The bounce factor is often a hotly debated subject among punters and the horse racing fraternity at large, but what does it mean and how important really is it?
First of all, let’s take a look at what the bounce factor actually refers to.
What is the bounce factor?
The bounce factor is when a horse produces a below par performance on it’s next run after an extended break or on it’s next run after a particularly hard race or big performance.
The basic logic behind it is fairly simple stuff.
It’s like if you go to the gym regularly but then miss a few months. On the second day back you will be a bit stiff and sore after the exertions of the first day and thus won’t be at your best. Likewise, if you go particularly hard on any given day and don’t give yourself sufficient recovery, you are likely to feel flat the next day.
Horses are not humans though and how they respond to physical exercise, though similar to the human response, is not the same. However, the bounce factor does for certain apply to horses and needs to be examined.
The problem with the bounce factor though, like many factors that can affect a horses performance, is that punters, the racing press, trainers and jockeys are often far too black and white in their assessment. Many people seem to throw a blanket over all horses and just decide that a horse is a horse and thus treat them all similarily.
This is a massive mistake.
I would therefore be very wary of any stats that claim to give any sort of definitive answer as to a horses chances of bouncing. Most of these studies are far too general and and not very scientific. There are just far too many possible factors at play to use such stats as anything other than a guide.
Among the factors that can determine if a horse will bounce or not are:
- The trainer and his/her methods.
- The tendencies of the bloodline.
- The gap between the big performance/return from an extended break and the next race.
- In the case of the first run after an extended break, how intense that race actually was.
- The underfoot conditions for the big performance and/or first run back.
- How the big performance compares to the previous few runs.
The trainer and his/her methods
Without question this is easily the most important factor as to if a horse will bounce or not.
For starters, training methods have changed and advanced dramatically in recent years. If a horse is back after a long lay off they will generally be much fitter nowadays than in the past. This higher level of fitness of course means that a horse is less likely to bounce on the second run back. This is the main point to take regarding the bounce factor after a long break.
The fitter a horse is for it’s first run back the less likely it is to bounce on it’s second run.
It therefore stands to reason that how a trainer prepares his/her horses pre-season will largely determine if they bounce or not. Fitness achieved quickly over a few weeks will not be as sustainable as a slow base that was built up gradually.
If a horses fitness is built up gradually for it’s first run back after a break, then it is more likely to progress and thrive towards the second run rather than bounce.
If a horses fitness is rushed and it is just given a few quick gallops before it’s first run back, then it is more likely to regress and bounce on the second run.
In a nutshell, different trainers operate in different ways. A horse that looks like a classic bounce candidate could actually have little or no chance of bouncing, or could in fact be highly likely to bounce, depending on who trains it.
This might all seem very obvious, but you would be surprised how seemingly obvious things can go unnoticed.
I won’t mention any names, but there was a classic winning trainer in the not too distant past whose horses would always run well first time out for the season. Then they would pretty much all bounce on their second run back. It absolutely astonished me time and time again how most of these horses were favourites second time back on the basis of the good run first time back. Pretty much all of them were beaten second time out. This happened year after year. It really did seem like no one at all was paying attention and noticing that all this trainers horses were bouncing.
Again I won’t mention any names, but I once heard a trainer mention how he was worried about the bounce factor for one of his horses. He suggested that the only way to get it “out of the horses system” would be to replicate a race type situation at home on the gallops so to “leave the bounce at home.” The trainer in question is one who I would consider to be a genius, yet here he was totally misunderstanding what was going on. I could have told him that horses from his yard practically never bounce due to the way he trains them.
Why didn’t he know this himself? Because no one is perfect and we all have massive, yes massive, leaks in our game. This is a good thing as it means there will always be an edge.
The tendencies of the bloodline
Once again, this is a massively underrated factor.
Some bloodlines are way more likely to regress rather than thrive after a huge effort on the racetrack.
Other bloodlines are way more likely to thrive rather than regress after a huge effort on the racetrack.
These things can either be mental or physical or both, but are usually mental. We hear a lot about bloodlines and sire stats regarding age tendencies and ground and distance preferences, but what we hear less about are the mental tendencies of bloodlines.
There are no stats for these. This is why we must learn to read between the stats.
The gap between the big effort and/or return from an extended break
This one was touched on earlier and is pretty much common sense.
If a horse produces a huge performance then it probably needs a longer break than usual before it’s next race.
What then is the ideal gap to allow following a hard race or max performance?
It can be hard to define exactly what is a sufficient time period, but again, it is something that needs to be considered in conjunction with all the other factors. Therefore there is no answer to this question and it is dangerous to assume there is. If you are considering backing a horse, you need to trust the trainer in question that he/she knows the horse well enough and has considered everything. If you don’t trust the trainer to make a good decision in this situation and get it right more often than not, then you shouldn’t be backing one of his/her horses in the first place.
In the case of the first run after an extended break, how intense that race actually was
This one is important and again often overlooked in the blanket assessment that any horse might bounce second time back after an extended break.
If the horse was gradually brought to fitness for the first run back and that race wasn’t an especially taxing effort, then the race will likely bring the horse forward and leave it ready to race again sooner than if the race had been a big effort.
If the horse was rushed back to fitness for the first run back and then produces a particularly big effort in the race, then it is vital that enough time is given before the next race. Otherwise the risk of bouncing is very large.
The underfoot conditions for the big performance/first run back
Again, this is common sense.
In the case of extreme going conditions, a horse should be given sufficient recovery after a big performance or after first run back from an extended break. If not they are at a big risk of bouncing.
We all know that heavy underfoot conditions take more out of a horse as they have to work harder and use more energy to get through the ground.
Likewise in the case of particularly firm going conditions. Firm ground might cause a horse to be more stiff and sore than usual after the harder impact with the surface.
How the big performance compares to the previous few runs
A horse that surprisingly produces a very big performance, or unexpectedly shows improved form, is less likely to reproduce the same level of form next time out than if the big performance was the result of a gradual peaking of form.
The bounce factor is much more likely to occur with an “in and out” or unreliable horse than it is with a consistent and progressive type. This also holds through for after an extended break. If the horse was consistent before the extended break, it will more likely be consistent after it and progress from race to race rather than bounce. The reasons for these differing levels of consistency are many, but trainer tendencies and bloodline tendencies are again two of the main factors.
It is very important to realise that a lot of things need to be taken into account regarding the bounce factor. No two individual horses are the same and no two horses are coming from the same background regarding trainer, bloodline, life history and racing experience.
Therefore, those who say the bounce factor doesn’t exist at all and is just something people use as an excuse for a bad run, are very mistaken. Yet, it is an equally big mistake to place too much emphasis on it’s importance without first doing a thorough check of all the possible relevant factors.