In the last issue (June PPM) I covered the idea of learning to "talk to the horse" when you get to the races. You'll recall I wrote about the attitude of the horse and I pointed to the fact that much can be gleaned from a horse's eyes, ears, head and general demeanour in trying to determine the winning chances in a race.

I would like you to think of this series as a painting being completed. So far we have painted the head of the horse. Now we will build on this and I want to share with you the rest of my mounting yard "routine".

Once at the mounting yard I start to look for some consistency in demeanour, as the atmosphere builds, the noise is loud, the speakers play a race from the south and Greg Miles is laying them out in the broadcast.

There is even a band rocking away some 30 metres from the enclosure. Because it is carnival time there is a pressure-cooker atmosphere.

The attitude I alluded to in the June article becomes a powerful indicator. The relaxed horse more often than not has the edge. However, this in itself is not enough.

Now I start to assess the most suitable factors required to win a big race- I was recently in Brisbane on Powerhouse Classic day. The main race was a Group Three set weights race for three-year-olds.

I waited anxiously for this race, as I believed that the quality of horses in this race was high and, as they say, cream always rises to the top.

The chances were plentiful among the full field of 18 runners and I was a little soft in dismissing chances. I perceived that there were still some 10 major chances on form in the race. Yes ... I was looking for value and I thought I would find it in this race.

Because it was a big field the work that needed to be done had to be done in a hasty, efficient manner.

I usually wander up to the stalls to assess the purely physical attributes. By the time the horses reach the mounting yard I will have assessed my main chances and checked their coat, rump, water line and muscle definition.

Starting with the coat, you may recall that I said the horse is similar to humans in many ways. When I look at the coat I need to reconcile what I see with the time of year.

In winter the coat is traditionally longer, and in summer it is lighter to cope with the heat. The horse's coat should have a sheen to it and from a distance it shouldn't look hairy, but gleam in the sun.

In sprinters I want to see blooming good health. I like to see dapples in the coat. Dapples in the coat of a fit horse are not as defined as those in one just back from holiday. Definite dappling may in fact point to a lack of general fitness but it does point to very good health.

Horses required to do more work over longer journeys should have the gleaming coat but the dapples will be very hard to spot. Long coats will occur more often over the cooler months and some horses will look decidedly patchy during this period.

A walk around the stalls is important because you can get very close to the horse. I like to see what is going on underneath the warm exterior. All I am looking for is some evidence of health.

If the coat is gleaming naturally, I give it a tick. I never get carried away with the logos or glitter that some stables put on their charges and I always look carefully at the neck, shoulder, flank and rump areas when assessing the coat. This may sound like a lot of work but once you have the rhythm you too can cover this area very quickly, the coat checked, I have confirmed the general health.

I now check the power given by the muscle present in the horse's body. The horse drives with its back legs and stretches and pulls with its front legs to get the motion of speed going. So I usually find myself standing watching a horse walk away from me.

From this perspective I get a splendid view of the rump and thighs. In sprinters I look for definition between both sides of the rump. I liken that to high-top loaves of bread or the "peachy look".

I look for thighs that appear to be strong and athletic . . . oozing power. I look for a coat that is gleaming across the top looking for explosive power. This is a very good look, and my race book gets ticks everywhere under these conditions.

In staying horses the definition is not as pronounced. Stayers are leaner and muscle tone could best be described as a "wiry look", but the coat should match.

Like Rob De Castella and Steve Monaghetti, these stayers need the "gritty look" that gives the appearance that they will keep going. The general health supports the ability to find another gear in the "money rounds".

By this stage I have left the stalls and am looking over the mounting yard fence. The first thing I do is to confirm what I have seen at the stable. My fitness assessment will often take in the side view and I look to confirm muscle tone in the shoulder and for the presence of a good deep shoulder.

I suppose I could point to swimmers when I look at the shoulder. Like the horse, swimmers pull through with the front half of their bodies and drive with the back half.

Having already looked at the back half I now check from the neck to the shoulder, over the body, noting any rib definition and on through to the rump.

Everything should fit like a jigsaw puzzle but it is not uncommon for a horse to have a strong characteristic in one or two areas. This is not a bad thing and can be the very thing they are most likely to use during a race.

Just as a cricket bowler with great bounce does not need to have the fastest ball around, a horse needs that one skill ... honed perfectly to do great damage.

Years ago a horse named Tiny's Finito was like that. He had massive shoulders compared to his hind quarters, but this gave him great power in his races. Likewise, many horses from John Hawkes' stable have very strong general muscle tone.

In the Classic race at Doomben referred to above the John Hawkes entry was Cabfest. He presented in perfect condition with a strong muscular look and very good coat. Tellson on the other hand had a glorious coat and a leaner but very fit look. He is a different type of horse to Cabfest who is a little "chunkier" and both had  exceptional conformatiorial features from behind.

In stayers I look for evidence of ribs. Like our marathon champions, the stayers' "gritty look" comes from the burned-away process of long slow work leading up to a race. Muscle tone will not appear to be "explosive" but I would liken this to a slow-burning fuse.

Evidence of good health and strong mental character are two common denominators between these two types of horses.

NEXT MONTH: Glen Ferguson concludes his three-part series on the Bodyline of picking winners. Don't miss this fascinating conclusion.

Click here to read Part 3.
Click here to read Part 1.

By Glen Ferguson