Winter, to those involved in our sport, can bring about different feelings. Some view it with delight – the start of the season, good horses, proper racing. Others dread it – dark mornings, hard work, harsh weather.
The recent wet, then the cold snap, has proven a challenge for many, not least trainers trying to get and keep their horses fit, and racecourses trying to ensure their ground is raceable and safe. This is not new, but techniques on how to achieve the desired end result have evolved. “All-weather’’ gallops (not-so all-weather in some cases!) at home, and frost covers on the racetrack are two such modern-day solutions.
When it comes to the racing, the impact of the weather and resulting ground conditions are key. The transition period from wet to cold, with frosty nights and decreasing ground temperatures, has meant that, in a relatively short period, we have gone from racing on heavy, sloppy ground, to soft, sticky going.
From a jockey’s perspective this can trigger a number of different thoughts: should I change my tactics – ride handier or be more patient? Should I look for fresh ground by tracking wider or endure the raced-on ground taking the shortest route against the running rail? Should I look to go short or long at fences to conserve energy or gain ground? All are valid and potentially race-changing considerations.
Having walked the course recently for a Wincanton hunter chase, I took the view that riding slightly handier, tracking wider for better ground and popping fences was what was required to give my horse the best chance of winning the race.
Thankfully, my plan paid dividends and I would encourage any young jockey starting out to think outside the box, because the difference between winning and losing a race can depend on more than just the ability of your horse.
Ref: H&H 18 February, 2015