Understanding How Equipment Changes Impact a Racehorse’s Performance

Fans check out the horses in a post parade at Gulfstream Park in this file photo. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

Equipment changes are a key part of handicapping and taking note of them at the proper moment can lead to a profitable day at the races.

As an example, let’s look at How Sweep It Is in the fourth race at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 16.

A 4-year-old filly, she was coming into the $8,000 claiming race off a fifth-place finish on Jan. 8 in a similar claiming race.

Yet this time, How Sweep It Is was the subject of an equipment change with trainer Jane Cibelli taking blinkers off the filly.

Now, as in past examples in this space, just jumping on the bandwagon at the sight of the slightest change can be a frustrating experience. Change simply for the sake of change can surely drain your bankroll.

What you want to see is a sign that the change will help the horse turn in a better effort. For example, was the horse running erratically and displayed a need for blinkers?

In this case, How Sweep It is had undergone an equipment change once before in her past performances. They showed six races in which she raced without blinkers and had a pair of second-place finishes.

Then, after adding blinkers, she ran a poor sixth, but in her second start with them she took a class drop and won as a heavy favorite.

In this case, while the switch was nothing new, there was a hint in her workouts that a change might be for the better.

In four of her published workouts, the times were moderate or slow. The best was one that was the eighth best of 15 at the distance.

Yet on Feb. 5, in preparation for the Feb. 16 race, she turned in a sharp :48.30 half-mile drill that was the third-fastest of 36 at the distance. There’s no telling from that information if she wore blinkers in the workout, but the evidence – a faster than usual work and a subsequent equipment change – raised the possibility that she was poised for an improved effort.

Helping the cause were the long odds on How Sweep It Is. She was sent off at 10.40-1 odds, a very nice price in a field of seven.

And there was indeed a difference in How Sweep It Is. She showed early speed, like she did in her previous start. Only this time, unlike the last time she ran, she did not run out of gas at the half-mile pole. She simply kept on motoring.

She led throughout and scored by 4 ¼ lengths, paying $22.80 for a $2 win bet.

Clearly something changed in regards to How Sweep It Is, and maybe it was taking off the blinkers. Sometimes it pays to try to find out.

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