Understanding Horse Racing when you’re new to the sport is tough. The Ground, or ‘the Going” as some call it, is one of the most important aspects in racing, along with the type of track that the horses run on.
In this article, we’re going to explain everything to you so you can pick it up quickly.
Horse Racing Ground Explained
There’s so many variations of what types of ground horses can race on. When you break it down; Firm is the hardest the ground can be, and Heavy is the softest the ground can be.
There’s lots of variations in between but in a nutshell, the more it rains the softer the ground.
The official goings for British turf courses are:
- Firm (Fm)
- Good to Firm (GF)
- Good (Gd)
- Good to Soft (GS)
- Soft (Sft)
- Heavy (Hy)
Before we explain all of them, note that it’s possible to have two types of ground in one description. For example, Good to Soft, Soft in places. This means that the track is mainly Good to Soft, but there are places of Soft ground along the way.
Remember when we said the more it rains the softer the ground. Just focus on that thought and keep coming back to it to easily understand it…
Firm (Fm) Ground
If we had no rain, the ground would be Firm. This isn’t as common as it once was because the racecourses now water their course to “keep the ground safe.” Basically take the jar out of it that could cause an injury. You will get this type of ground in the summer months. Firm ground means horses can run faster, and that’s usually when track records are set.
Good to Firm (GF)
After Firm ground we have Good to Firm. This is when we’ve had enough rain (or watering) to take most of the firmness out of the ground but it’s still on the fast (or Firm) side. This is a lot more common than Firm ground because racecourses water, especially if there is no rain forecast and you then get Good to Firm to race on.
This is when we’ve had enough rain to take all of the firmness out of the ground. It’s fair to say that this is the best type of ground, and usually the type of ground that suits most horses. It’s easy to run on for horses and produces big fields because it’s the fairest type of ground. Of course, you may have horses who like really Soft ground; but they could still take their chances on Good ground, whereas if it was Firm they would have to withdraw. Good ground is the most common type of ground at all racecourses – it’s just the perfect ground to race on.
Good to Soft (GS)
Good to Soft ground is just Good ground that is holding more water. It’s as simple as that. We usually get this type of ground at the start and towards the end of the jumps and flat seasons; out of season ground really. It would suit the majority of horses. However, it wouldn’t suit horses who like Firm ground whereas they might not be too disadvantaged by Good ground.
This is when we’ve have had rain and it’s softened the ground, but the track can take more. Soft ground is very common in the jumps season when we get more wet weather and it takes longer to dry out. Horses will find this ground a lot harder to run on than Good ground, and the races will be much slower because of that. Of course, you will find horses who love soft ground and it would suit them rather than racing on Good ground.
Heavy is the worst the ground can be – the most rain that the track can take as fallen and if we were to get more the meeting could be called off. This is when horses stamina is tested to the max and it’s a real struggle to run on Heavy ground. A very select number of horses would love this ground, but for most of them it’s a real challenge and a tough day at the office!
Other Types Of Ground You Should Know…
Understanding the ground can be as simple or as difficult as you like! But it really is easy once you break it down. There are some other terms you should know before going any further:
This is unique to Irish Racing. It’s basically the same as Good to Soft in the UK but not quite as close to call it the exact same. You will see variations like “Good to Yielding” or “Yielding to Soft” in Ireland; Yielding is just a fraction less than Good ground and it is quite common to see Yielding in the ground description in Ireland. It would more than likely fall between “Good” and “Good to Soft” on the list in the UK.
All Weather Going:
All Weather Racing has different ground we hear you ask? The answer is it does!
Most All Weather tracks are made of sand, among other more advanced components. Depending on the weather the track can change – this won’t be a huge change when compared to the turf courses, but it is worth noting.
This is when the surface is dry and there is very little moisture in the sand. The track is fast and the horses can run faster, setting faster times.
This is the description for most All Weather meetings. Basically the track is riding how it is supposed to be; the ground is completely optimal and has perfect conditions.
This means that the track has a lot of moisture in it and it is slightly harder work for the horses than usual. You will only see this after a lot of rain, or when we get slow during the winter.
So now you have all the ground descriptions, you’re probably wondering how they decide what to call the ground each day!
How The Ground Is Determined
In the past, the clerk of the course would walk the track on the morning of the race meeting and select which type of ground we had. That system worked OK for a while but as technology advanced it always came into question. Since we have started timing races; people used to often question the clerks decision. Then we had the introduction of The Going Stick.
The Going Stick was introduced in 2007 but made mandatory for all British racecourses in 2008. It reads how much moisture is in the ground and produces a number. These numbers will fall into a category and the ground will be determined based on that.
The device measures the amount of force needed to push the tip into the ground and then the amount of energy needed to pull the stick back to a 45 degree angle. The Going Stick is only used on turf courses, the clerk of the course will still decide what the ground description will be on All Weather tracks but obviously there’s less guesswork there.
Why Is The Ground So Important?
The Ground is the single most important factor in horse racing. Think about it; for horses to run to their best they need their favourite conditions. If a horse likes Heavy ground; they just aren’t going to perform to their best on Good ground – or at least it’s very unlikely to happen!
People within racing usually determine which type of ground a horse will enjoy by their knee action. A high knee action will usually enjoy Soft ground – this type of action is usually described as “grabbing at the ground” or an exaggerated knee action. On the other side of that, a low knee action will enjoy Firm or fast conditions. These horses won’t pick their knees up as much and run with faster action.
Obviously, like with everything in life, there can be exceptions. Horses are not machines after all and horses can enjoy the opposite ground than their knee action will suggest. There are also horses who can run their race on any type of ground. Every horse is a different individual at the end of the day; but the knee action rule will work a lot of the time.
Track Types Explained
Another huge factor in Horse Racing is the track. Even if a horse has their preferred ground – we also have horses who like certain tracks. Obviously this isn’t as common as horses to have a preference for ground, but it does happen!
Right hand and Left-hand Tracks
Every track will have a way which the horses turn around the bend. You might think this is minor but for some horses, it’s actually a very big deal. Especially in the jumps season; you will see horses jumping out the “wrong” way and that costs them massive ground. Jumping left on the right-hand track or vice versa just gives away ground and at the elite level, you just can’t do that.
Right hand or left hand preference is less common in flat racing, but it does still happen. A lot of flat races take place on a straight course but there are horses out there who perform much better going right or left handed. To sum up; this is definitely something to be aware of in jumps racing and it’s easily viewed by the horses jumping.
Flat And Stiff Tracks
You will hear racing commentators calling certain tracks flat and stiff. This is very important in relation a horses stamina. A flat track is usually one where it’s easy to run on and you need speed – it will suit horses who are short on stamina and have more of a turn of foot. The opposite happens on stiff tracks; you more than likely have an uphill finish and it’s tough work for horses to finish their races.
Places like Sandown and Kempton are good examples of a flat track. It’s a small flat ring and it will suit the speedy types. Whereas the likes of Chepstow and (the now gone!) Towcester are great examples of stiff tracks. They are big, open and have long uphill finishes that saps the stamina from horses. Obviously all tracks are different but some horses will really love certain tracks.
You might even find that courses with two tracks are completely different even though they are the same place! Cheltenham is a good example of this; the inner track will suit the speedy types while the outer track will be more of a test. You might have the same ground and trip – but the layout of the track can really shape a race differently.
Combining Ground And Track Analysis
A lot of work goes into getting the ground and track right for horses. Owners and Trainers will always be trying to get their horses to run in the conditions that suit them the best. You should take the time to look into race times more because they can tell you a lot about a race.
The times of each race will always tell you what the ground is riding like – is it faster or slower than standard on the “official” ground. Professional Punters and Traders put a huge amount of work into getting these decisions right. It’s worth the time putting the work in to find an edge in the markets.