• Racehorses gain significant advantage from "covering up" behind competitors until the final stages of races
  • Different pacing strategies support notions of distinct "front-runner" and "chaser" horse personalities


A detailed study of almost 45,000 racehorses, partly funded by the Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) and published today (Wednesday 7 March 2012) has proved that horses that tuck in closely behind frontrunners during races are most likely to come out on top.


New research from Dr Andrew Spence at the Royal Veterinary College, published in this month's Royal Society journal Biology Letters, demonstrates that just as an F1 driver might sit in the slipstream of the car in front, jockeys who deploy this tactic are most likely to have an advantage on competitors when it comes to winning a race.


Dr Spence, working with Professor Alan Wilson and colleagues at the Structure and Motion Laboratory, used a unique data set from thoroughbred horse racing to find out just what tactics work. They determined the position and speed of 44,803 racehorses, once per second, in 3,357 races ranging in length from 1006 to 4225m (50.9-292.9 seconds duration) using a validated radio tracking system. They discovered that aerodynamic drafting had a marked effect on horse performance, and hence racing outcome.


Dr Spence said: "Athletes and pundits the world over speculate as to the best tactics to win races, in a range of sports and species. Our research found that horse racing competitors, just like those in cycling and car racing, gain a significant advantage from what jockeys refer to as "covering up," or "drafting," which means they move tucked in close behind other competitors, reducing aerodynamic drag.


"We found that spending time tucked in behind other horses is correlated with fast race times. On average, spending three-quarters of the race behind other competitors lead to a speed increase worth three to four finish places. Whilst jockeys are taught that "covering up" is beneficial, this study is the first to demonstrate the concrete benefits of doing so. And clever race-goers who pay attention to tactics throughout the race may also reap the benefits."


What is more, the researchers found that racehorses may perform best when they pace themselves according to their personality type; very different pacing strategies led to equally fast times, supporting anecdotal notions of distinct "front-runner" and "chaser" horse personalities.


(Source: rvc.ac.uk)