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Much like people, horses come with different personalities, as well as characters and ability. Horses mature at different rates, both physically and mentally. Backwards refers to a horse that looks sure to improve from experience.
Physically, a horse described as backward is unfurnished – that is, the frame is there but the bulk and muscle to fill it out and make the animal the finished article. Most trainers wouldn’t allow a horse in that position to race, but they can still be sent to the track too early and be noted down by punters to follow over the next six months or into the next season.
Mentally, it is a little more complicated. Not every horse will line-up smartly and calmly and give their best in a straight line while trying, head down, to win the race. It is usually the well-drilled, mature horses that do, with less experienced, less mature horses vulnerable to a number of possible problems.
These include sweating when parading in front of the grandstand, pulling too hard on their way to the start, shying away from or refusing to enter the stalls or refusing to pass those in front during the race. These horses are considered to be backwards and while they might grow out of it, they may not be horses to put money on.
Also, there is no guarantee a horse that was a Champion two-year-old will go on to be a Champion the following season – the horse may simply have been bigger or stronger than their backward rivals at that age, but have been surpassed in their three-year-old season.