The temperature dropped as much as 25 degrees in the last couple of days, a welcome change to horses, particularly those that engage in morning workouts and race for a living.
They appreciate the crisp, morning air and will exhibit their enthusiasm on the way to the track, prancing on their toes, pulling on the bit and otherwise becoming a handful for their riders.
In what ways do weather changes like this affect horses and the way handicappers should look at a race?
Probably not much, although some horses are indeed affected by changes in temperature and weather patterns.
Don’t look anytime soon, however, for the Daily Racing Form to begin including symbols indicating highs and lows in barometric pressure as part of a horse’s past performances.
An analysis of the different ways humans behave in hot versus cool weather might provide all the instruction necessary.
Trainer Bernell Rhone is of the opinion that 55 degrees is the ideal temperature for horses. “They eat better, they feel better and they seem to have more energy,” he said.
Does a drop in temperatures such as Shakopee has experienced this week change how a person should look at horses when handicapping a race?
“I don’t think so,” said Rhone. “All the horses are affected by it.”
The betting public doesn’t have the information necessary to gauge an exception to that statement. “Cool, dry air is beneficial to horses with a tendency to bleed,” said Rhone, “but there is no way for the public to know which horses those are.”
Trainer Francisco Bravo says temperatures can have a big effect on horses that are being shipped. “The main thing is to keep them hydrated,” he said, “particularly when it’s warm.”
Rhone agrees, adding that it is more likely for a horse to get sick being transported from cool weather to hot than the other way around.
Bravo insists that the treatment of a horse is probably more important than the temperature. “They’re just like kids,” he said. “Everyone is a little different. They need discipline but not abuse. They need guidance.”
More than anything horses need even-handed treatment and care. “They learn by repeated behavior,” said Bravo. “You have to be consistent and systematic with them. You can’t discipline a horse in the barn for something he did wrong on the track.”
It is perhaps possible to infer certain things about a horse you already like during weather more favorable to animals and humans alike.
For instance, if you like a horse for a given reason it is quite logical to assume he is more likely to live up to the expectations assigned him under favorable conditions.
Despite no solid evidence that the temperature itself should figure prominently in making decisions about a race, people do so all the time anyway.
“Some people figure that the tides, coming in or going out, affect a horse,” said Bravo. “I wouldn’t know anything about that.”
Trainer Jerry Livingston is insistent that one aspect of weather does affect a horse.
“Barometric pressure makes a difference,” he said. “It can affect the way a horse acts, if he’s lethargic or high,” he said. “You can see it.”
People themselves are affected. There is some evidence that barometric pressure can affect joints and muscles.
Supportive science or not, anecdotal evidence is often instructive and useful.
What seems certain is this:
“The horses love this weather,” said trainer Valorie Lund. “And so do I.”
As does Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens.
“The locals probably don’t care for it, but those of us from Phoenix (including Lund) love it,” he said.
So, there you have it. Horses appreciate cool weather. Human beings, those from the Valley of the Sun in particular, appreciate cool weather.
But don’t count on finding any sleepers because of it.
Oh yeah, almost forgot… there was a hunch play to be had on Friday night’s card and it did involve the weather. Henry Hanson’s two-year-old She Can Ski took down the 3rd (pictured above) for Minnesota-bred maidens. Maybe there is something to handicapping for cold weather in July after all.
This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.