As an old racetrack junkie, having grown up just a stone’s throw from Saratoga Springs, the strategies of the race have always intrigued me. Some people may have the idea that a horse race is just a bunch of thoroughbreds who bolt from the gate and run as fast as they can around the track until they reach the finish line. I suppose it looks like that to a casual observer, but it’s far more complex.
The first 80% of the race is a feat of technical and strategic calculation. Based upon a number of factors, including the horse’s history, the strategy is laid out in advance between the trainer and the jockey. The spectator (bettor) may experience distress when the horse falls into last place or a secure place in the middle of the pack. It seems as if all is lost.
But the reality is that the jockey is maneuvering the horse to its most advantageous position, reserving its strength, and waiting for the right moment to release the horse to its natural capabilities. It is only in the final stretch that the horse is freed up to “let it all out” and surge to the front where it has a good chance to win the race.
If that surge comes too soon the horse may run out of steam at the last minute and lose the race. Similarly, if the surge is timed to come too late, there may not be enough distance left for the horse to be able to find its way to the winning position.
This combination of strategy, technical application, history, and good human guidance combine to make a winning situation, all things being equal. Trainers and jockeys are not robots; they are highly-skilled technicians. And don’t count out the horse, he/she adds a tremendous amount of skill and strength to the race. Without the horse, all the strategy in the world is useless.
There is no guarantee that the proper amount of strategy and strength will win the race. There are other horses in the pack, and they, too, have strategies and strengths. In that final stretch it is a contest between or among animals with nearly-equal capabilities. The conditions of the track, the temperature, the time of day, and numerous other factors combine to determine the winner.
If you think, perhaps, that this posting is a metaphor, you are absolutely correct.
Photo Credit: Joe Monahan