We are in the middle of a real cold snap at the moment which has seen some races abandoned and others threatened. This won’t have a huge impact on how a jockey prepares his horse to race however.
The warm-up for a horse before a race really happens on the way down from the parade ring to the start line. For a National Hunt horse the distance to the start is usually enough, whereas you’ll notice flat horses tend to get ridden a furlong or two beyond the starting stalls to get a bit of heat into their muscles. This is because the stalls tend to be closer to the parade ring than a jumps start line is.
Otherwise the warm-up for a horse is pretty straight-forward. It’s not like with a human athlete who might have a certain routine to perform before a race. You don’t, for example, walk a horse for a certain distance, stop, trot for a certain distance, stop etc. There is none of that though it is interesting to wonder if a more technical approach as in other sports would be useful.
On a very cold day I might get the horse to stride down to the start a little bit quicker to get the blood flowing for both of us, but only with a horse I knew to be relaxed. Generally, you just want to the horse to get down to the start nice and relaxed, get a feel for him and make sure he is moving right.
How you get the horse ready for the race is mostly down to temperament. As I’ve said, if you know the horse to be relaxed, you can trust him to stride on a bit. If the horse is highly-strung you have to take a different approach. You might ask the person leading him around the ring to take an extra half-turn so the horse can exit last and so not get passed by other horses on the way down. If you go out first, a couple of horses might pass him and make the horse overly keen. You want to keep such a horse relaxed, maybe keep him away from the crowd, you don’t want to ask him to do anything extra before the race or risk him bolting.
Al Boum Photo
I often relied on what the lad or girl leading the horse around the ring could tell me about the horse, as they tend to the people sitting up on him everyday. They usually give you a very good gauge.
If the jockey is a bit uptight and worried going to the start, the horse can grab a hold of that and get a bit keen. Straight-away this puts you on the back foot and you think you might have to ride him further back in the field. If you get to the start nice and relaxed, everything seems to flow a lot easier.
In general, 90% of horses are ready once they are in the parade ring. When the crowd is there, the saddle is on, and the bell goes, they are awake.
Looking back to the Christmas racing, Appreciate It, Al Boum Photo and Shiskin are three horses I have in my Ten To Follow and get top marks from me after their wins. I’m not sure why some people don’t seem overly impressed with Al Boum Photo. I thought he went very well for his first outing. I know there is a story about the precise length of the race that was run in Tramore. It never occurred to me when I was riding that a distance might not be as stated.
It sounds like Appreciate It will go the Supreme route, which is probably right, he seems like the kind of horse that you could ride close in the first three or four in the race and you know he is going stay. He was a very good bumper horse but he’s an even better jumper. His jumping is exceptional.
Now, we are really starting to think about all of these horses at Cheltenham and I am just hoping that given the situation Irish horses will be able to travel. Without Irish horses, Cheltenham just wouldn’t be Cheltenham!