Paddock Behaviour (1)

How a racehorse behaves as the groom leads it to the pre-race paddock, or in the paddock itself, can give a strong clue as to how it may perform in the race. The betting market often overlooks this important aspect; for example, a horse may be offered at a shorter price than it should be because its previous form suggests a good run but its demeanour in the paddock is telling a different story. Being able to judge a horse’s state of mind from its body language gives the paddock observer an edge not available to the majority of punters.

The way that a racehorse carries its head as it walks around the paddock will often indicate its mental state and, therefore, its readiness to race. Ideally the horse should be looking straight ahead, ears pricked, and not carrying its head too high or too low.

This horse is alert and interested, and not worrying at all about the race to come.

Head at optimum position; ears pricked.

By contrast, it’s not a good sign if a horse is holding its head high. The horse isn’t relaxed, and may well be nervous about the race to come. This behaviour may be accompanied by dilated nostrils and ears flicking back and forth. Tension in the head and neck will be replicated further down the horse’s spine. The back will be hollowed, the back muscles tight, and the tail may be elevated or swishing. Another negative sign is repeated tossing of the head.

Negative head behaviour

Of course, a horse exhibiting nervous behaviour might relax after it leaves the paddock to canter down to the start, once it is away from the noise of the crowd. Anyone contemplating backing a horse displaying this kind of behaviour should watch how it moves as it goes to post.

A horse that walks around the paddock like an old sheep, head down and feet plodding, probably isn’t worried about the race, but doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence. After his handicap chaser Un Noble won at Newcastle, trainer Nicky Richards contrasted this improved performance with a lacklustre effort on its previous appearance, when the horse had walked around the paddock with its head down, clearly not on good terms with itself.

Head down

However, a horse that is lethargic might liven up after it leaves the paddock, so the advice is, again, to watch it going to the start.

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