When we sit down to analyse a horse race, one of the first things we will do is to try to assess the kind of race that is on offer.

We will look at the class of the race and we will note the distance and going and we’ll then begin to assess each horse’s individual form with a hope to divining the most likely winner.

When it comes to a race’s stamina conditions, a lot of punters feel that the distance of a race is the single most important factor, with the track rating considered as the second most important aspect. In fact, as far as the stamina elements of a race are concerned, most people in racing are hypnotised by distance and distance alone.

Horses are defined by their achievements at a certain distance, e.g. “he’s a miler”, “she needs 2400m to be seen at her best”, etc, etc. Yet, in reality, a horse’s favoured racing conditions can be defined with much more precision than this. What this article is going to ask you to do is to slightly redefine your ideas about the factors that contribute to the elements of a stamina contest.

This article is going to endeavour to change how you perceive a race’s whole make-up and, once you have understood what the race’s structure is all about, you will be able to match a horse’s best winning conditions to the race it is about to run in.

The journey that this article (and next month’s article) will take you on will reveal that some races (and some horses) are not always what they seem.

However, the conclusions drawn will allow you to make a far clearer assessment of the stamina contest that a race presents and, therefore, a more precise assessment of any horse you’re about to study. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that there are many more kinds of horse race out there than you had perhaps realised.

Let me say first that this article should only apply to seasoned horses (ideally late-season three year olds and older) that have already won. The wins that a horse has made in its career should define with some precision just what kind of horse he or she is.

So, what exactly are the vital factors that contribute to the stamina conditions for a horse race ? They are distance, going and field size and there’s two very important things to realise about these three elements:

  1. They are all equal. None of them takes precedence over the other.
  2. They combine together to set the stamina conditions. Only when a race reveals its combination of distance, going and field size can you begin to deduce which horse in a race is the most likely candidate to win. You will find that some horses’ stamina will be tested too much and some horses’ stamina will not be tested enough.

“All horses stay – it’s just a question of how far.” Luca Cumani, Derby-winning UK racehorse trainer. 

It will come as no surprise to any PPM reader that if a horse is sent over a further distance than any it had previously raced over then it could be said that horse’s stamina will have greater emphasis placed on it. Many is the time we have all heard a trainer state that he or she intends to “step a horse up in distance” if they felt that the horse needed a more searching test of stamina.

It must be remembered that distance is the only aspect of the three stamina “forces” ?(distance, going, field size) that trainers have total control over. They have no control over the way the going will be and they have no control over how many contestants will appear in any given race.

Trainers at least know that if they send their horses over a longer  distance that a horse will receive a greater test of its stamina – or so it would seem. Even in spite of the distance rise it gets, a horse might still not receive the stamina test it requires or, conversely, a horse may be sent over a stamina precipice because of the other two forces acting upon it (going and field size).

Because of the “pull” exerted by the other two “forces”, I have come to realise that it is perhaps a little unwise to categorise horses by distance alone. However, I think it’s fair to say that we all see horses fall roughly into the following groups:

  • Sprinters: 1000m – 1400m
  • Milers and Sprinter-Milers:  1400m- 1900m
  • Middle Distance horses: 2000m – 2800m
  • Stayers: 2800m – 3200m.

I think most people would concur with these general categories for distance. Many horses can stay over longer distances than may be at first apparent and many other horses don’t stay long distances quite as well as they seem. Hopefully, this article might just clarify why that might be.

“Soft ground will make the race longer.” Andre Fabre, Champion Trainer of France.

In the lead-up to this year’s Irish Champion Stakes (held at Leopardstown), France’s champion trainer Andre Fabre made an utterance that sheds some light on the way that he views a race. This statement comes from a man who is universally acknowledged to be a God-given genius with horses (who rarely speaks to the press) so it was nice to hear him speak so succintly on the subject of “the going”.

Fabre was being faced with the decision as to whether he should race his fabulous “Arc” winner Hurricane Run.

Fabre said, “It all depends on the weather conditions. There seems to be some rain about and some good weather – I’d like some rain to give us soft ground. If not, we’ll go to Longchamp. He (Hurricane Run) won on good ground at Ascot, but soft ground will make the race longer.”

I like this statement very much as it reveals the clever elasticity of Fabre’s perspective when assessing a race. It would be very fair to say that only a fractional change in the going can amount to a considerable change in the stamina contest presented to a horse.

As Phil Bull, founder of Timeform, used to say, “possibly the single greatest contributor to an outcome for a race is the state of the ground.” The state of the going is vital for your assessment of a race. While there is a new track condition nomenclature for NSW and Victoria (with 10 types of track condition), I will, for the sake of all readers throughout Australia and NZ, stick to the simple fast, good, dead, slow and heavy arrangement.

After a considerable period of time studying results from Europe and Australia I think it’s fair to say that there is about a furlong’s (200m – 300m) worth of difference between each track condition from heavy up to fast. So, like Fabre says, the softer the ground gets then the longer a race becomes.

“A herd of horses means for survival is to stay close together so that every horse can be warned of the slightest impending danger.” Monty Roberts.

When horses race you are watching a partly-controlled but quite natural phenomenon – horses in flight. A horse race is a movement of horses acting and even thinking as one ?– much like a shoal of fish or a flight of birds. One of the reasons trainers often speak about trying to train horses to “relax” is because horses are trying to be taught not to panic while they are taking flight in a race.

It is a difficult task as horses in the wild are herd animals who are very responsive to each other and particularly so when they are all running together as a pack.

Nevertheless, when a race field expands, horses are likely to move with greater speed and momentum (in spite of their training) as the collective instinct takes hold. The  more horses there are running together in a race then the greater the collective instinct will be for them to move faster with the result that the tempo of a race will be more consistently high and level throughout the race.

The side effect of an increase in field size will be to increase the stamina requirement of the race and, not surprisingly, a decrease in field size will reduce the stamina conditions of a race. Studies have shown that an increase in field size of roughly 25 per cent can have the same impact as sending a horse over another 200m (400m at distance over 2400m). Of all the three “forces” that make up a race’s stamina content, field size is the one that most people in racing overlook – yet its impact is considerable and, therefore, it is vital to note exactly how many runners are taking part in a race.

Let’s take a look now at the inter-relationship between all the “forces” and see how they combine together. Let us suppose that we have interrogated a horse’s total career form and have ascertained its best winning conditions. In so doing we will have discovered its most effective stamina conditions too.

These conditions should be measured from the highest class of race in which a horse has won. Naturally enough a horse will have needed to accrue a considerable amount of form before we can assess it which is why I insist on examining late season three year olds and older horses.

Once a horse has begun to start winning we can begin to see the shape of its form emerging. If we note down the distance, going and field size of its best win we can utilise the information to ascertain other scenarios where it might also be effective. We could express its best win in a kind of pseudo-equation, like this:

Distance + field size + going = best winning conditions for a horse.

OK, let’s suggest, for example, the scenario below as a horse’s best win.

DistanceField SizeGoing
2000m12 runnersGood
Let’s start to adjust these conditions to fit other likely scenarios that it might win at in the same class of race.

I think I’ll adjust the distance but keep the “going” constant at “good”. Let’s see what happens when I increase the distance from 2000m to 2400m. If the going is kept stable at ”good” and the distance is lengthened from 2000m to 2400m this means that I will have to adjust the field size downwards by 25 per cent (three runners in this case) to keep the stamina conditions of the race at the same level.

DistanceField SizeGoing
2200m9 runnersGood
In fact, I think I’ll increase the distance again, keeping the going constant at “good”, and see what happens. It’s also worth noting that 25  per cent of some numbers will not give a whole number so the resulting reduction can produce a slightly fuzzy answer (such as six – seven runners) but that’s OK. Total accuracy is not vital but we will need to keep the figure reasonably accurate. The important thing to notice is that as the distance rises the field size shrinks.

DistanceField SizeGoing
2200m9 runnersGood
2400m6-7 runnersGood
I think I’ll muck around in a different way this time. If I decrease the distance back from 2400m, past the 2000m mark we’d started with, down to 1600m.

DistanceField SizeGoing
2400m6-7 runnersGood
2200m9 runnersGood
2000m12 runnersGood
1800m15 runnersGood
1600m18-19 runnersGood
The suggestion here is that a horse that was capable of winning at 2000m on good ground in a field size of 12 runners could potentially be just as effective at other distances on “good” ground but only if the field size is increased or decreased accordingly.

Let’s reproduce my starting point again where a horse’s best winning distance is assumed to be 2000m on good ground in a field size of 12 runners. This time I will adjust the going to “dead” but keep the distance constant. If I do this then I will have to adjust the field size to keep the stamina conditions of the race at the same level. When track conditions change like this it has the same effect as increasing the distance by 200m, i.e. the field size will have to be adjusted downwards by 25  per cent to compensate for the increased stamina condition of the wetter track.

DistanceField SizeGoing
2000m12 runnersGood
2000m9 runnersDead
Therefore, a horse who had won at 2000m on good ground in a field size of 12 runners has the potential to win a race of the same class on dead ground but only if the field size contracts as well.

Now that we’ve examined the elements of stamina in a race we can begin to explain why certain horses won certain races. It would help to explain why Dane Ripper won the Stradbroke followed by the Cox Plate. It may even suggest that Makybe Diva could never have won the Cox Plate if the track wasn’t rated as ‘“slow”.

Remember also that the principles contained in this article apply to horses in races of every distance from 1000m – 3200m. What you should begin to realise from this exercise is that the number of combinations of distance, going and field size can be many and varied indeed – this is the bad news I was talking about at the start of the article.

However, the good news is that we can now begin to accurately gauge a horse’s optimum racing conditions.

In next month’s PPM “The Elements of Stamina in a Race – ?Part 2” we will put what’s been talked about here to some practical use by picking on some horses from this spring’s campaign. 

Click here to read Part 2.
Click here to read Part 3.

By Julian Mould