Because I live in a state where I can’t play the dogs legally, I sometimes go to the local OTB to play the horses. I’m not as good at it as I am at picking dogs, but I’m improving. The other day, I was thinking that I’m kind of like a 2 yr old horse who’s rounding into form and getting better in fits and starts like they do.
Then I started thinking about young dogs in M races, how some of them “get it” right away and some take longer to figure out what racing is all about. I used to just look for standout puppies in M races, but over the years, I’ve learned that it’s not the best approach.
I know friends who do the same thing. They handicap an M race and see a dog that hasn’t done much and give up on it forever. I think it’s a good idea to stop and think about how young animals, including horses, dogs and even humans, develop. When kids start walking, they fall down a lot. They don’t stay down though. They get back up and eventually learn to walk without falling. (Until they get as old as I am, when falling is a definite possibility again.)
Young horses have to find their running style, and so do young dogs. Some find it right out of the box, win their first schooling race, then their first official race and just go right up the grades with no trouble. Some, most I’d say, take more time to learn the ropes. They may start out well and then get into trouble and take a while to get over it.
Or they may just be slower to develop than most puppies, just like some babies get their teeth later than others or sit up or walk later. They’ll do it, just like everyone else does, but in their own time. So, when you handicap the races with younger dogs – the M and J races – keep this in mind.
Don’t just dismiss a dog who hasn’t done much, or who has had several races where it came in second or third. It might just be developing on its own timetable and today may be the day that it figures out how to race without falling down. Its trainer has it in the race for a reason. If it’s still in there trying, its kennel thinks that it has a chance to win.