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Old 04-02-2006, 04:47 PM   #1
DJofSD
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Lead changes.

This topic was originally brought up in the FLA Derby thread.

I can get very technical about this subject, so, let's just start with a simple observation then go on from there.

A horse while cantering or galloping will have a front leg that strikes the ground before the other. Typically, this will be called a left lead if the left fore leg hits the ground first.

When it gets tired or gets off balance, it will change leads. Or, in other words, the leg that was 2nd to hit the ground now becomes the 1st to hit the ground.

When a horse is on a specific lead, there is a natural balance to one direction or the other depending up the lead. In North America where left handed races predominate, running while in the turn means to keep its balance, a horse will run on the left lead. When it's running straight, like down the back stretch, it doesn't make any difference which lead it's on.

One of the great things about having a race on tape or DVR is you can watch then pause or rewind the stretch drive to see when a horse will change leads -- that is if the shot is not too tight preventing you from seeing the legs.

Now, here's some more technical details.

A horse moves in a canter in a three beat motion. In equestrian desciplines, the lead is defined by not the front leg but the hind leg. Which one hits the ground first after the suspension phase, i.e. from the point where the horse is in the air, completely off the ground, which hind leg hits the ground first. After the first hind leg hits the ground, the next pair of legs will hit at the same time. This pair is a diagonal pair of one hind leg and one fore leg on the opposite side. If for example the left hind leg hits first, the diagonal pair is the left front and the right hind. It's the diagonal pair the determines which way is the easist direction for the horse to turn while maintaining the gait.

To illustrate the importance of the lead for running in the turn, try this simple exercise. Get down on you hands and knees. If you're afraid of looking silly or don't want the kids or grand kids looking for a free pony ride, close the door! Then canter and remember that you have to have a diagonal pair to be cantering. Try turning in the opposite direction from the diagonal pair of "legs" -- not too easy! And for one obvious reason: you're attempting to go into the direction that's the same as the last leg to hit the ground which is the remaining fore leg. Ugg. Glad I'm a bipedal.

Some horses will naturally change leads. Others will favor one lead over the other. A well trained horse will respond to a cue to change leads. Most often this is seen on the race track while driving in the stretch when it appears a horse has put it into another gear.
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Old 04-02-2006, 05:42 PM   #2
the_fat_man
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Time consuming but an integral part of trip handicapping.

If a horse does some serious running in the race and fails to change leads in
the stretch
and you're not on it
thinking your FIGURES will suffice

bad idea

Last edited by the_fat_man; 04-02-2006 at 05:48 PM.
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Old 04-02-2006, 06:37 PM   #3
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Important aspect of why we all watch replays..... thanks for the thread......
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Old 04-02-2006, 08:33 PM   #4
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DJ,

Very enlightening. Thanks for making the effort.
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Old 04-02-2006, 09:54 PM   #5
the_fat_man
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DJ

Correct me where applicable here, as what follows is strictly empirical (based on my experience watching races).

To this point, I never really payed attention to the turn (in most cases, it's hard to see what lead is being used). It's clear in a 2 turn race that going into the 1st turn, horses are on their left lead. (Probably, subconsciously, I assumed the same on the 2nd turn.)

Question: can a horse navigate a left hand turn on its right lead? Or are instances of bolting (or just blowing the turn) an example of trying to do so?

Recently, I was watching the backstretch headon of a race at Aqueduct and one of the pace setters appeared to be trying to 'lay' on the horse to his inside. Upon more careful inspection, it became apparent that he was not being aggressive but rather it was his natural motion ---running (with his head) toward the inside. In other cases, I've noticed horses that run 'toward ' the outside. Never thought about it before but clearly (unless it's a soreness issue) the lead they're on plays a factor in these cases.

Been having this back and forth with JD in the Florida Derby Post
and his comments about noticing lead changes on the turn got me to thinking.

If you're correct, then the ideal 2 turn trip, for example, is one in which the horse starts on its right lead, takes the 1st turn on its left, runs the length of the backstretch on its right, takes the stretch turn on its left, and finishes the race on its right lead.

The topic also jarred my memory a bit: in the past I have heard of jockeys claiming that their mount ran the entire race without changing (is this crazy?).

This only serves to complicate things a bit more: noting lead changes, or the lack of, in the stretch only, without regard to what's transpired in terms of changes (or lack of) during the course of the race, is not comprehensive. Of course, this would not be a 'one shot' thing: one would need to be familiar with the running style/habits of the horse as well.

Gonna have to get used to the head on angle for the leads.

Very interesting.

Am I off base?

Last edited by the_fat_man; 04-02-2006 at 09:56 PM.
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Old 04-02-2006, 10:46 PM   #6
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good article about the WHY behind it and what a rider feels
http://www.lesliedesmond.com/articles/us/horse10-1.asp
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Old 04-02-2006, 10:54 PM   #7
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Quote:
Question: can a horse navigate a left hand turn on its right lead? Or are instances of bolting (or just blowing the turn) an example of trying to do so?
For a horse to run on the wrong lead into a turn is not unheard of but it would be unusual. It is natural for a horse to use the correct lead so as to keep its balance. Keeping its balance is more than just a need to not run into other horses. It is a very fundamental instinct. A horse does not want to fall down especially when running. Why? Because if a horse were to fall to the ground it would be attacked by its pursuer and be killed.

They'll blow turns for any number of reasons. If they are on the incorrect lead, they can run into the turn but they need to run wider especially if at speed.

I'm sure there are others reading this that have seen a horse bolt and not necessarily while in the turn. I've seen some pretty hairy sudden left or right hand turns. Most of the time when that happens it's because something has spooked or frightened the horse. At that point, fear and instinct take over and the training along with herd instinct go right out the window. I've been on a run away horse a couple of times and not riding short. It's about as scary an experience I've had. I can not image what a jock's reaction might be.

Can a horse run the entire race on one lead? Sure can. I would venture to guess a horse would do that if it was sore and was attempting to protect themselve or it just naturally traveled that way. Sometimes a horse will not run straight. Not running straight means the ass-end (hind quarters) do not follow immediately behind the front quarters, they are offset to one side or another. If a horse runs sufficently crooked, it can not change leads.

Is it smart for a horse to change leads during the race when running straight? I think so but trainers and jockies would have a better opinion than mine. It would seem the better thing to do so the effort along with the wear and tear is distributed on both sides. Given the chance, I'd love to ask this question of Mike Matz. He rode for the USET and won a gold medal for the US in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta (WTST--was there, saw that) and is the trainer of the undefeated Barbaro. He and Ritchie are in a unique position with their background in other equestrian disciplines to tell us if what they'd use in training a runner on the flat applies just the same as their competition horses for jumping and dressage, cross country/steeplechase.
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Old 04-02-2006, 11:01 PM   #8
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Now I am curious myself, DJ says that in the left hand turn, the horse runs on it's left lead. Now every year I always forget which hoove goes when, so I always have to refresh in the spring, but I am not so sure...

WHen I watch the replay of saturday's race it looks like all the horses are on the right hand leads in the turn, even Barbaro who switches to this left somewhat early. Then they all go onto the left hoove for the stretch. I know from watching lots of tape last year that they are consistent, I just forget which hoove goes when. So are you sure, DJ, that they are going left hoove lead in the turn?

If you think about it, if they are on the left lead in the turn they would be leaning to the outside, yes? ANd that would not work in a turn yes?

Again I am novice so please correct me. I may be missing something.

Also watching the Barbaro tape again, he actually bore in twice on Sharp Humor who was game throughout. He bore in on him about 3/4 of the way through the last turn, right at the moment when he switched from right lead to left lead. This was not mentioned by the announcer's but seems clear on tape. They did mention that he bore in on him about mid stretch or so.

Going back on the tape, Barbaro appeared to change leads about 10 strides prior to the stretch. Not sure how far a horse strides, but I guess that makes it 20 lengths.

Barbaro also lugged out later, as can be seen on the head on shot, but this might have been right at the finish or even after the finish. Hard to tell from the head on.
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Old 04-02-2006, 11:50 PM   #9
the_fat_man
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Well, since my last post I watched some tape. (Including the Florida Derby and the Skip Away and some headons). As is typically the case, my perception of a act is a bit different than the act itself.

Here's my update to what I've posted so far:

JP threw me a bit with his comments about leads on the turn (I'm assuming he's referring to mid turn and beyond).

Assuming that horses don't naturally (or fequently) change leads on the turn (given DJs comments to this effect, and empirical evidence) there's no reason to be looking for them (mid turn and on).

Since most (or practically all) horses are on the left lead taking the turn, upon entering the stretch it's easy to pick out those changing immediately to the right lead, and those not changing, struggling to change, or changing late. A delay in, or lack of, a change should be noted and applied to one's evaluation of the trip. In either case, however, we know that they were on the left lead (at least) in the (last part of the) turn.

What still remains interesting to me, however, is what horses (if any at all) are changing GOING INTO the turn.

I really need to study some backstretch and turn headons.

What's typical for a one turn sprint, say 6f? left lead gate to entering the stretch (4F), then right lead to the wire (2F? right lead gate to turn(2F), lefty turn (2F), right stretch(2F)? etc.

As for the Florida Derby, upon further review:

I don't believe that Sunriver ran as well as I initially thought, though he was the only one to actually make a move in the race, and a wide one at that.
Whipping before entering the stretch is never a positive sign for me.

Sharp Humor appears one dimensional; Barbaro will always have his number as he appears to be the type of horse that can be positioned as desired.

Without seeing the headons, I can't comment on any intimidation through the stretch.

Last edited by the_fat_man; 04-02-2006 at 11:59 PM.
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Old 04-03-2006, 03:11 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DJofSD
A horse while cantering or galloping will have a front leg that strikes the ground before the other. Typically, this will be called a left lead if the left fore leg hits the ground first.


When a horse is on it's left lead, the left front hits after the right front. The gallop is a four beat gait and the canter is a three beat gait. The left lead is right hind/ left hind/ right front/ left front/ airtime and beginning the next stride again on the right hind. Most racehorses will also get a little bit of "airtime" between the hind legs pushing and the front leg landing. The right lead is the opposite. LH/RH/LF/RF.

A horse should use their left lead for turns and right for straights in counterclockwise racing. Sore,tired or green(young) horses may not change or change too often.

It is difficult for a horse to negotiate the whole turn on the wrong lead. Switching too soon coming out of a turn usually won't slow them down, as long as they are past the elbow of the turn.

Some horses switch to their right lead as soon as they straighten out for home, others wait until deep stretch.
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Old 04-03-2006, 09:21 AM   #11
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For me, it's easier to see if a horse is either on the "wrong lead", or the "correct lead", by simply looking at the front feet.

I.E.- Which (front foot) really hits the ground first. Sometimes you have to slow-mo the video tape to really tell. Some horses have such a fluid motion, that even in slow motion, there's only a fraction of a difference between the time that the two front hoofs hit the ground. Other horses are not as fluid, and are easier to tell.
Usually the only time we can see good video of this, is the pan shot in the stretch. This is where you want your horse to have the left front foot hitting the ground first. And the sooner he changes leads coming out of the turn, - the better.
On the turns, the right front foot hits the ground first, to counteract the centrifugal force of the turn. Most horses don't have a problem with that, because it's natural to them.
The problem, is switching back again on the straight away.

So:
On the Turn - Right Front should hit the ground first.
In the Stretch (straightaways) - Left Front should hit first.
Quote:
Originally Posted by sniezer
"When a horse is on it's left lead, the left front hits after the right front. ".......
In other words, the right front hits the ground first.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sniezer
"It is difficult for a horse to negotiate the whole turn on the wrong lead." .....
Yes, Very difficult.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sniezer
"Some horses switch to their right lead as soon as they straighten out for home, ".....
Yes, These are the ones you want to bet.

When a horse fails to switch leads in the stretch, he starts drifting towards the rail, and can't be fully extended. Many times ends up "laying on" another horse's flank.

Horses that don't switch leads, are running the entire race on the same lead that they run the turns with. Not good for the horse's legs, or the bettor's wallet.

One criticism of 1-turn mile races, is that it's not healthy for a horse to run such a large % of the race, on the same lead.

I've heard trainers say (in s. ca.), that the horses they like to take to the Pomona bullring, are the ones that are good at changing leads, cause there are so many lead changes required on a bullring. And if your horse is good at changing leads, you have a leg up (couldn't avoid the pun), on the competition.

One of the most famous examples of a horse NOT changing leads, and costing him dearly, was Alydar. Even though I'm a Big Fan of Affirmed,... many say that if Alydar could have changed leads, he would have been able to pass Affirmed in at least one of the TC races, and.........Affirmed would Not have won the Triple Crown. ----- Hoss
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Old 04-03-2006, 10:41 AM   #12
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Quote:
When a horse is on it's left lead, the left front hits after the right front.
That's right, I stand corrected. That's what I get for just typing and not verifying.
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Old 04-03-2006, 10:53 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sniezer
When a horse is on it's left lead, the left front hits after the right front.
Maybe this answers JP's question about which lead a horse is generally on in the turn - left lead but the right front hoof hits the ground first which makes sense from a balance/centrifugal force standpoint - at least to me. I always thought the lead meant which front hoof hits the ground first, an error on my part.
There was a good article in I think Horseplayer Magazine on lead changes a few years ago and I remember it said that Dubai Millenium never changed leads, ran on the same lead the whole race, pretty good horse anyway but I guess he could have been a play against in a North American sharp turned race.
Can't jockey's help or even get a horse to change leads through rein work? Always thought Bailey was good at this. If a horse is getting tired doesn't a lead change provide that extra boost for the run down the lane coming out of the turn?
I think Fat-man's description of a balanced lead change run race is right on, too many lead changes might mean too much disruption in the horse's running momentum. Nice thread.
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Old 04-03-2006, 01:10 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wiley
Maybe this answers JP's question about which lead a horse is generally on in the turn - left lead but the right front hoof hits the ground first which makes sense from a balance/centrifugal force standpoint - at least to me. I always thought the lead meant which front hoof hits the ground first, an error on my part.
Yes it does answer my question, I am glad I am not going crazy which I thought I was. Every year this comes up and every year I forget which is which. so yeah, that all makes sense.
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Old 04-03-2006, 03:51 PM   #15
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While it can be difficult at times to watch a horse's motion and determine which is actually hitting the ground first.

It might help to watch a horses head. As he runs down the stetch, a horse on the right lead will appear to be looking into the grandstand or will have his head cocked toward the grandstand
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