I think that just about everyone would agree that Brigitte Bardot - at her peak and probably still - had fantastic conformation.

To avoid confrontation with female liberationists, I am sure that they would agree that certain men in the limelight have equally appealing conformation.

For the benefit of the unlearned, conformation is the shape or outline of anything, be it animal, vegetable, or mineral.

The points I am going to raise about conformation of horses will not necessarily lead you to picking a winner - some of the ugliest horses you have ever seen have been, or are, champions - but it is another tool in the kit which helps you become more professional in your approach to punting.

By and large thoroughbred racing magazines in Australia do not devote a great deal of time to describing the conformation of horses, and, probably, rightly so.

On the other hand British and Irish publications are the extreme opposite. They describe characteristics such as "cowhocks", "ewe necks", "straight pastems", "curby hocks", etc.

While this may be fascinating for conformation purists, the same magazines virtually ignore details on how the horse in question performed on the track against stiff opposition... or any kind of opposition.

If you're English please don't write in complaining. I freely admit that I believe that the British writers on these magazines come closer than their Australian counterparts in predicting the futures for various types of horses each year.

I don't think it is too far fetched to say that horses in the British Isles run closer to the ideals of their conformation than they do in Australia.

With a few exceptions Australian breeders are not interested in producing the staying type of horse, unlike our neighbours in New Zealand.

The Australian style of racing presents too many difficulties for our breeders. By 11 style" I refer to the prizemoney for such races as the Golden Slipper - $600,000 for a sprint race.

If I was a breeder I wouldn't be concentrating on races over long distances for smaller purses when I can have sprinters earning the big money.

Even when we speak of 1900m or 2000m as distant races, the European horsemen rightly consider such races as elongated versions of the sprint.

However, Australia does manage to separate the confirmed sprinters from those that will go a little further.

Observing the racing scene in Australia objectively, it almost seems that the game has been laid out in the most appropriate manner for ruining the breed, rather than improving it.

It comes back to the economic factor the most important consideration. It is imperative - and understandably so for owners to seek quick returns on their investments.

In doing so, many good two-year-olds are ruined while nine-tenths of the rest are over-raced.

Australian racing may have denied mother nature, but it certainly has not outwitted her.

Just as anywhere else in the world the rigours of our racing brings into play the adage of survival of the fittest.

If you are sufficiently keen to add conformation to your punting arsenal, I strongly recommend that you keep some track of the sire and the darn.

And this brings us to the first real point about conformation: it is no use whatsoever to you if you are told what constitutes a handsome horse. Handsome is as handsome does.

As far as your arsenal is concerned temperament is just as vital a part of appearance as is performance.

You are not interested so much in aesthetic beauty as you are in the functional mechanics of the horse.

Tulloch was a swayback, Emancipation is an ugly horse, and Seattle Slew, the most expensive sire in the world, has a tumed-in leg. Biscay has a saggy back and feet turned out like Charlie Chaplin, Melboume Cup winner Kiwi looks like a donkey (according to a close friend. of mine) while Northern Dancer would finish nine points behind the Hunchback of Notre Dame on a scale out of 10.

If you want to lay down some general guidelines on conformation prior to a race and really study the adversaries, it won't take long before you have enough comparisons between your pre-race observations and the official results to tell if you're making progress.

Massive horses - even big ones usually are better over sprints than distance races. But there are skinny little sprinters. Massiveness alone is not much help. A sprinter usually is denoted by angular rather than curved shoulder muscling and heavier muscling in the forearm and hindquarters (forearm is above the foreleg knee).

As far as the stayer is concerned he usually is not as short-coupled (the distance from the ankle to the knee and the ankle to the hock in back) and the muscling of the hindquarters especially is slimmer and often seems curved beyond the point of the hip to connections back of the saddle area.

Got all that? Good.

If a stayer becomes excitable it is more damaging to him than it is to a sprinter. This is due mainly to the cruel facts of pace in the different types of races.

For example, on a day when one of four major courses is at its fastest, any healthy horse can travel over 800 m in 46 seconds, or close to it.

However, if the race is longer you are not looking for that kind of speed - a steady 48 seconds would be ideal. If your stayer is too excitable to be controlled to the latter pace, or even slower, he's not much good to you.

Skitterish behaviour in the paddock can sometimes be excused as far as sprinters are concerned, but it usually is a bad sign for a stayer. If you're betting on the TAB, tune your ear to the radio as they're lead out. The callers don't miss much.

Although you are looking for a calm demeanour in the stayer, you don't want a listless runner. If he looks like he's just come back from a holiday on Great Keppel Island and isn't looking forward to starting work, treat him like he's got B.O.

This is where the eyes, not only yours, have it. If the horse's eyes are bright and alert it is a pretty good sign that he knows what he is about and that he is conserving energy.

Although there are exceptions to the rule, most horses are smarter than people give them credit for. That's why the bookies are doing so well - unless they take a million dollars at even money.

Unfortunately you have to wait until the race is run before you can really tell much about the smooth striding horse as opposed to the drum-and-roll type of action.

You can, however, develop strong suspicions before the start of the race by watching them walk, and later when they jog out towards the barrier.

The pick of the stayers should move out with his head low and his acceleration steady. The better sprinters can bobble and bounce along and then move into top gear off two or three swift, short strides.

At the peak of his drive a sprinter doesn't look much different to a stayer as far as action is concerned, but that peak obviously is not sustained for anything like the same length of time.

A lot of people use binoculars for watching different things! The punter at the track should always use them for watching the different running styles of horses.

As with all positive things, there are negative aspects. I have left the negative aspects of conformation until last because they are more confusing than illuminating.

In the area of veterinary surgeons, things such as splints and little bone callosities on the cannon bone, and even running up into the knee area, can severely restrain a horse's speed.

However, rest assured that the vet will order a horse scratched if a split is green or painful. The same can be said of many arthritic conditions which produce an evident lameness in the paddock.

Did you know that many horses run better than they walk? Others can be as sound as a bell and run like old goats because they have ungainly co-ordination and never achieve the maximum benefit from their strides.

Bit like an Olympic sprinter trying to win the gold medal when he's had a skinful.

This latter point can be noted and used against a horse - or an Olympian - but it is best to leave apparent unsoundness to the vet on the track.

But we still haven't answered the question: Can conformation give you a lead-in to a winner?

After all the work I've put into this article, I've got to be honest: on a race-byrace basis, conformation is virtually worthless!

Before you tear your hair out and start constructing a letter bomb for me, please let me make one point - it does pay its way for you, the punter.

It will help you spot two-year-olds to file away for future reference, and, occasionally you will pick up a horse that is being deliberately placed in the wrong of races in order to build up a price.

It isn't the most important thing you will learn by reading this magazine but, as I said earlier, it adds another tool to the professional punter's kit.

I have a book of quotations and one of them, under the heading "Horse Sense" and from Benjamin Franklin reads:

"Tim was so learned that he could name a horse in nine languages. So ignorant that he bought a cow to ride on".


By Jon Hudson