in front, will struggle on a tiring track most of the time,” veteran trainer Jimmy Picou says. “The struggle with track conditions will take something out of them. The speed horse wants to put his foot down on a firm surface and skip right along. Many stretch-runners have a more deliberate action and don’t have to fight the track quite as hard as speed horses. Thus, though they are racing on the same surface, one is more affected than the other.”


Q: “Can you give me some idea of the earliest horse racing in the Midwest?”

A: Do you consider Wheeling, W.Va., to be in the Midwest? If so, Wheeling had formal racing as early as 1808. There is reported to have been informal racing in the Lexington, Ky., area about 1800, similar racing in Tennessee as early as 1815, and racing in the Chicago area about 1820. Racing has a long history in the Midwest.

Q: “Whenever I go to the track, I hear announcements about this jockey or that one being several pounds overweight. Is there a limit?”

A: Under Jockey Club rules of racing, no horse may carry more than five pounds of overweight. However, the rule varies in certain jurisdictions. Ohio, for example, for some time, has permitted seven pounds of overweight in overnight events and 10 pounds in stakes.

Q: “I’ve seen many horses who appear to be easy winners of a race. Yet when they run back against basically the same company, they don’t win. Why not?”

A: “Very few horses are easy winners,” trainer Nick Zito says. “A horse can win by a few lengths and may still have run hard at some point in the race so that he is not really the easy winner he seems. Some horses get brave on the lead. When they get away to a flying start and can breeze in front, they are easy winners. The next time they run there is some trouble away from the gate. They don’t get the lead and it affects their performance.”

Q: “After major races, I’ve frequently read stories that quote trainers as saying their horse could not handle the track. This happens even when a track is not muddy. Why do some horses handle the track and others do not?”

A: “Sometimes conformation will help one horse handle the track and will work to the disadvantage of another,” Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stephens says. “A smaller horse lands easier and may be able to handle, for example, a deep track, while a big horse, who lands heavier, may go into the ground so far that it is a struggle for him to maintain his action. Not every small horse and not every big horse, but the majority. Let’s discuss a horse’s feet. If a horse has tender feet, and many do, a firm track may sting him to the point where he can’t or won’t do his best. He isn’t handling the track. A soft track may suit him perfectly. Then there is a horse’s stride. A long-striding horse doesn’t usually care for a cuppy track. When he lands, the ground breaks out from under his feet and he doesn’t have a sense of security. A short-striding horse has the better of it under those conditions.”


Q: “How long will an allowance horse hold his best form, in contrast to a horse of stakes caliber?”

A: “Generally speaking, it is the individual horse, rather than the company he keeps, which is the determining factor in the matter of maintaining form,” trainer Jimmy Picou says. “A light horse with a delicate constitution who cannot stand up under the strain of heavy racing is not likely to hold his best form very long, no matter whether he is a claimer or runs in allowance or stakes company. I have also seen claiming horses with robust constitutions who held their form through most of a season.”

Q: “Why is it that some jockeys seem especially skillful at getting a horse out of a starting gate quickly?”

A: “Balance is a key factor,” veteran horseman Phil Johnson says. “When the starting gate opens, some riders fall back in the saddle, tugging on the reins. Good gate riders, with balance, are poised for the movement of the horse springing forward so they can absorb the motion. It’s somewhat like standing in a railroad car. Of course, some horses are faster out of the gate than others, and there is only so much a rider can do about that. But to the extent that the human element is involved, balance seems to be the governing factor.”


Q: “Harness horses warm up extensively before a race and seem to work more between races than thoroughbreds. Are they the sturdier breed?”

A: “In my opinion the thoroughbred is sounder and sturdier than the Standardbred,” says Dr. William O. Reed, a past president of the American Assn. of Equine Practitioners. “The reason harness horses score before a race is because many of them are not sound behind. They have to loosen up out of this unsoundness in order to race well. You see a number of trotters and pacers racing at ages 7, 8 and 9 and not as many thoroughbreds, but trotters and pacers are not generally raced as hard as thoroughbreds when they are 2, and this is why many of them last longer. It is also a physiological fact that thoroughbreds have denser bone than Standardbreds, and superior conformation. Thoroughbreds carry heavy weights and ship more than the average Standardbred. In my opinion, they are superior in every respect when it comes to wear and tear.”