Much has been written and said about horses that throw in a clinker in the race following their top effort. When a horse races very hard and scores its highest speed figure in its career handicappers worry that it might bounce in its next race and run poorly. It does happen, but like everything else in horse racing there are several reasons and understanding them will help you to deal with this situation in your handicapping.
First of all, let’s think about what causes a horse to bounce. Horses don’t read the racing form and don’t care what their speed rating was in their last race. They are all about how they feel. That’s what matters to the horse. They must be physically fit and rested before a race and they must also be mentally fit. What is going on in the horse’s head is very important.
If the superior effort in its previous race tired the horse badly it may take months before it rebounds physically. Naturally, young horses bounce back better physically than older horses do, but that isn’t necessarily true of their mental state. A horse that raced its heart out and lost may not want to try to win again. When a horse loses to a superior horse despite its best effort it does matter.
They may not do a lot of thinking, but they are herd animals and establish their social position via their ability and will. That will may suffer a direct hit if a horse was beaten despite trying very hard. An older horse may not care as much because it knows its place and also knows that another race is always coming along to establish itself. How can a trainer know that the horse has lost confidence or desire?
Unfortunately, for trainer and handicapper alike, that information doesn’t always come out until after the race has started. Sometimes a horse will give clues to its mental condition and sometimes it won’t. If a horse isn’t eating enough after a big race, that’s a bad sign. It usually means it needs some time off and a chance to regroup. Good trainers realize that and will let the horse rest.
The handicapper should be wary of any horse that had a big race, but that doesn’t mean it should be disregarded as a potential winner. If the trainer has let it rest since its last race and it appears sharp and ready in the paddock it may be worth a try. A drop in class, however, isn’t necessarily a good sign or a reason to bet on that horse.
I’d rather see a horse that raced hard brought back at the same level. A drop in class may mean the trainer knows the horse isn’t fit to win because it is likely to bounce. Following trainers and understanding their moves will help you to figure that out.