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Book Review

Learning by Example: Analyzing the Functional Conformation of the Thoroughbred Racehorse
By Judy Wardrope
JW Equine, July 2009, 257 pages PDF

Regardless of your level of investment in Thoroughbred racing, whether you are purchasing expensive racing or breeding stock at auction or simply picking a horse to bet on in the paddock or post parade, the physical appearance of the racehorse will always be an important factor in the decision-making progress. You are less likely to buy or wager on a horse that does not look healthy. However, most casual followers of racing do not know what to look for. In her latest book, internationally respected equine journalist Judy Wardrope aims to demystify the science of conformation in Thoroughbreds, drawing from over three decades of experience in this field.

In the book, she uses easy-to-understand language to explain what to look for when observing horses, demonstrating how the underlying bone structure is a strong determinant in soundness, level of ability (stakes winner or claimer), and distance preference. The best racehorses generally are of the best breeding, since their ancestors had the best bone structure and merely passed on those attributes down to them. Wardrope helps you look "beyond the surface" in order to accurately analyze the functional conformation. The text is accompanied by some 400 photographs and diagrams to demonstrate what to look for. These photos, most from the last few runnings of the Breeders' Cup and other top races worldwide, make it very clear to the reader just what to look for. An interesting observation she makes is that size doesn't matter -- small horses can and do compete well against larger horses -- but it is the conformation that determines a horse's ability to perform. For example, Northern Dancer was a small horse but he was a champion on the track and breeding shed and appears in the pedigrees of many Thoroughbreds racing today.


An example of the many conformation photos used in the book.
In other sections, you learn what to look for to determine which horses are more likely to blow turns, which racing surface (turf, dirt, or synthetic) he or she would run best on, have longer or shorter stride lengths, and what distances they'd compete over, even before you see the horse actually run. This is a very important skill buyers need when picking horses to bid on at auction, and one that can be used by bettors as well, especially when handicapping first time starters or horses doing something new such as changing surface or distance. Without the benefit of pedigrees or past performances, functional conformation may be the advantage the horseplayer will need to get an edge, particularly the bettor who is able to closely observe the horses up close at the track. Often the television view is not clear or close enough to make the observations necessary.

After the instructional section, the second part of the book includes photos of several horses, demonstrating the techniques learned earlier, listing in most cases the horse's name, earnings, winning distances, and whether he or she was a stakes winner. Just sampling some of these horses, it is clear just how powerful conformation is as a determining factor in racing success, and often in breeding success if the stallion or broodmare can pass along these attributes to their offspring. This explains why conformation photographs are commonly used in stallion advertising. After these examples, Wardrope includes a "self-test" quiz, with a photo of a horse and then blanks where you can fill in the findings and then predict the horse's on-track performance (stakes winner, optimal distance, etc). Finally, she includes some examples of younger horses (yearlings and 2-year-olds), as almost all of the previous examples had been 3 year olds and upward. As these horses are still growing, some modifications must be made in what to look for vs. fully grown horses, and she covers this as well.

Wardrope has mostly served the high end of the market, giving clinics, seminars and workshops meant for bloodstock agents and trainers, and has passed on a lot of that same knowledge to casual fans in this work, the culmination of years of study, observation and data collection. Whether you participate in racing as a breeder, trainer, buyer, caregiver, or bettor, understanding the functional conformation of the thoroughbred racehorse is crucial to your success in this business. The game is all about picking the right horse, and this is an important piece of the puzzle to make that winning decision.

Those wanting to learn more may want to attend one of Wardrope's seminars to witness this expert first-hand. Judy will be available to a limited number of enthusiasts at the start of the 2010 Keeneland Mixed Sale (starting November 8th in Lexington, KY) for hands-on sessions. Contact her directly for fees and available dates.

Learning by Example: Analyzing the Functional Conformation of the Thoroughbred Racehorse is available for purchase directly from the author at her website. You can purchase the PDF book (30MB in size) for download for $59.95, or have the file mailed to you on a CD-ROM for $60 plus $10 shipping.

Rating:     5/5

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