SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Behind Saratoga’s Oklahoma Training Track this week, a group of 20 visitors were treated to a master class of sorts.
“What I’m about to teach you is all art, it is not black, it is not white, it is all gray,” trainer Kenny McPeek told the attentive guests gathered at his barn.
Led by the Travers winning trainer, the clinic ushered the group through the finer points of judging a racehorse’s conformation, the technical term for equine physique.
“These are the points of reference,” McPeek began. “The tip of the nose, the top of her pole, the top of the withers, the angle of her neck.”
“You have got to look at the big picture, you have to look at the entire horse,” Davant Latham said.
A longtime bloodstock agent who advises clients on the purchase of thoroughbreds, Latham led a similar discussion a day earlier about judging yearlings, or one-year-old horses, before Fasig-Tipton’s annual Saratoga sale.
“I want to see the horse come out and walk down and back,” said Latham, who is also a breeder. “I want to see them in motion first, that is just me.”
One of the key things potential buyers look at, conformation is a strong indicator of how a horse will perform on the track.
“The shorter the reach, the shorter the runner,” McPeek explained to his group while showcasing a two-year-old filly in his barn.
Even for seasoned pros, assessing conformation can be tricky to navigate.
“I would say my eye still evolving,” Latham said. “I don’t want to ever feel like I know it all because you don’t. These are animals, there’s a lot of nuance involved.”
“It is one of those things to where you have to see it in person,” said Meredith Downey, the Thoroughbred Owner and Breeders Association’s (TOBA) director of marketing and education.
Organized by TOBA, the seminars are designed to educate and attract new owners to the sport.
“It can be incredibly intimidating,” Downey said. “The one thing we try to do at TOBA is try to make it relatable and make it accessible.”
“This was immensely helpful and we are seeing some potential champions here right up close,” said Larry Gonzalez, who attended both seminars after deciding to invest in racing partnerships about three years ago.
New owners like Gonzalez who have attended TOBA seminars over past decades credit the lessons for helping them feel more confident about picking the right horse.
“Once you have somebody who has evaluated thousands and thousands of horses, then you get a much greater understanding,” Gonzalez said.
For more information about TOBA and future seminars, visit the organization’s website.