Horses for Courses?
‘Horses for courses’ – for many of us it’s just a phrase translating to ‘different people are suited to different things.’ But are different horses actually better suited to different racetracks?
Ask anyone who’s been in the industry long enough and they’ll assure you ‘horses for courses’ is definitely something to take note of. Consider champion Australian horse Kingston Town - he won 21 consecutive races in Sydney, a right-handed track, before heading to Melbourne, where he only won two of ten starts at Caulfield and Flemington, both left-handed tracks but then went on to win three consecutive Cox Plates at Moonee Valley. His performances showed that despite a horse’s ability, if a course does not suit a horse’s racing style, winning can be near impossible.
‘Horses for courses’ is most true when tracks have unique features; sandy surfaces, tight turns, left-handed, right-handed, undulations – they can all affect a horse’s performance, for better or for worse.
A track with undulations will better suit a genuine staying horse (one who can sustain an even speed for longer distances), than a ‘brilliant’ type with an explosive turn of foot. On the other hand, flat terrain will suit brilliant types, allowing them to conserve their energy for a blinding finish.
Straight tracks require horses to perform a long, sustained run, use the same muscle fibres throughout and often race with no cover, making this a tough ask for many. A 1200m race down Flemington’s straight is usually better suited to a horse who can win over 1400m. Other horses are stronger on their left-hand side, making them better suited to left-handed tracks. Others might hang when running left-handed, making them better suited to right-handed tracks - you get the picture!
The home track advantage is another ‘horses for courses’ concept that gets a lot of merit. Racing on their home track means a horse does not have to travel, that they are usually more relaxed and that they know their way around the track (and where the winning post is!) - all factors that should improve a horse’s performance.
In New Zealand, ‘horses for courses’ appears to be particularly true at Ruakaka, Rotorua, Whanganui and Foxton. These tracks are all sand based and many horses don’t handle the footing. If a horse has won previously on any of these tracks, it’s worth taking note of them next time they line up there. Additionally, some horses love racing at Ellerslie, while others fail to put their best foot forward on this premier track.
‘Horses for courses’, more than an old English saying and something to take note of next time you’re on course!