The going is one of the most crucial factors that can affect how well a particular horse will run, yet a large majority of horse racing spectators do not truly understand it. The going refers to the state of the ground as it has been affected by the weather and there are seven recognised states.

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What is the going?

The seven recognised going descriptions in Britain are:

  • Hard
  • Firm
  • Good to firm
  • Good
  • Good to soft
  • Soft
  • Heavy

The going is determined by how much moisture there is in the ground and an official steward will assess the going on the morning of each race meeting. Influencing factors include soil type, surface density, compaction, porosity and surface material, which could be turf, dirt or artificial (all-weather track).

A hard grade is very rarely used – tracks that are determined as hard are seen as being too dangerous for the horses and the jockeys. Soft going is more tiring and therefore means that horses are more likely to fall, although they are also less likely to hurt themselves if they do fall.

What effect does the going have?

Horses will run in particular ways that make them better suited to certain types of ground than others. Experienced racing fans will know to consider a horse’s previous performance on tracks with similar going to those of the race day, and use this to predict how likely it is that the horse will perform well.

Some horses with a flatter gallop action will prefer hard or firm going, whereas others that have a higher, more rounded gallop often prefer tracks that are softer, as their hooves are hitting the ground from higher up. A horse that has won its last three races on firm going may well not do nearly as well on a day when the going is soft and vice versa.

How is the going measured?

The going is assessed by a steward, but in the UK since 2009 the steward has also been obliged to use a device called a penetrometer. The specific type of penetrometer used in British horse racing is the GoingStick, which measures the strength of the soil in order to help determine the going.

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The going is just one of many factors that spectators can use to help make an informed decision about which horse to back, and it can make all the difference to the outcome of the race.