Is it wise to bet on horse races when the weather is extremely cold? Does the cold effect how horses run? We think of other weather events as affecting the races, but what about when Old Man Winter descends on the race track? What does that do to our handicapping?
First of all, though their hair is short most of the time, let me assure you that horses are built for the cold. First of all, just by the sheer size of them, they have enough bulk to hold body heat very well. Secondly, if they are left without blankets in the winter, they build up a nice thick coat of fine hair under the outer layer of hair and it is a great insulator.
Looking around the world, for instance, to the steps of Asia where horses have been domesticated for thousands of years, we find horses living in extremely cold conditions and thriving. So the short answer is that the cold won’t hurt the horses. On the other hand, it may affect how they run.
Like any athletes, horse’s muscles have to be warmed up properly to avoid cramping and this is particularly true in the cold. While early speed may hold up well on a warm day, there might be a slight drop off due to cold, but usually, if a horse has warmed up properly, it will carry its speed well through a race. That is, of course, if it has the stamina and that is a matter of conditioning, not conditions.
I have noticed however, that on a day when the wind is blowing hard and it is extremely cold, horses making a turn into the wind sometimes seem to slow down or even stop. Perhaps it is because they suddenly get a lungful of extra cold air that causes their muscles to cramp a little.
The real question to ask yourself when it is bitterly cold and the horses are racing is, “How will this affect the jockeys?”
They weigh little more than a hundred pounds and can’t bundle up. They are racing along at 30 m.p.h. totally unprotected. It is a wonder that they race at all under those conditions, but many of them do and manage to do a good job of it, too. Perhaps, if you want to see if you can get a handicapping advantage in the cold weather, you should follow the jockeys and see if any of them ride better or worse in extreme temperatures.