A Day At The Spa: Aug. 14, The Perfect Trip

You can train your horse up to a race, conditioning him in the best possible manner. You can score the services of a top jockey with a winning percentage of 66.67 and a 79% in-the-money rate. You can enter a race in obvious lower company, show up on the morning line as the odds-on favorite, earn the pre-race comments of the track’s top handicapper – big deal. It’s all up in the air when they open the gate.

Say your horse has an inside post, but breaks slowly – then he’s squeezed back behind the field. Or if he’s a hotheaded runner and needs to be covered up, if he gets the jump on everyone else, he goes to the lead too fast.

If the field is tightly bunched up the backstretch, the jock may have his feet on the dashboard to avoid going down. If they’re strung out, maybe your horse spends too much energy chasing the leaders. If he likes to come from behind he could hit the turn with nowhere to go. Then the jock has to swing five wide and lose ground. Or he gets a ground-saving trip on the rail, they turn for home, and there’s no hole, no nothing, and he’s stuck there with plenty of run but no way to the wire.

Jockeys hope for a good trip, trainers pray for one.

In an ideal world, your horse runs relaxed, just off the pace, coasting along on the rail. When they hit the far turn, a hole opens up that is big enough to pull a starting gate through, and he’s the only one in position to take advantage. Then the frontrunners tire and he flies on by and takes the lead and is opening up by five, by seven, with the jockey already standing up in the irons when they hit the wire, and the announcer will say he won it “in hand,” and the crowd will cheer for an impressive performance at Saratoga.

Once in a while, the perfect trip actually happens.

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