How to pick a horse during the Magic Millions Carnival

There’s far more to racing than flouncy hats, freshly pressed suits and day-drinking. Smarten up with former horse trainer and Sky Channel’s racing expert Lizzie Jelfs’ tips to back a winner during The Star Gold Coast Magic Millions Carnival.

While backing a horse with an exotic sounding name or particularly fetching race colours may stand you in good stead for the occasional win, consistently picking a winner is a fine art – one that requires a few tricks of the trade and a keen eye.

After working for renowned Australian stable Lindsay Park for 15 years, self-professed horse lover Lizzie Jelfs made her foray into the media to become the Mounting Yard and Racing Expert for Sky Channel. “I’m part of the puzzle on race day,” she says, “but I’ve got a long history of being around horses and being within the industry.”

Former trainer of champions, such as Fields of Omagh and Niconero, Lizzie has an eye for picking horses at their peak physical ability. Whether it’s reading a horse’s race-day behaviour or understanding track conditions, with her help we’ll help you get into the spirit of The Star Gold Coast Magic Millions Carnival with our rookie’s guide to horse racing.  

Luke Currie riding Away Game to victory at The Star Gold Coast Magic Millions Carnival

Picking a winner

When it comes to picking a winner on race day, Lizzie abides by three general rules: personality and mindset on the day, overall health and wellbeing and how they walk. “A lot of form guides are created using computer systems, but it doesn’t matter what an algorithm says, at the end of the day they’re living, breathing athletes,” she says.

“If you use a human analogy and think about what an athlete looks like at the start of a race, some of them are jumping up and down and they’re really excited before the race – but you can look into their feelings and see they’re a bit nervous, or you can see they’re cool and calm,” says Lizzie. “You have to turn that into looking at horses. It’s exactly the same thing, they show the exact same characteristics.”

Personality and mindset: If you’re attending a race day in person, Lizzie suggests heading down to the yard and watching them walking around. Try to see if they look happy and are enjoying themselves. “A nervous horse can sometimes be a little bit warm and sweaty. You can see them perspiring around their neck and they’re just a little bit agitated,” says Lizzie. Some horses thrive off this nervous energy, but others can become a little overwhelmed by the situation. Lizzie suggests doing some research before attending on how the horses usually behave – if they’re quiet or sleepy on the day (or unusually jittery) it’s a good sign that they aren’t race ready.

Health and wellbeing: The appearance of a horse’s body and the quality of its coat can speak volumes about its overall health and wellbeing. The glossiness of a horse’s coat in the sunshine can give you a hint into its inner health. “It’s a really good indication of where the horse is at in its preparations – if its really healthy inside, the horse is a complete athlete.” This is a big factor in how a horse will perform, says Lizzie, and something that any rookie can easily identify.

Walk this way: The final thing to look for when doing your pre-race horse-watching is how they walk. “For a lot of horses, the way they walk is the way that they move across the ground in a canter or a gallop. And if they’ve got a long, loping, loose, supple stride, it’s always a great indication that they’re in a really good athletic state,” says Lizzie.

Come rain or shine – race day conditions

Trackside at the Magic Millions Carnival

A common misconception when it comes to horse racing is that weather conditions will affect the ride. It’s not the weather that affects how a horse rides, explains Lizzie, it’s the condition of the surface.

“Usually it’s not great if it rains on the day, it can make the track quite gluey,” says Lizzie. “And if it’s been raining for a while, then the track is generally, we call it, heavy. They put their foot in it and it’s very soft, so it’s like cantering on soft sand.”

Something that you will be able to find in the form guide is whether a horse performs better on a softer or heavier track. Australian track ratings range from between 1 and 10: 1 being dry and hard (categorised as ‘fast’) and 10 being soft and wet (categorised as ‘heavy’).

“If there’s a good track or a dead track, it won’t affect many horses,” says Lizzie. “But when you get into the soft and heavy range, that’s when you start looking for horses that are superior on those types of conditions.”

We’re not jockeying around

“A jockey that rides has a huge impact on how the horse will go,” says Lizzie. “We’re really lucky in Sydney, we’ve got some great jockeys, so you could pick any one of them and you’ll be fine.”

“My advice for anyone who’s a rookie going to the races is to follow a jockey or a particular horse and then follow the stable, it makes it much more interesting,” suggests Lizzie. Similar to backing your favourite football team, following a stable or jockey can help you set a base level for performance – you get to know how certain horses ride and which jockeys get the best out of them.

And if you’re thinking this all feels like a lot of work, Lizzie suggests following what the experts are saying in the lead up to race day. “Tune in and listen to what the people who do all the work for you say and hopefully they’ll steer you in the right direction,” she says.

Jockey on horse at Magic Millions Carnival
Jockey on horse at Magic Millions Carnival

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