How can I tell if a horse is suited by soft going?

The safest way to tell if a horse is suited by soft going is to inspect its recent form. If a horse has won one or more races, or at least finished close up – inside, or maybe even just outside, the places – on soft or heavy going, it is probably safe to assume that similar underfoot conditions will pose it no problem.

However, if the horse in unraced, or has never run on soft going, the formbook may be of little or no use, but analysing the pedigree of the horse in question may provide some clues regarding its likely going preferences. The progeny, or offspring, of certain sires show definite liking for one type of going or another.

Beyond that, you really need to see the horse, preferably in motion, to assess its conformation, or physique, and its action, or manner of moving. There are no hard and fast rules, but horses with sloping, rather than upright, shoulder joints and longer pasterns – parts of the feet, between the fetlocks and hooves – may be more effective on soft going. They tend to have a higher, more rounded knee action when galloping and their feet hit the ground hard. Similarly, horses with larger ‘dinner plate’ hooves often fare best when the going becomes testing.

What is the going?

In horse racing, the term ‘going’ is used to describe the condition of the ground at a racecourse, in terms of its moisture content. The going is measured by the Clerk of the Course on a raceday morning and communicated to the Racecourse Association which, in turn, distributes the information to the Press Association. Traditionally, the going was described by one of seven broad, subjective categories, ranging from ‘hard’ to ‘heavy’.

However, for National Hunt racing, going previously described, officially, as ‘hard’ has been outlawed as unraceable in Britain and, for Flat racing, such going is rarely, if ever, experienced anywhere other than Bath; set on the Lansdown Plateau, 780 feet above sea level, Bath is the highest racecourse in the country that stages Flat racing and has no watering system.

Furthermore, for racing under both codes, at least on turf racecourses, the traditional going description is accompanied by an objective, empirical figure, known as a ‘GoingStick reading’. Described as a cross between a spade and a shooting stick, the GoingStick is a device with a single metal probe that is pushed into the ground and measures penetration and shear, which are translated into a figure representing the moisture content of the soil. The GoingStick produces readings between 0 and 15, but a reading below 5 (‘heavy’) or above 10 (‘firm’) usually means that the ground is unraceable.

Of course, some racecourses in Britain also stage Flat racing on synthetic, or ‘all-weather’, surfaces, such as Fibresand, Polytrack and Tapeta. These surfaces, which consist of silica sand, polypropylene fibres and other components, can be rolled or harrowed to adjust their firmness, but the official going description still relies on the traditional, subjective approach. Indeed, all-weather racing has even few categories than turf racing, with the going ranging from ‘fast’, through ‘standard’, to ‘slow’.