Whether you’re someone that is really into their horse racing or are the sort of person that only pays it a passing interest, there is a strong likelihood that you’ll have heard someone talk about the ‘Going’ at a racecourse. There’s an argument that the only thing thing more influential than the Going when it comes to horse racing is the amount of weight assigned by the handicapper in handicap racing, such is the importance of it.
The Going is, in essence, the state of the ground at the racecourse and will differ from course to course and even on the same course at different times of the year. A period of prolonged sunshine is just as likely to influence the Going as heavy rain is, with each horses having its own preference when it comes to the Going. Some are good when it’s Heavy, others when it’s Soft, but the Going is always influential on a race’s outcome.
Horses can race on all sorts of ground, with different ones preferring different types. On British turf courses there are six different types of Going, which are as follows:
You will also sometimes hear or see references to the Going being one thing moving into another, such as Good, Good to Soft in places. This is because different courses will have patches that are better or worse at coping with heavy rainfall than others, or a section of the track that doesn’t get as much sun as other parts. Looking at the above list, Firm is the hardest type of ground and Heavy is the softest.
The Going is usually Firm during the summer months, given that it is when the ground is at its driest. It is not all that common to experience properly firm Going any more, largely because courses choose to water their tracks in order to make them safer for horses to run on. That being said, when the weather is particularly dry and hot there is only so much that a racecourse is able to do to move it to Good to Firm.
Firm Going allows horses to run much faster than Heavy Going, which is why it is more common to experience it at flat racing meetings than jump racing. Indeed, if the Going was Firm at a jump racing event then race organisers would have to decide if it would be safe for the racing to take place. There aren’t as many concerns in flat racing and it’s actually quite common for track records to be set when the Going is Firm.
Good to Firm
Good to Firm is arguably the perfect condition for the turf to be in for flat racing events. It is what the ground will be like when it has been dry but there has been a degree of moisture in the air, taking the edge off the firmness of the track. It will still be extremely quick, but will do less damage to the horse when it’s running on the ground because it simply isn’t as hard when its hooves are landing on the ground.
This is what most flat racing racecourse’s will want their course to be like and will water the ground in order to achieve it where possible. It is a difficult one to get right, but the idea is for it to be wet enough to mean that the firmness has been removed from the turf but it is still quick to run on. Watering will normally be done on occasions when there is no rain forecast ahead of a meeting.
The most middling of all Going types, it is the one that suits the vast majority of horses. It happens when there’s been enough rain to take all of the firmness out of the ground but the moisture isn’t holding. It’s not uncommon to see large fields in races when the Going is Good, simply because it is the fairest for the horses to run on and virtually all of them like it and tend to do well on this type of Going.
Most racecourses will aim to get the turf Good for all races because it’s the best for most horses to run on. A horse that favours the Going when it’s Soft, for example, will be happy to race on Good Going because it’s still relatively gentle for them to run on. If the Going was Firm, however, then the Soft-loving horse would almost certainly be pulled from the race. It’s just an ideal halfway house.
Good to Soft
When the Going is Good, it means that the ground has taken enough moisture to remove the firmness from it but hasn’t kept that moisture. When the moisture remains in the ground, however, then the Going becomes Good to Soft. This type of Going is common at the beginning of the flat racing season and then again at the end of it, when the weather is more likely to be a bit wet but still have enough dryness around.
A horse that likes Firm ground will present a difficult question for their owners and trainers to answer when the Going is Good to Soft. The Good part of things won’t present them with too much of a challenge, but the Soft part isn’t ideal. It suits most horses as a Going type, but it’s not uncommon for trainers to walk part of the course to decide just how Soft it is and how much is mainly Good.
The longer rain comes down for, the more likely it is to soften up the ground. When the Going is Soft then the general idea is that the course has taken a good amount of moisture but is able to take more. As you might expect, Soft Going is most common in the winter months, when we see large amounts of rain in the United Kingdom. The good thing about it is that softer ground is kinder to jump racing horses.
It’s tougher for horses to run on Soft ground than when it’s a bit firmer, so the amount of time it takes the field to complete the race will be longer. That doesn’t mean that some horses don’t love it when the Going is Soft, however. It’s common enough for powerful jump racing horses to love it when the ground is Soft, largely thanks to the fact that their jumps are cushioned slightly.
The wettest weather will reduce in the Going being Heavy, which is seen by many as the worst the ground can be. It’s the point at which the track has taken as much water as it’s able to cope with and isn’t draining quickly enough, meaning that the water is starting to stick around. If an increased amount of rain falls then it’s entirely possible that things might get to the point when a meeting has to be cancelled.
The horses that cope best when the Going is Heavy are those with excellent stamina, given that it becomes a real slog to complete a race. It’s common to have Heavy Going during the jump racing season, which is just as well when you consider that most flat racing horses simply wouldn’t want to run in such conditions. There are still some horses that love the Going being Heavy, but there aren’t loads of them.
Deciding On The Going
It might sound like a joke, but the Going is decided by course stewards who test the ground with a Going Stick. This was introduced in 2007 and made mandatory for all British racecourses the following year. Simply put, it is a device that is able to measure how much moisture there is in the ground. Once it has measured the moisture it produces a number, which falls into a category that defines the Going.
This is a vast improvement on years gone by, when the Going would be decided upon by the clerk of the course walking it and sticking their boot into the turf at different points. It was clear as the technology developed that this form of dictating the Form wasn’t good enough for a sport with as much money invested in it as horse racing, hence using the Going Stick became far more common.
The Going In Other Countries
The main explanation of the Going on this page is how things are worded in the United Kingdom. Other countries have their own approach to the Going, with one such example coming in Ireland where they also have ground that is Yielding. This is similar to Good to Soft, but not exactly the same. You’ll sometimes see Irish courses referred to s having Good to Yielding, say, or Yielding to Soft. It would probably fall between Good and Good to Soft.
It’s not even called the Going in all countries, with Americans referring to it as Track Condition and Australians calling it the Track Rating. Remaining in Australia for a moment, those down under have ten different levels that the track can be in, though they’re mainly just different degrees of the same ones that we have in the United Kingdom. Rather than having one Heavy, for example, they have three. Here they are:
- 1 Firm
- 2 Firm
- 3 Good
- 4 Good
- 5 Soft
- 6 Soft
- 7 Soft
- 8 Heavy
- 9 Heavy
- 10 Heavy
Each of these categories is slightly different to the one before it, increasing in softness incrementally as the list goes on. The first Firm track means that it is dry and hard, whilst the last Heavy means that it is very wet to the point that it is close to being saturated. In essence, it is simply a more specific version of the same sort of Going that we have in the UK, with each rating offering its own problems for the horses.
In the United States of America, dirt tracks are far more common than they are in the United Kingdom. The result of that is that the country has its own versions of the Going for both turf and dirt tracks. Turf tracks are similar to the Going terms in the UK, starting with Firm and moving through Good and Yielding to Soft and then Heavy. On dirt tracks, however, the Going will be as follows:
- Wet Fast
The names of each Going type gives you most of the information that you need, with Sealed being the only exception. This is when a track surface has been packed down in order to allow water to run off it. This reduced the amount of moisture that gets absorbed, with wet tracks tending to be sealed in order to make the racing surface even and as safe as possible for the horses that are running on it.
There are numerous all-weather tracks around the country, which are designed to allow racing to take place of them regardless of the time of year and the weather that the country is experiencing. At the time of writing, all-weather tracks are limited to flat racing events as the ground is simply too firm to allow horses to jump on in a safe manner. All-weather courses tend to have three types of Going:
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what each of these categories means. Slow is the all-weather equivalent of Soft, whilst Standard is the same sort of thing as when the Going is Good on turf tracks. If the Going is Fast then that’s similar to Firm on turf tracks. All-weather tracks have the ability to change the Going as the race organisers see fit, including the ability to mix Goings such as Standard to Slow.