I Love a Parade
The post parade and warm-up can provide insight about a horse's readiness
Level: Intermediate
By Dana Byerly, Hello Race Fans Co-founder

Who doesn’t love a parade? The post parade can be a confusing term to a newbie (at least it was to this newbie)… I wondered “what value is there in parading the horses after the race?” not realizing that the “post” was the start of the race, as in “post time”. So, in fact, it’s a parade TO the post.

But let’s back up a bit, there’s a natural rhythm to the track. Prior to a race the entries enter the paddock, where their connections get them ready for the race and you can go and get a look at them (here’s an image of the paddock). At some tracks the paddock is not open to the general public, in which case there is a separate walking ring in addition to a paddock. Not to worry, plenty of articles will be forthcoming on the paddock!

When you hear the call to the post, it’s a signal for the jockeys and riders to make their way to the post parade where the announcer introduces each horse and jockey as they “parade” in front of the grandstand. I always used to put my wagers in prior to the parade and warm-up to avoid lines at the window but that all changed on September 8th, 2007 at Belmont Park.

Being someone who didn’t grow up around horses and generally couldn’t tell a claimer from a stakes horse, I never felt like I would be able to derive any usable information from looking at the horses. The first time it became apparent to me that I needed to start paying attention to their appearance and demeanor was the 2007 Garden City Stakes at Belmont Park. As the fillies and mares paraded in front of us, Alexander Tango was trotting, snorting and raised up with a plaintive “I’m here to do business” whinny. I should have immediately run to the window and put $20 to win on her. In short, she looked ready to rock, and rock she did, while my pick, Missvinski, was off the board.

Trying to get up to speed, I found a couple of helpful passages on the subject. Andrew Beyer’s classic and number two in the HRF Index of Top 5 Handicapping Books, “Picking Winners: A Horseplayer’s Guide“, devotes an entire chapter on the subject. Dan Illman’s “Betting Maidens and 2-Year-Olds” also has several pertinent passages. One I haven’t read that seems promising is “The Body Language of Horses” by Bonnie Ledbetter and Tom Ainslie.

If you follow a circuit or graded stakes races, you’ll begin to learn about the runners. This includes their race day demeanor. Do they always get a little worked-up in the paddock? Do they look ready to take a nap in the parade but explode when the race goes off? Once you learn how a horse typically behaves on race day, you can note any behavior that might tip off a good or bad performance. Case in point, in the 2009 Woody Stephens, Munnings was full of himself in the warm-up and he blew the field away by 5 lengths. Subsequent races proved that this was just part of his normal warm-up, not an indication that he was sitting on a big performance (even though he happened to be that day!).

In Beyer’s chapter on appearance, he regales us with stories of Clem Florio, a reporter and former boxer with an eye for physical details, who Beyer turned to for help in learning to judge a horse’s pre-race appearance. Using my own experience as a judge (which is what we all should do in matters of handicapping and wagering), I found one of his recommendations in particular to not always ring true. He cautions that if a horse is fractious, or “acting up”, then he/she is dissipating their energy before the race.

I was able to cash a nice big win ticket and almost a VERY big Pick 4 ticket (a “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda” is in the works on the Pick 4 blunder) by bucking this conventional wisdom. It was the 2009 Ballston Spa at Saratoga, and a filly name Salve Germania (24-1) was making her first start in the US. She was insane in the paddock, acting-up and tossing her jockey several times. To call her fractious was a gross understatement.

“Immediate toss” was the consensus on Twitter. The second she stepped onto the track she bolted away from the parade and proceeded to run around like a nut. While most were busy laughing at her crazy antics, I liked what I saw, a lot. Sure, there was a very good chance that she was going to “leave it in the warm-up” as conventional wisdom suggests, but this was a turf race that was likely to have a slow pace, so the “real running” would be limited to a small portion of the race. And her “ready to go” factor was off the charts! Another thing in her favor was the that the turf was very soft, something European shippers are accustomed to and rarely get in the US. I played her to win and immediately added her to my Pick 4 ticket.

2009 Ballson Spa Replay – Salve Germania:

So what do you look for? Any number of things. Dan Illman in “Betting Maidens and 2-Year-Olds” breaks out specific things to look for in different types of races. For example, he notes that he looks for a big powerful hind-end in sprinters (or what I like to call sprinter’s butt, pardon the phrase) and a big powerful chest for routers. He also notes that looking for a horse that’s up on it’s toes and/or is arching it’s neck can be a good sign. I’ve definitely found this to be true, particularly the neck arching part.

When I’m playing I look more for “presence” and energy level than conformation as I’ve got a lot to learn about the finer points correct conformation (beyond sprinter’s butt). In addition to a horse being up on it’s toes, I really like to see an energetic “break-away”. Horses are escorted on to the track by outriders (a rider and a pony), in some cases the horse warms-up with the pony and in others the horse will break away from the pony and outrider and warm-up on it’s own. I always take it as a favorable sign when a horse 1) wants to break away from the pony and 2) does so with a burst of energy. In fact, as I’m writing this, Ibboyee just won the Spend A Buck at Monmouth after making a notably perky break-away from his outrider in the warm-up.

As simple as it sounds, just start paying attention. Note taking can help too… jot down your impression of the horse before the race and how they fared. Like everything else in racing, there’s no formulaic answer. I can cite many examples where I thought a horse looked great and turned in a poor performance or just couldn’t stay the distance. Always remember that every angle is information to factor vs. something you can always count on as a prediction of a good performance. You just have to start gathering your own experiences that allows you to make decisions, sometimes at the last minute!

(Note: the photo on this week’s homepage and “week of” post is of the 2007 Garden City Stakes. Alexander Tango the one on the far left just behind the pack.)

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