• Manifold wins The Fillies Championship Stakes (Gr.1)
  • Castlebridge wins The Colts Championship Stakes (Gr.1)
  • Manifold wins The Kingfisher Ultra Derby Bangalore (Gr.1)
A MATTER OF PREFERENCE
By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
Wednesday 21 Aug 2013
Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)

We all have our personal preferences. A man who takes his coffee black, does not like it with sugar and cream. A die hard beer drinker may well turn up his nose at the finest Bordeaux. Nadal is a great tennis player on any surface but he is the undisputed King of Clay. James Anderson makes the ball talk at Trent Bridge but there are some other places where he is reduced to muttering to himself as he walks back to the top of his mark. If human beings are permitted such foibles, why do human beings expect horses to perform at the same level on all tracks, in all kinds of goings and with any jockey aboard? 

The fact is that horses, too, have their preferences. Horses for courses is a phrase that has transcended racing and gone into common usage. The preference of a horse for a particular kind of going is something that is, unfortunately, not paid sufficient heed to in India. Probably, because for most of the year we have just three kinds of going - good, hard and concrete. It is only during the monsoons that, sometimes, we encounter a ground with a cut, soft or heavy going. That doesn't happen too often so we are content to ignore it. 

Not so in England, for instance. There a trainer has the option of entering a horse with a going preference. If the going changes, he is at liberty to withdraw his intended runner. Sometimes, a race course announces that it will be watering the course when a star horse who hates firm going is scheduled to run. Obviously, a lot of emphasis is placed on a horse's preference for a particular type of going. 

A horse's preference for a particular type of going has much to do with his running action. A horse with a lovely daisy-cutting gait is unlikely to be suited by a going that is soft or worse. The action of a horse is a natural consequence of his conformation and conformation is very often inherited. This is where the pedigree of a horse comes in and we hear "Fairy Kings like it soft", "Acclamations like to hear their hooves rattle" and so on. Such utterances are based initially on astute observation and when statistical evidence confirms it, it becomes a half truth.  Take any race card in England or go to the Racing Post website, see a horse's previous racing record and you will invariably find that the going is mentioned for each and every one of his starts. You won't find that in Indian race cards or on Indian websites and hence there is no data on which to base the assertions. 

As a case study, go to the Racing Post website and look at the record of Burden of Proof. He won a dozen times from 32 starts over six years of racing. For some reason, the going has not been indicated for his two wins in May 1997 though, from the timing clocked, it would appear that there was give in the ground. However, let's ignore those two wins. Of his remaining 10 wins, only one was on good going and the rest ranged from good/yielding to soft/heavy. His sire Fairy King was well known for producing progeny which excelled in soft going and this, coupled with the statistical evidence, would lead one to an educated guess at Burden of Proof's preference. 

Does Burden of Proof's progeny also have the same preference? In absence of statistical information, it is difficult to say but the perception is that at least some of it does appreciate it a bit soft. Remember that the progeny of a stallion inherits as much from the dam. If the dam of a Burden of Proof foal has a preference for good going and she is prepotent for that trait, then that foal may show no liking for soft going. Bear in mind also that the going preference is not the ultimate key to spotting the winner. The going may be suitable but handicap, distance, fitness, the way it is ridden and luck all play an equally important part. In India, when soft or heavy going is anticipated, a rule of thumb would be to check how your fancy has fared in similar going. Not an easy task given that records do not indicate the state of going. 

Multidimensional won five races from 14 starts in his career and three of them were on good/firm going. However, he won his Gr.2 race in soft and the Gr.3 in heavy going. Amelia won when the penetrometer reading was 3.6 while Alaindair's two Classic wins were gained when the stick returned 4.2 and 5.6. There were other Multidimensional winners during that period when there was rain about in Bangalore. So the early indications are that Multidimensionals are not uncomfortable when the track is rain affected but, of course, more evidence needs to be gathered. 

The shades of going is one thing while racing on grass, dirt or artificial surfaces is another. American racing is more geared to dirt and artificial surfaces and though artificial surfaces are not so uncommon in England these days, racing on grass is still predominant. Bloodhorse publishes stallion statistics which can be perused free on line and they make a very interesting reading. There is a table where the stallions are ranked by their American Earnings and another by their Turf Earnings. The Champion Sires in the two tables for the last ten years were:- 

Year        American Earnings                     Turf Earnings 

2004        Elusive Quality (95)                     El Prado (3)

2005        Saint Ballado (48)                        Dynaformer (5)

2006        A P Indy (28)                              Giant's Causeway (7)

2007        Smart Strike (1)                          Smart Strike (1)

2008        Smart Strike (8)                          Chester House(13)

2009        Smart Strike (10)                         Dynaformer (13)

2010        Malibu Moon (38)                         Dynaformer (10)

2011        Distorted Humour (15)                  Smart Strike (3)

2012        Empire Maker (28)                       Dynaformer (33)

2013        Malibu Moon (48)                         Kitten's Joy (3)

 The figures in the brackets indicate a stallion's position in the other table. For example, Elusive Quality was the Champion Sire by American Earnings in 2004 and 95th in the Turf table while El Pado was the Champion Turf Sire and third in American Earnings table. Smart Strike is the only stallion to have topped both the tables in the same year and it is obvious that only a few stallions -- Smart Strike, Dynaformer, El Prado and his son Kitten's Joy and Giant's Causeway -- have held a high rank in both the tables. That is to say that their progeny did well over dirt and artificial surfaces as well as turf. Most other stallions, however, had a preference for one over the other. 

In England, Weatherbys publish the stallion statistics. Compare the tables of Flat racing with National Hunt (hurdles and steeplechases) racing and you will come to a similar conclusion. Hurdles and steeplechases are run at a comparatively slower cruising pace so why should not the leading flat stallions do well as jump sires ? Obviously, another set of skills is also involved and not every stallion has it. As in the case of dirt and turf stallions, there are some dual purpose flat and jump stallions.     

PAST THE POST 

The well known Australian trainer Lee Freedman was once leaving the paddock when a complete stranger approached him and asked,"Mr. Freedman, does your horse like heavy going ?". "Yes," replied the trainer. In the race, Freedman's horse was left hopelessly at the barrier and trailed in way behind the field. As he was again leaving the paddock after the unsaddling, the same man walked up to him and said,"Mr. Freedman, I thought you said your horse liked heavy going." "Indeed, he does", said Freedman, "he simply loves it. Didn't you see how long he spent on the track?"