First-timer's Derby guide: Looking up horses

Here's how to look up horses if you attend Indian Derby (Gr 1) --  the country's greatest racing event -- at the Mahalaxmi racecourse this Sunday (February 5).

Coat: Coat means the tone of the skin. If it reflects light, it's a good sign. If it does not, the horse may be rusty.
Eyes: Rolling eyes indicate too much excitement or fright. Sleepy eyes may signify a dull horse. A focussed, steady and curious gaze in the direction of the sound indicates an alert and ready horse.
Ears: Ears pricked forward generally mean the horse is ready and alert. Ears pinned back indicate fear, sometimes anger. A ready horse will always flick ears towards the jockey when he is mounting.
Neck: An arched neck signifies a well-tuned horse, but generally for a sprint race. It may not be a great sign for trips of more than a mile.
Tail: Ready horses generally have a high (meaning 'raised') tail. They may lightly swish it when walking with springy steps. A kinked tail is a sign of genuine fear.

Making decisions 
When horses leave the paddock to go to the starting gates, it's time to make betting decisions, and the action shifts to Tote windows and bookmakers' ring. As a newbie, you would be better off betting small (R10 is minimum bet) on the Tote.

Besides paddock inspection, there are other ways to find out how good or bad a horse is as a bet. This study is called 'handicapping.' There are many branches of handicapping. Some of the most practiced are class, speed, pace, and trip handicapping. For more information, you may log onto racing websites.

Every horse race is a new puzzle, and what keeps a good percentage of race lovers glued to this wonderful sport is the intellectual pursuit of solving that puzzle.

Interestingly, a study conducted at John Hopkin's university in the US found that those, who engage in intense form of handicapping, have a better protection against one of the most dreaded diseases of modern times -- Alzheimer's.

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