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By Don Bielak

Now that winter has descended upon us, it seems like the perfect time to discuss winter
racing from a handicapping aspect. The theories are many and varied, and some of
them can improve one's chances of success in the winter months.

Sub-freezing temperatures and harsh winds have an effect on the outcome of races.
For example, a horse racing uncovered into a 20 m.p.h. headwind when the
temperature is 20F faces a wind-chill factor of nearly -30F. Under this scenario,
pacesetters and first-over horses have the worst of it. This leads us to theory #1.

Theory #1: Added consideration should be given to horses that were first-over or cut
fast fractions under harsh weather conditions. Under this theory, horses that seem to
have quit first-over have legitimate excuses. Although it is difficult to predict which
horses will race uncovered in advance, a look back at a horse's last race can give
valuable insight into why he was unable to race well due to weather conditions.
Generally speaking, the faster and longer a horse had to race uncovered, the greater
excuse the horse had. Also, a horse that was able to race well DESPITE being
uncovered in harsh conditions deserves even more consideration.

Theory #2: Geldings should get preference over mares and horses in cold weather. The
theory behind this is that geldings, because they are less affected by hormonal changes,
can adapt better to the fluctuations in temperature. In some way they are "desensitized"
and less likely to suffer adverse effects from the cold.

Theory #3. Down-under horses race better than their American counterparts in winter.
The basis for this theory lies in the belief that because Australian and New Zealand
horses come from a land that has seasons that are opposite of ours
(our winter-their summer, etc.), they handle winter weather better because of some sort
of "climatic memory". In short, from years of racing in warm weather during our winter
months, their bodies are somehow able to handle cold weather better.

Theory #4: Some horses benefit from, and therefore race better in, the cold. This theory
is fueled by the knowledge that some horses with breathing problems have an easier
time in colder, drier air than they do in the warm, moist air of summer. Also, some
horses benefit from the cold air on their race-weary legs. It acts as a natural
anti-inflammatory, cooling and tightening sore joints andtendons.

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