Physicality Handicapping a Major Stakes Race


2015 Belmont Stakes

For a race such as this Sunday’s Belmont Stakes, a physicality handicapper’s best tool is a set of notes on how the individual horse looks on that particular day COMPARED TO its earlier physical form. Why? Because very few of the physicality angles you will use on a less expensive group of horses will apply here. These are among the nation’s finest three-year-olds and therefore they should all look outstanding. Their mental state, however, that is another story, which we’ll get into in a minute.

All of the horses running in a stakes race should have no obvious physical issues to worry about, with one proviso in this case – are they still carrying good flesh if they have run two or three legs of the Triple Crown campaign? The most intriguing tool I like to use is a screen shot comparison of the major contenders on an earlier day, say the Kentucky Derby, compared to the Belmont. At the Derby these horses were just entering the tough campaign for the Triple Crown, and of course, the horse that we are most concerned about in that regard is American Pharoah, who was very hard-ridden during the stretch of the Preakness.

Find a good full shot of Pharoah from the Derby and take a look at him in comparison on Belmont Day. Are his ribs easier to see on Belmont Day? Is his musculature as robust, or does he look a little thinner? Horses can lose up to 40 pounds in an average race. The Triple Crown campaign is very tough on a horse.

The other issue in this race, particularly for the less experienced horses, will be the huge crowd and noise. It is an intense experience for humans to be in a crowd that large, let along a flight animal like a horse. Be on the lookout for horses that are extremely nervous or washed out looking. I’m not talking about a little bit of white lather between the hind legs, which is called kidney sweat. I’m talking about a horse that is wet from the neck and shoulders and beyond.

I’ve put a side-by-side comparison of Pharoah winning the Kentucky Derby with his picture unloading from the van at Belmont Park, and honestly, I’m not worried. Something other than his physical condition is more likely to beat Pharoah, if at all.

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Barbara Bowley
Top Female Contest Player/Physicality Handicapper Barbara Bowley aka "Sophia" is the only female DerbyWars $100K game winner and one of the most successful women in the field. She recently won DW's $50k game, making her the only person to ever win both their $100k and $50k games. Her experience growing up around horses and natural intuitive style have made her successful at reading a horse’s psychological state, physical suitability and readiness to win.