Summertime is when the Quarter Horses hit their rapid strides.
Some of these animals have been clocked at speeds of more than 50 miles per hour, which is why the most common phrase heard around the finish line is, "Who won?"
Despite being America's most popular breed, with more than five million Quarter Horses registered in this country alone, many Thoroughbred handicappers regard races of 440 yards, or less, as something like cricket matches: they seem difficult to follow. As reluctant as some horse players are to wager on one of these races, you might think a Quarter Horse that went off at 5-1 would pay $7 to win.
The All American Futurity Labor Day weekend in Ruidoso has a purse of more than $2 million and is the Quarter Horse version of the Kentucky Derby.
Outside of the eagle, there's no more American an animal than the Quarter Horse.
Given the surge of national pride over moral victories by naught scoring in a soccer game, here's some stuff about Quarter Horse racing.
Question: Why do fans of Thoroughbreds look down their noses at Quarter Horse racing?
Answer: Part of it is unfamiliarity.
The most urban Quarter Horse race track is Los Alamitos in Los Angeles. Even there, the urban cowboy vibe is prevalent. The Quarter Horse Hall of Fame is in Amarillo. As the key element to a Quarter Horse race is coming out of the chute fast, it's viewed a rural sport.
Certain elements of Thoroughbred handicapping are meaningless when it comes to analyzing a race at a quarter of a mile. Some horses, particularly those wiped out in a gate sideswiping, can run again a few days later, and win.
Unbelievably enough, Quarter Horses seem to run to form more frequently than Thoroughbreds, which is to say lots of favorites break consistently well and get there to pay $3 and $4 and $5.
If it takes a considerable chunk of a lifetime to learn what to look for in a Thoroughbred race, many horse players probably think, with respect to Quarter Horses: Who needs another part time job?
Q: How can so many old guys ride Quarter Horses?
A: I have no idea.
Old people winning on Quarter Horses is one of the great mysteries of all sports.
Sometimes outriders are much younger than the jockeys themselves.
Sometimes jockeys are even older than the regular customers at Los Alamitos.
I have seen men well beyond 50 years of age win Quarter Horse races. There's obviously more than hanging on and praying to riding a Quarter Horse racer. The brevity of a race probably has something to do with the longevity of a jockey's career. But there aren't that many old dragster racers. Experience and guts have to matter more than you think at the Quarter Horse races.
Q: Are there any similarities to handicapping Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred races?
A: Yeah: Class matters. A minor claiming drop often means something.
And a track bias is often wildly important. Thoroughbreds can run away from something like a slow rail. But Quarter Horses are usually stuck in a lane, and in or out of a bias. The middle of the Quarter Horse lane is usually high and dry. The extreme post positions often produce extreme results. Anybody running against a slow outside bias can find double-figure satisfaction upon switching to a fairer track.
As is the case with some Thoroughbred handicapping, a person's best work generally seems to occur within thirty minutes of the consumption of the second beer, no more, no less. The imagination expands, the creative spirit soars. The third beer invites chaos.
Q: What's the best way to watch a Quarter Horse race?
A: With binoculars.
Focus on your horse as it prepares for the start in the gate. It can resemble something like a bucking bronco event at the rodeo in there. It's as though an electric eye opens the gate every time your horse rears or rocks backward. If the one you bet breaks cleanly, resume breathing and start yelling.
Q: Have you ever seen a Quarter Horse disqualified from a race?
Once one in the middle broke out and blasted two off stride and then circled back inside and knocked one into the infield and then trampled another one at the wire. After ten minutes, the alleged offender was moved from first to second.
It's news when there isn't bumping in a Quarter Horse race.
A disqualification usually requires a broadside action.
Q: Would it be easy to fix a Quarter Horse race?
A: Who knows.
Favorites loitering in gates give rise to worriers.
But oddball tickets can be traced by authorities.
Don't bet much and play long shots and it should all even out.
Q: Why don't Quarter Horses have more lyrical names?
A: The names tend to fit the racing styles: Dash for Cash and Bugs Alive in 75 don't fit sweeping ovals.
Quarter Horse names are getting more creative, as Kiss My Hocks is one of the best runners this year.
Q: What can you expect to get from the announcer's call of a Quarter Horse race?
A: It used to be, "They're off, here they come, you lose."
As my Quarter Horse handicapping skills have improved, now it's, "They're off, here they come, it's a photo-finish."
Q: What's the most exciting race in all of horse racing?
A: That occurs when a Quarter Horse runs around a turn for the first time.
You can make a lot of money playing Quarter Horses against thoroughbreds at half a mile, as the decent Quarters will be up by many lengths at the first call.
Turning a Quarter Horse for the first time in a live race often uses up most of the race track and can be like trying to turn on ice.
Upon seeing the first-time-to-turn description "Brushed rail," you have to wonder which rail?