Have you ever watched a 2yo race and found yourself saying "How are you supposed to find that?" as an unconsidered long-shot wins.
Is there any way to spot problems like this before the race? Using techniques like form analysis and listening to pundits then the answer is "No". There is a way though - Paddock Review.
Paddock review refers to the visual assessment of 2yos before a race. By using a relatively simple system it is possible to describe each horse as a physical type including its athleticism and assign it a numerical rating and summarise its capabilities.
This is an activity that anyone can undertake, all they need is the motivation and a simple system to guide them. It isn't a 'black art' but a skill you can learn.
The key point to paddock review is to target the major factors that make up to 90%+ of the horse's athletic ability. Do not get side-tracked by minor influences such as coat condition, sweating, feet size, individual conformation points, etc. If the horse isn't a good enough athlete to win the race is doesn't matter how terrific its coat looks.
You can assess a horse by reviewing the following factors:-
(SIZE and BUILD) as assisted/hindered by (GEOMETRY, ATHLETICISM and TOGETHERNESS)
This may seem simple but we need to avoid the trap of 'horsey jargon' and mystique and instead use an approach to build our experience with.
Remember that each of these areas interacts with the others to make up the final ability a horse shows. Always take a 'framework' view of each horse, particularly with geometry judgements.
Size describes the framework of the 2yo, its height, length and width. With experience you will be able to split the 2yos into three categories - too small, acceptable, too large (and not able to carry their size). You should prefer bigger horses so long as they have acceptable characteristics in other areas.
Build describes the muscular bulk that a horse has. It is advisable to split the assessment into a 'Front' (shoulders, neck, etc.) and 'Back' (buttocks, etc.) to differentiate between the major areas while keeping the review simple.
Again, you will relatively quickly be able to separate horses into those that are - too lightly built, acceptably built and too heavily built (and not strong enough to carry their weight).
Geometry describes the shape and proportions of the various physical parts of the horse. The phrase "Geometry" captures the desire to avoid details of 'horse conformation' and use a high level, shape matching approach.
In this area you are looking to describe the overall size and proportions such as the length of body/legs, body depth/width, neck length/shape, etc. It is only necessary to describe features which are notably good , bad or out of proportion.
Athleticism is assessed by judging the horse's walk, how well it carries itself overall and by watching it moving down to post (if possible).
In judging a horse at the walk it is easiest to spot negative factors rather than positive ones. To start with judge how well a horse holds and carries itself. This is affected by other areas such as muscle development and geometry.
Watch for how balanced and fluent a walk is and how 'easily' the horse moves. Negative factors such as weak, unbalanced or forced movement are easy to spot.
A horse with good 'Togetherness' is one that looks in proportion with all of the parts fitting together well and looking balanced. A 'Together' horse has the best chance to be able to express the full ability that it's physical type will allow. A horse with good points in some areas but does not look balanced and 'will be less than the sum of its parts.
You should rate the horse for each of the major factors. Initially this can be a simple 1-5 scale. The advantage is that when you go back to look at your notes you are either right or wrong . Phrases you often see like 'nice type' and 'scope' are too vague and allow different interpretations.
With the notes and ratings from the major factors a final summary of each horse and an overall rating can be produced. This is the basis for analysis both of the race and future prospects.
Taking the example of winning long-shots in 2yo races if you review them prior to a race you will often find that the long priced winner was among the better physical types. The SP is wrong because of external factors, most notably with unfashionable trainers.
Next month we go a step further and assess a race.