Just as human beings, horses sweat. A small amount of sweat on a coat is a good omen. A slight ring of sweat between a horse's hind legs show that it is keen. However, a large build up that has gone foamy ("washiness") is not. Look out for horses getting into a sweat just before racing.
A horse's muscular form is another important factor and there are three main areas to look at. Firstly, look at its hind-quarters for a sharply defined line from a point about a quarter of the way down the rump through to the top of the rear legs. Check the rib cage. A too prominent a rib cage could indicate under-nourishment. A chest that is well defined means good fitness.
A glossy, shiny coat denotes fitness. But forgetting an animal solely because it has a dull coat could be an error of judgement as naturally shiny coats are rare. Pay attention to the horse's overall behaviour and appearance. If it walks around with its head hung low (basically looking depressed) it will often run badly. If you compare it to a horse that has a spring in its step and head up looking keen is likely to run well.
A dull horse can be seen with it's head down, plodding along and with it's tail tucked between his legs. This horse won't show interest in the crowd and may have his ears turned back most of the time, rather than pricked and alert. Before the race, a dull horse will put up resistance and try to break into a gallop for the warm-up.
The term 'sharp' means that the thoroughbred is bouncing with energy, in as much that it gets to the paddock prancing with ears and eyes intent on at what is around him.
The sharp horse could form a bit of sweat on the neck or between his back legs. It could make a soft squeaking noise with it's teeth.
If the horse is prancing on the spot, it may have tuck it's head down to his chest and his tail pointed outwards and away from his body.
At the course, the sharp horse is eager to get going. He will begin to canter and gallop straightaway, perhaps leaping a bit in the air as he breaks away. At the warm-up on the backstretch and on the turn, the horse shows its controlled strength: neck arched, head down, ears forward, tail up.
The sharp horse may be concerned about going into the starting stall and may prance around briefly before charging into his allotted stall.
Most races are won by horses that look as if they're 'champing at the bit to go'. They're not as impetuous or bouncy as 'sharp' horses, they simply come into the paddock and onto the course looking lively and ready to win.
Ready horses are calmer, yet have an alert look, with their tail raised and removed from their body and a healthy glow on the coat. On the course, the ready horse will trot for a few paces before breaking off into a warm-up canter.
The warm-up of a ready horse is intentional but would go unnoticed compared to the sharp horse's pre-race antics. At the back of the starting stalls, the ready horse will get into its designated place in line with little urging.
It is important to take note of when a horse last raced before viewing him on the track. If a horse has returned from a long layoff and appears overly 'sharp' he could expend all his energy before the race is run.
Scared horses are quivering and their eyes are moving quickly and rolling with their nostrils flaring. Some will grind their teeth in an edgy manner. Nervous runners will sweat copious amounts until the sweat turns into a white foam. Angry horses will flatten their ears on their head. A sick or hurting horse will move slowly with his head drooped and perhaps have a stiff and choppy stride when he warms up.
Sometimes, a sweaty horse that appears to be out of control, will finish first after you have eliminated him from consideration based on his appearance.
A horse that sweats up to the degree of washiness, does not always defeat them. In fact, washiness combined with fractiousness will often end in victory regardless. In sprints, if horses figure, but appear washy and fractious, punters can accept the horses anyway, certainly at attractive odds.
On a muddy racetrack, look for the horses that are lifting their feet up extra high when trotting. These horses are telling you they do not particularly care for the going.
When the official going is described as 'Soft' or 'Heavy' watch out for horses showing short, high, or choppy strides during the post-parade and pre-race warm-ups. Prefer a fully extended, fluid gallop in the mud, similar to gallops on dry ground.
Art Aronson is a tenured bottom-line professional sports handicapper. He is the best ROI handicapper in the business. He is not your typical handicapper.