If you’re new to horse racing, then you’re going to need to familiarise yourself with a number of quirky terms. One of those is that of the “going” and throughout this article we will be looking at what this means and how it works.
The ‘going’ is a term that is used to describe how much moisture and therefore give there is in the track for each race. The moisture content is then categorised, ranging from Firm, which is basically no moisture to Heavy, which is full of moisture.
It’s one of the most important factors for punters to look at before each race as the going can have a huge effect on not just how a horse might perform, but also those horses that are going to favour a certain ground.
What Are The Different Types of Going?
The rating for the going and even how it’s worked out can change from country to country. In the UK, there are 7 classifications, which include:
- Firm – This is the hardest, driest ground and usually the fastest ground as a result. In the UK, racing over the summer will be the only time of year where you get firm ground and these races will usually be that of flat races.
- Good to firm – This rating is taken slightly lower than firm, meaning that there is still some moisture in the track, but for the most part it’s pretty dry. If there is no rain forecast and the ground is very hard, racecourse workers might water the ground just to prevent it from cracking up.
- Good – When the going is good, it’s often thought of to be the fairest ground for most horses. Again, this does include some moisture, but it’s still pretty dry. Throughout the year, the majority of ground, especially for flat racing, will be good.
- Good to soft – The goings start to take in a little more water now and with it changes from good to soft. This means that the majority of it is good ground, but there are wetter parts of the track, which could be deemed as soft ground. This is most common over jumps and the winter months. In Ireland this is referred to as Yielding.
- Soft – The winter months is made up of soft ground and this running includes a lot of water. Some horses do actually do well with softer ground, although there are plenty that will struggle.
- Heavy – This is the wettest the ground can get before a race meeting will be abandoned. It can be described as boggy and even bottomless and generally horses don’t like running this ground given how slow it is and the stamina that is needed to win. Many horses will be withdrawn on heavy ground, especially younger horses that struggle with stamina.
All-Weather Going Types
The introduction of all-weather and harder racing tracks in the UK has meant that there have needed to be some adaptations to the going and how a track might be running. These tracks are often sand based, and include slightly different levels of pace and firmness. Here are the other terms that you may see for these types of races:
- Standard to Fast
- Standard to Slow
It’s worth noting that all-weather races can also include a “hard” rating, but few races have been graded as hard due to the fact that it’s often dangerous for both horse and jockey.
How is the Going Measured?
Since March 2007, the GoingStick has been a mandatory tool for measuring the going of any race. Previously it used to simply be the clerk’s shoe and how far it would dig into the ground, but now the official instrument has to be used, although there is still some subjectification about how to implement the readings.
The GoingStick was the brainchild of TurfTrax, and with it over £500,000 was invested by Jockey club to make sure that each course was able to use a consistent, yet affordable measuring tool.
The tool is one that is actually quite simplistic and looks fairly similar to that of a spade with a box at the top. The clerk for the course will turn on the kit, enter the stake into the ground, tilt to roughly 45 degrees and then remove.
It’s then able to work out how hard the spoke passed into the ground, how easily the ground moved to the 45-degree angle and then how it easy it came back out. It almost mimics how a horseshoe might interact with the surface.
The clerk will need to do these multiple times throughout a track and it can take up to an hour to pace the whole course and get multiple readings.
Once complete, the GoingStick will then throw out a number between 0 and 15. The zero represents the ground is as wet as it can be and then 15 is almost like concrete. He usual range is between 5 and 10 for most courses.
Interestingly, the hardest ever reading from the GoingStick was 12.8 at Thirsk in 2009 and the lowest is just 2.7 at Haydock over jumps 2017.
The GoingStick has (and does) come under some criticism though, with a subjective point of view still be applied to the final reading. For example, a reading of 7 might be declared the same going as a reading of 8 at another track. The clerk still has an input into the final going for the meeting, which is something that infuriates trainers.
Overall though, the GoingStick is used as a strong guide for all UK-based racecourses and is the main tool used to determine the going.
How Does the Going Affect a Race?
The general rule is that the harder the ground the faster the race will be run. This is because as the ground gives less, it means it performs a stronger platform for the horse to push off from and then less energy is wasted as a result.
If you were going to be running in a race, then you’re always going to run faster on tarmac than you would in a wet, boggy field, simply because your feet would give away less on tarmac. The same sort of principle can be applied to horses and the ground they run on.
Another vital point to remember is that not all horses like firmer ground. This is a common misconception between horse racing punters, thinking that just because the ground is firm, the horses will enjoy this more.
When you get soft or even heavy ground, you need to look for certain attributes in a horse. Stamina is one thing that is an easy one to note and even though a horse may be slower than their opponent, soft ground is a great leveller, meaning that if they’ve got more stamina, they are likely going to beat them in that race.
Are the Readings the Same in Other Countries?
Not exactly. In the USA and Australia, the going terms are slightly different that you get over in the UK. The main reason for this is that they have much drier weather in both countries, so most tracks will be ‘firm’ which means that they are able to describe different levels of firmness.
Going in Australia
Australia have the following ratings:
- Firm 1: Dry hard track
- Firm 2: Firm track with reasonable grass coverage
- Good 3: Track with good grass coverage and cushion
- Good 4: Track with some give in it
- Soft 5: Track with a reasonable amount of give in it
- Soft 6: Moist but not a badly affected track
- Soft 7: More rain-affected track that will chop out
- Heavy 8: Rain affected track that horses will get into
- Heavy 9: Wet track getting into a squelchy area
- Heavy 10: Heaviest category track, very wet, towards saturation
Going in the USA
The USA goings are as follows:
- Fast: The driest surface possible
- Wet Fast: – A bit of surface water, but dry underneath and will run fast overall
- Good: A little damper than Fast
- Muddy: Wet track, but no standing water
- Sloppy: Standing water and saturated track
- Slow: Wet on the top and wet underneath
- Sealed: A track surface that has been packed down.
- Firm: Well packed, hard
- Good: Just slightly softer than firm, still fast
- Yielding: Good to soft, essentially
- Soft: Lots of water
- Heavy: Wettest possible condition of a turf course. Rare in North America.
As you can see, the names and the classifications differ slightly, but they are all linked pretty well. The drier climates for both Australia and USA mean that heavy or even softer tracks are rare, which is why they have so many variations of the harder goings for their racetracks.