Trotting racing is very popular in France, more so than flat racing or steeplechasing. We were at the Hippodrome in Cluny this week watching the racing with friends who hadn’t been before and as they asked us how to study the form we learned quite a bit from trying to decipher the programme.
Before each race while the horses warmed up I would normally just look at them passing by and pick one according to its looks and behaviour. But as it was a quiet day with not too many horses running we had time to evaluate past performances and disqualifications. The little symbols took a bit of working out but they revealed a surprising amount of information about the horses and their jockeys.
Horses are named according to the year in which they were born. All the four-year-olds’ names began with a U and the three-year-olds’ with a V. So you can easily work out the age of a horse from its name.
The important consideration is the previous wins or disqualifications. A judge sitting in the open door of a van watches to see that the horses do not depart from their trotting gait. Several did, at least in the 4-year-olds’ race. I had read that there are two particular irregular gaits, the amble and the traquenard. The amble is when the horse trots with its back legs and gallops at the front. The traquenard is the reverse, galloping with the back legs and trotting with the front. I was interested to see how this could be done as I couldn’t really imagine it, but the horses we saw that became a bit too enthusiastic just seemed to gallop at full pelt on all legs.
A little horseshoe symbol showed that the horse might be unshod. This reduction in weight sometimes helps the horse trot faster. Also the head may be reined to a particular height to suit the horse. Blinkers help to keep the horse from being distracted. One horse I saw had one eye completely covered, whether by accident or design I do not know.
It was a hot afternoon and afterwards the horses were taken for a cooling shower.
As I did not pick a single winner I’m not sure that studying the form did me much good. I think I’ll stick to backing the pretty ones.
By the way we see some lovely thoroughbreds in the fields locally. Of course the national stud is at Cluny only a few kilometers away and we are at the centre of a horse breeding area. But until yesterday I hadn’t realised that Neptune Collonges, the winner of the 2012 Grand National, is a local horse. Horses tend to be named after where they were raised and Collonges is within a stone’s throw across the Grosne valley.