I’ve often heard going described as the most important factor outside the condition of the horse. So is this true? How important is it really?
Firstly, What is going? The going, quite simply, is the track condition on the day of racing–that is, the state of the ground which the horses will be running on. It ranges on a scale from firm (very dry) to heavy (very wet):
Good to Firm (GF)
Good to Soft (GS)
So do all horses perform the same on different grounds? The answer is no. There are horses who are manifestly better on one type of going than another and others whose speed or stamina comes into play much more or much less when the surface on which they are running changes.
Quite simply, some horses can only run on certain types of surfaces and much of this is due to the action of the individual horse. For example, if a horse has an exaggerated knee action (grabbing at the ground), it will rarely run its best races on a better surface. Conversely, a horse which doesn’t pick its knees up much and runs with a faster action is more likely to excel on a faster surface.
When the turf becomes hard, it means that there is less ‘give’ under the horse’s foot than usual. As the horse runs through these conditions, every step is increasingly harder underfoot. In such circumstances the hardened turf replicates the conditions of a dirt course, and the horses accustomed to regular turf often struggle as a consequence.
When the turf course is soft or yielding, it means that the horses will sink deeper into the track than usual. Therefore the horse requires much more energy to run fast—and endurance becomes a bigger factor than speed of the horse. Essentially these conditions make it hard for “explosive” speed horses to fully meet their full potential.
So, it is clearly important! But how do we know a horse’s preference? Well, breeding, like with distance, has an influence on a horse’s going preference. Preference is largely down to physical attributes, so the parents’ preferences are likely to be similar. But also the horse’s action and the way it moves its legs is worth noting if you are unsure.
Stats are further clues, but due to the very small data sets of the individual horse then it can be misleading. A perhaps better clue is listening to the thoughts of the trainers and owners. While some often use the ground as an excuse after the race, they do provide useful clues when used with a little skepticism.
So in conclusion, while the horse’s ability is by far and away the biggest determinant for the races outcome, going should never be overlooked!