Fouling and Bumping as Horse Racing Strategies

In thoroughbred horse racing, horses must race over an oval course that is typically 1¼ miles in length and, hopefully, finish first while at the same time avoiding “fouling”. To race successfully requires more than a jockey running a horse at full speed from out of the gate. Because horse racing is as much strategic as psychological, race track organizers set course distances that are designed to showcase the best attributes of horse and jockey.

For bettors, odds-makers and wagers, their “picks” must be run with a race strategy that takes advantage of the horse’s strengths and natural style as well as track distance and surface conditions. While it is indeed possible for some horses to run flat out until they tire, the most successful horses, trainers and jockeys work together to formulate a successful winning strategy which does not always mean leading from start to finish of every race.

If jockeys are not already familiar with a certain horse, they are typically instructed on the “best way” to ride the horse. Some successful horses start slowly and gradually advance through the pack, putting on a burst of speed towards the end when other leading horses may have begun to tire. At such a stage of the race, the way the jockey approaches the last furlongs has elements of “race psychology”.

Some jockeys, such as Laffit Pincay, claim that many horses enjoy competition and need to see their fellow competitors ahead of them before “giving it their all” to take the lead. This type of racing strategy is very popular with racing fans and plays a part in betting strategies because it adds excitement and uncertainty to the race. In important races like the Breeder’s Cup or Kentucky Derby horses that are tactically raced from the back of the pack only to snatch victory away from the leader adds to the lure and imagination of both spectators and bettors alike.

On some occasions, a jockey will follow a strategy of deliberately blocking or impeding the field during a race. If especially blatant, interference from other jockeys is termed to be “fouling”. However, if a foul is not called then even in a relatively short distance in which to race, a favored horse can get knocked off its stride by either being crowded or having to expend energy too early in the race if forced to the outside. The extra distance created by being pushed to the outside of the rails results in the horse having to run farther than anticipated.

Perhaps the most notorious example of fouling, also known as “roughing”, was in the 1953 Kentucky Derby. Native Dancer, a 3 to 5 favorite lost his start out of 22 races when he was fouled on the first turn and was not able to recover in time to pass the eventual winner, Dark Star.