Check out this video from a Derby week gallop at CD to see why I like Goldencents:
Since December he’s worked 6F ELEVEN times! At first these were bullets that perhaps made him a little headstrong; but lately the times have slowed and he’s learned to relax quite well under jock Kevin Krigger.
From roughly time 0:31 to 0:43 in the above clip you can see him pass two furlong poles on the backside. Remember that trainer Doug O’Neill also let I’ll Have Another finish his gallops just as strongly last year – and that worked out quite well. These ‘off’ day gallops are often miles in 1:54. Perfect Anaerobic Threshold training for animals of this caliber will allow them to carry their speed on raceday, perhaps further than pedigree would dictate.
Much has been made this week about strong gallop outs after the pre-Derby works at Churchill, with nearly every contender nailing an additional 2F in 12.5sec/f pace after the wire, data that fails to show up on the official worktab. I think we can assume that at least half of his 6F works were a mile in length out West.
Recall Goldencents San Felipe prior to the Santa Anita Derby triumph. He got caught up in a duel with Baffert’s Flashback through a half in :45.4 and faded to fourth. That scenario has fried many colts every Spring and thrown them off the Derby trail 90%+ of the time. Not only did he survive, but he came back stronger and posted the top speed figures of the Derby field in his next win. Could he have done so off a steady diet of 4-5F works? I doubt it.
Longer works, learning to relax, and slow day gallops a tick faster than 2min lick pace, he’s my pick.
On to Mr. Pletcher, who has continued to pleasantly surprise me for a number of reasons:
- He’s now taking his graded stakes horses away from the lead pony and warming them up at a strong gallop pace.
- He brought most of his string to CD a few weeks early, recognizing the need to get accustomed to the unique surface.
- His gallop outs are much longer/stronger than in past years.
Best of all, when confronted with the data that shows Pletcher entries are a much chronicled 1-31 in the Derby, and a less conspicuous 1-18 in the Preakness and Belmont, the conditioner offered the following quote:
“Hopefully we’ve learned some things over the years and have included some things that we can do differently.” Read more here: http://www.drf.com/news/andrew-beyer-why-does-midas-touch-desert-pletcher-kentucky-derby-day
I lose count of how many lightly raced 2yo superstars and/or undefeated youngsters Todd brings up to this point every year – but Verrazano surely fits the tab this go-round as my selection to fill out the exacta. If I recall, at this stage of the game Pletcher posts official 4F works for his charges a vast majority of the time, and that has seemed to migrate up to 5F this year a bit more often than in the past. Add the extra-aggressive gallop outs; and I see this year’s race to bend more in his favor. With 5 entries it better!
I can’t go with his Charming Kitten or Palace Malice coming off last runs at KEE over the polytrack. Overanalyze seems to have his best days behind him. Revolutionary’s works seem to be a panel shorter than Verrazano most of the time.
So that’s two tepid favorites I have picked, next I must go to one with double digit morning line odds to fill out the trifecta and it will be…hell, I can’t find one. It would be a crapshoot anyway to try. So I’ll just leave with a few spare comments: (EDIT: Gimme Itsmyluckyday at a price)
OXBOW – can lightning strike twice? Last year my dad was in attendance with the breeders of winner I’ll Have Another and got this pic after his stirring win:
This year he attends the race with the connections behind Oxbow, and will find himself in the winner’s circle picture should this colt defy the odds. Speaking of defying the odds, did you know that D. Wayne Lukas has 5 wins in his last 160 stakes starts (3%)?
LINES OF BATTLE – I want an Aidan O’Brien horse to win this race before I die, but until he comes over earlier and gets a few solid works over the dirt, I can never make him my pick.
ITSMYLUCKYDAY – If any horse can uncork an unexpected bigtime effort, this is the one. A couple of good mile works in his prep: either a sign of panic or an effort to have him less than 100% for his Florida Derby in hopes this already-qualified colt can save his next triple digit speed figure race for The Big One.
ORB – I want to like this one too, as I imagine Shug McGaughey as an old school trainer, I also know one of his old gallop boys (a girl), but from what I have seen Shug has adopted the current mode of ‘less is more’ conditioning that is so fashionable. Pity.
WILL TAKE CHARGE – Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy. Will never repeat his career best effort last time out at Oaklawn. All backside signs this week point to trouble.
Best of betting luck to everyone!
P.S. Dammit – Beyer picks Goldencents too, the kiss of death. Very illuminating analysis here, where he shows how the new Derby point system has kept out many sprinters from this year’s running:
P.P.S. – On the weather: typical Kentucky, here is a picture from my back deck taken this week – notice how green and bright the golf course is – and remember this if you tune into NBC Saturday afternoon and it’s a grey, wet mess as currently forecasted:
Yes, that’s an Etrakka HR/GPS blanket being configured, good eye. And here is a chart from a 2yo getting his first 2F breeze in :25 and recovering exceptionally well – maybe he’ll be my pick in the 2014 Kentucky Derby:
EDIT: Not even close. Rainy day and unexpectedly fast pace. Pletcher dominates Oaks, but only a 3rd in the Derby. Note to future self: NEVER pick a west coast front runner again after Comma to the Top and Goldencents. Bodemeister aside (running a game 2nd); the Derby these days is always won by a deep closer. Congrats to ORB!
How about a $13k purchase at Fasig Tipton Timonium’s 2yo in Training Sale (2012) going on to earn more than 99.5% of starters in 2013? Is that a colt you would be interested in?
Probably not – as he only worked in 10.3 and looked ‘ordinary’ to most experts on auction day. Here’s his catalog page, showing a set of 3 siblings who could only pass muster at lower-end circuits:
Our now 3yo bargain purchase is today known as Battier, and as luck would have it a Thoroedge client was able to gather some valuable HR/GPS data on him after 5 months of training leading up to the Timonium sale several months ago.
As hip 284, he sold for $13,000 and currently has a stakes win at Aqueduct and $137,200 in earnings, here are the details:
I started to look for photos and breeze videos of this colt from the sale, but caught myself and realized how little those subjective measures truly tell a prospective buyer. We do know he worked the eighth mile in 10.3, which isn’t terribly fast either.
Discerning buyers found many reasons to eliminate this colt from their short lists, but Battier lives on as perhaps the first example of how the concepts brought about in the book/movie ‘Moneyball’ will influence the auction process for years to come (if I have anything to say about it). Here is a primer:
During a routine gallop leading up to the sale, Battier displayed a superior HR response while travelling at a 15sec/furlong pace, as well as a stellar HR recovery. Now sample size is pretty small thus far, but the database will continue to grow over the next several years.
Here is a similar verified HR/GPS standout who just went through the ring in Ocala and was purchased for $110k (scroll to Hip 454):
The vet for one of my clients didn’t like the walk, so they passed – I hope they didn’t miss out on another Battier-type value, or maybe I do…..regardless, we’ll all keep an eye on this one over the coming months.
Blog readers know of my disdain of this Kentucky Derby winner for the following reasons:
-Becoming the first Derby winner to prep on turf and synthetic only sets a bad precedent
-Only 3 starts prior to Derby win does the same
-Trainer Motion, who admirably has never had a medication violation, responding to a question about training 2yo with no remarks about actual physical conditioning, but rather his preference to put them on Lasix at 2 before they ever race as ‘preventative medicine’ – he sounded like a pharmacist
-Multiple injuries and long layoffs since his Derby triumph
But things change: both on my end and on the end of Mr. Animal Kingdom, apparently:
18 Mar 13 Pmm 5F fm 1:01.78b 1/30
11 Mar 13 Pmm 7F fm 1:26.77b 1/1
4 Mar 13 Pmm p 6F fm 1:14.78bd 1/1
In preparing for the $10 million Dubai World Cup this weekend, Graham Motion has appreciably stepped up the training in terms of distance. Plus, AK even worked a fast 3F over the Tapeta this week after the ship to the desert: 3F in :36.24 on Tuesday, March 26th, leading handicapper Pat Cummings to remark:
“While he has looked good in the morning, we are ever so slightly concerned that he may have just done too much work since he got here.”
Now, I’ve gotten burned admiring an increase in work before a big race in the past; mistaking a trainer’s pattern of working longer in preparation for more demanding races as a good sign – when in reality it was a panicky decision on a horse he suddenly realized was ‘short’.
I doubt that is the case here, as AK ran well at 9F last month at GP. I also doubt that AK has been sound enough to breeze 6F and 7F in successive weeks at any point in his career – I recall merely a single 6F effort prior to his Derby triumph.
You won’t find any similar 6-7F works for Royal Delta, for example – as last year’s disappointing World Cup effort was blamed on the ever-present ‘bad trip’. However, Animal Kingdom has not run 2 races so close together since coming up lame after the 3rd jewel of the Triple Crown back at BEL in July 2011.
In conclusion, I have pulled against AK in each of his last several races, but this seemingly beneficial change in conditioning from an ultra-conservative trainer like Motion puts me on his side of the fence for once. (Plus the fact that he runs against Mike de Kock’s 3rd string entry.)
Whether or not the US continues to allow pre-race Lasix is an ongoing argument, but the oft-cited reason for doing so ‘because everyone else does’ is preposterously short sighted for 2 major reasons: opening race fractions, and the racing surface itself.
I’ve been watching a lot of racing in Dubai this winter, and am struck by the vastly different pace scenarios over in the desert. So I decided to look at the last two runnings of our American classic and the Dubai World Cup, a now $10 million headliner event running its next iteration this coming Saturday, March 30th.
Race ¼ ½ ¾ mile finish surface
2012 KY Derby 22:32 45:39 1:09.8 1:35.2 2:01.83 dirt
2012 Dubai World Cup 25.72 49.94 1:13.6 1:37.8 2:02.67 Tapeta
Yes, Bodemeister’s Derby pace was historically faster than average, but plenty others have set aggressive opening fractions, plus Monterosso’s win in Dubai was similarly quicker than the norm over the Tapeta, as 2011’s winner Transcend cantered through 26.7, 53.1 opening marks. I am too lazy to do further research, but I think these are representative scenarios. Plus, before Trakus I’m not sure too many fractional times are available in Dubai or elsewhere overseas. You really want to compare apples to apples (or dirt to dirt)? Go back to the final World Cup won on dirt by Well Armed – who loafed through openers of 25.29, 48.67, and 1:12.58. So even when dirt was the racing surface in Dubai, the race was run in a turf-like fashion where closers often rule.
Thus, for the sake of this post I am going to assume the 2012 versions of these two races are roughly equal in their historical standings, plus the less than 1sec difference in the final time is helpful as well. I could try to Google fractions from classic races at 10F in Australia, England, and other countries – but I’m not sure it would be easy to find and many of those courses aren’t flat – but I believe most will concede those pace scenarios (over turf) are similar to Dubai’s, slower.
Point 1: The faster (and further) horses travel, the more likely they are to bleed.
By ‘faster’ in this case, I really mean early speed. Everyone knows it’s physiologically easier to run 10 consecutive 12sec furlongs for a final time of 2:00 flat than it is to run the first 4 of those furlongs in 11.25sec each. In the latter case, lactic acid accumulates quickly and you are so tired heading home the final eights are typically as slow as 13sec. Leg turnover is slowed and stride length is shortened. The lungs are working harder and trauma to the pulmonary capillaries is more likely. Horses suffer EIPH more at 11.25sec furlongs than they do at 12sec paces is my (unsupported) conclusion.
Point 2: The more forgiving the racing surface, the less severe the instances of EIPH.
“Horses working on the Tapeta surface will experience one-half the impact as compared to horse’s working on a conventional surface.”
Granted the MIT study focused on concussive forces to the skeletal system, but it stands to reason if these forces are lessened, so too are the forces slamming the lungs back and forth within the abdomen – which many researchers believe contribute to EIPH. Taking 50% of the concussive forces from the bones sounds great, but that is not a free lunch – as many of those forces have to be absorbed somewhere, which in the case of synthetics seems to manifest itself in hind end soft tissue problems, according to many trainers and vets.
Sit in front of your TV on Saturday morning and watch some great racing in Dubai. My favorite trainer over there is Mike de Kock, and here is when his horses run:
His $10 million main event entrant may not be top notch, but many on the undercard are serious threats despite very restrictive quarantine practices. His entire string is only 3 months removed from a 6 month quarantine regimen from SA to Mauritius to Newmarket to Dubai.
Americans over there include Little Mike, Dullahan, Animal Kingdom, Trinniberg, Royal Delta, and a few others. The fractions will be glacial compared to our big Classic days over dirt here in the States. Closers like AK, Dullahan, and Royal Delta will find themselves amid 6-8 others when it’s time to make a move, vs the 2-3 they often have to get through in the stretch in America. I hate hearing the ‘poor trip’ excuse after cantering through 6F in 1:14 over the Tapeta Trampoline, but it’s likely coming from more than one losing trainer’s camp.
Since the World Cup has been contested over Tapeta at Meydan, the US has done nothing. Prior to this surface change, we did quite well over the dirt in the desert with 5 wins by US-trained horses in the last 6 attempts:
I believe a Bodemeister, able to lead through fast fractions, having no benefit of drafting in another horse’s slipstream, and only losing a 10F event by a head to a closer is a superior physiological animal compared to any closing winner off of a slower pace. I also believe Lasix should only be allowed in the US for races over dirt, and only for non-graded stakes events. Whatever the hell Europe or the rest of the world does is immaterial, as their racing styles and surfaces are much, much friendlier to the pulmonary capillaries of an exercising thoroughbred.
Goldencents is the 2013 Thoroedge Derby favorite, which can unfortunately be the kiss of death. There is no handicapping reason behind this choice, I just personally like the connections – especially jock Kevin Krigger, who I hope can be the next Mario Gutierrez.
Very cool articles this month from North American Trainer magazine on Goldencents and the biomechanics behind stride length and gait analysis. Right now you can read for free here:
This piece describes how the stride length number can be misleading; it’s also which style of gallop in use and how much the stance and flight phases contribute to the overall figure.
Lastly, you can read about the concept of oxygen debt – which is also touched on with respect to stride – as horses galloping can only breeze once per stride cycle, termed Locomotor-Respiratory Coupling.
For example, when the gallop pace becomes too fast for purely aerobic metabolism to fuel, anaerobic glycolysis kicks in and lactic acid is accumulating. After completion of exercise, the magnitude of this debt can be estimated by measuring heart rate recovery. The heart must be fast in order to ‘pay back’ the debt and:
-remove lactic acid
-replenish the blood with oxygen
On a more practical side, the more work (pace) your horse can accomplish without going into significant oxygen debt – the better. Stakes quality horses can breeze 6F in 1:12 and exhibit recovery heart rates under 120bpm within 2min past the wire – while maiden claimers can only do 3F in :38 or thereabouts under the same recovery parameters.
When possible, Mr. Pletcher likes to let his horses have a strong gallop without the pony as they break out of the post parade. “I want to boost them up, I want their heart rate pumping. I want to make sure when they get to the gate they are fully loosened up and ready to roll.”
Neat book above from Karen Johnson that gives us an inside look at some of America’s top trainers. A smooth, quick read of less than 200 pages, I highly recommend it. Some other excerpts:
Great insight on Curlin’s victorious trip to Dubai, topped off with a win in the signature Dubai World Cup in 2008. Well Armed won the final World Cup on dirt in 2009. Actually 4 of the final 5 dirt World Cups were won by US-trained horses – but now Tapeta seems to have knocked us out of the running. Unlike the poor performing American contingent in 2012, Asmussen sent Curlin over a few months early, and even ran a tune up race in the desert prior to the big day. Likely, our US runners this year will not do the same.
“There are trainers out there who we think are complete clowns, so you’ve got to be interested in claiming off of them. I don’t want to name any names, but they know who they are – and so do we.” – Why does anyone not like this guy?
I’ve quoted Dutrow numerous times in the past; primarily his penchant for blowing out horses the day before, or the day of, big races. Here he also talks about his success on running back from very (3-4 days) short rest.
“There’s not just one way to train a horse, there are 6 or 7 different ways, especially since a horse is different from day to day. This has to be the biggest guessing game ever invented.”
On Juddmonte turf star Exbourne: ‘If I had him today, I probably couldn’t get him to the races because I was a little more aggressive back then, and when they were sore I went on with them. Nowadays I might have backed off a horse as sore as him. I remember that I felt guilty that I went on with him because he was sore, but if I didn’t go on with him, he never would have been the horse he was.”
“I like Rick (Dutrow), we’re friends – but keep your mouth shut, you know?”- RIP Mr. Frankel.
Another blog favorite, notes his day rate in 1962 was $16, but had risen to $100 in 2008.
Also a big fan of the pre-race blowout: “He picked this up from his days playing polo, when the ponies would be allowed to ‘go as fast as they could go’ for an eighty of a mile immediately before a match was to begin. Jerkens believes that the oft-cited opinion that such a work ‘takes too much out of a horse’ is wrong, and that such a sharp move puts a horse ‘on its toes’ – but he doesn’t do it with the unsound (of mind or body) ones.
Another old timer who didn’t necessarily stop when a horse’s appetite waned:
Sky Beauty went off her feed before the 1993 Alabama Stakes. “I used to give her a strong work 5-6 days before her races. I was thinking I shouldn’t do it. But I never won a big race in my life when I hedged. I sent her a mile in 1:39 and she started to eat again. Sometimes horses are better when you put the pressure on them.” – Doug O’Neill mentioned the same concept with I’ll Have Another during his 2012 Derby/Preakness triumphs.
On cooling out: No 30-45min of hotwalking, instead his horses have their legs rubbed down by grooms. Encourages circulation, flushes out waste – and establishes personal connection between groom and horse. Ah, the good old days…
Blog readers will also remember his love of the pre-race blowout, as both his Derby winners worked 4F the morning of the Kentucky Derby. A fact he had to hide from the media, less he get criticized by some second-hander. (Extra points if any commenter can cite the origin of that term!)
I wrote much about Mr. Pletcher during the saga of Uncle Mo (much of it critical), but I have always had the greatest of respect for him, and you will too after reading this book. The man is a hard working genius, plain and simple.
Pletcher also notes how he doesn’t really evaluate a horse until he works 5F. I concur as many horses can breeze 3F-4F well due to the fact that lactic acid buildup really doesn’t kick in for 30+ seconds or so, therefore you get no real idea of stamina/mental toughness until you approach the 60sec mark.
I really felt sympathy for Pletcher as he talks about how the ‘cheating’ rumors affect him. He wins at 20% year after year with the best horseflesh, doesn’t even use Clenbuterol, and some lazy ass trainer who doesn’t even watch his horses breeze in person claims nefarious practices. Or an idiot blog comment does the same. Like in most areas of life, the guys and gals who not only put in the physical hours – but also the intellectual efforts – reap the benefits of success. Consider me a new fan.
While he gets an A+ from me based on the quote leading this blog post, here is an example of how even a brilliant horseman can still benefit from technology and science:
The Green Monkey disaster has been well-documented. This colt flew in 9.8sec for the furlong down at Calder, earning a $16 million hammer price – and was turned over to Pletcher for training.
“I saw his work at Calder and it was brilliant, he galloped out really well” – Pletcher.
However, the pioneering work from the folks at EQB (www.eqb.com) easily identified a fatal flaw from their high-speed video analysis of the work:
“…The Green Monkey, a Forestry colt recently purchased for $16-million at the Fasig-Tipton Calder sale of selected two-year-olds in training, had a fabulous 9.8-second workout, but high-speed film revealed that the entire work was done at a rotary gallop, a very quick gait that can produce fast times but costs more energy and is unlikely to be maintained over longer distances.”
There are some things that even the world’s best horsemen, and women, miss with the naked eye.
Trainer Mike de Kock recalled super mare Igugu’s run up to the 2012 J&B Met in South Africa , “She had a respiratory problem and an ongoing foot problem that left us behind in our preparation. We ended up having to work her twice a day to catch up. She worked on the track in the morning and on the treadmill in the afternoon.”
6 races on the card at Meydan yesterday, and de Kock runners won 3 of them, despite heavy favorite Shea Shea disappointing all bettors. Mr. de Kock remains the top lifetime non-Arabic conditioner in Dubai in posting an overall record of 4-1-3 from 27 starts thus far during the 2013 Dubai Carnival meet.
Many are not aware of the severe restrictions placed on South African shippers to this oasis in the desert. Due to an outbreak of African Horse Sickness, all of de Kock’s stable had to first endure 20 days quarantine in South Africa, followed by 90 days on the African island of Mauritius, and topped off by another 30 days in Newmarket, England before being allowed into Dubai. This being the case, one can perhaps excuse the first few weeks of the Dubai meet as his horses are likely to be a bit short compared to others not enduring nearly 5 months of quarantine and 13,000 miles of air travel – yes, you read that correctly – 13,000 air miles for Igugu and the others.
I know of zero significant trainers in the US who utilize high speed treadmills for conditioning purposes (rehab doesn’t count), and I doubt any of them would put a cheap horse on the machine, much less the 2012 Horse of the Year, as Igugu was anointed in SA. Even more striking is she trained TWICE A DAY prepping for such a huge race. This South African horseman isn’t afraid to utilize every tool in his arsenal.
He’s also been quoted: “When your horse may not have the bloodlines or ability of their opponent, fitness is the one area where you can beat them. Treadmills allow you to get that extra fitness and “the edge”. That is how important they are.”
Keep an eye on Igugu, as her first effort in Dubai is likely to come in mid-February, with an eye towards a multi-million dollar purse in late March. One of the winners yesterday in Dubai, The Apache, ran 6th to Igugu back in her homeland.
(Many international readers may not know that ‘As the World Turns’ is a long running soap opera here in the states. I’ve never seen it but it runs in the middle of a workday yet is somehow viewed by millions.)
As the World Trains is my first effort at a series of very brief blog posts detailing the various methods of racehorse conditioning around the world.
Episode 2 will feature Australian legend TJ Smith.
Episode 3 stars US Hall of Famer Carl Nafzger.
EDIT: 2/4/13 – Stricter quarantine rules for SA horse coming to the US for the BC, a treadmill in a stall?
Variety Club is a stallion some are saying is one of the best milers South Africa has seen, and at the behest of owners, trainer Joey Ramsden skipped the country’s most prestigious race on Sunday – the J&B Met, in order to take on the world.
The target isn’t until November – the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita – but in order to get there Variety Club will be forced into a 60-isolation period in New York – that’s after the aforementioned home leg of the quarantine. And when we say lock down, it’s exactly what we mean – no coming out of his box. No walking and no companions.
Ramsden is working on being able to have a treadmill installed in the box for the horse to build a vital fitness base for his planned preparation.
Mine that Bird and Canonero II are commonly recognized as the biggest upsets in modern Derby history, with post time odds only surpassed by the 91-1 Doneraile, winner of the 1913 edition of this American classic. Bird went off at 51-1 and Canonero II wasn’t even deemed fit to be an entry, and since betting machines back then could only 12 entries – he was grouped in with 6 horses that year in the mutuel field. Both also made strong late runs; Canonero coming from 18th, Bird memorably from dead last – to win with relative ease at the wire. However, the similarities don’t end there – as both of these historic longshot winners benefitted from conditioning work done at high altitudes. Bird in New Mexico, Canonero in Venezuela.
South Africa seems to be the only country where living/training at higher altitudes but shipping to lower elevations to race is commonplace due to a unique topographical profile. A recent article in European Trainer Magazine says it better than I can, with many real life success stories:
Some interesting quotes from this well-written story: (please click on the link to read it all)
Trainer Corne Spies is based at The Vaal training centre, about an hour from Johannesburg, which lies at 1740m above sea level. He said, “Traveling the other way (from the coast to high altitude) is a problem. But going from altitude to sea level is advantageous due to the increased oxygen content of the air. If the horses stay at the coast after their runs they tend to go flat. It would take about six weeks or two months for them to acclimatise and they would then begin to thrive. But taking them in and out is not a problem, so I ship them up and down to keep the positive effect of high altitude training.”
And I, for one, did not know this: Horses have two types of red blood cells: rigid, and balloon-like. Horses with more balloon-like cells move blood into the muscles and the lungs more easily. On average, horses have 40% rigid and 60% fluid cells, so one with only 5% rigid cells would have a tremendous advantage.
Geoff Woodruff, a five-time champion South African trainer, is well qualified to speak about the impact of altitude, having trained out of the coastal city of Cape Town as well as Johannesburg, having also campaigned extensively in Kwazulu-Natal. Woodruff said, “You tend to have to work them harder at altitude, in order to get a horse fitter it has to reach a stage where it is in oxygen debt. Incrementally, you will work the horse to reach this stage until it is fit enough to race, and at altitude horses need to be fitter to race because the oxygen content of the air is less.”
Ah yes, one of my favorite concepts – oxygen debt. Where that comes into play in my work is during speedwork/breezes. I estimate the amount of oxygen debt incurred through analyzing heart rate recovery data at consistent intervals once the fast pace ends, typically under the finish line. I want horses to undertake a piece of fast work that elicits a 2min HR recovery around 130bpm, with the 5min number around 100bpm (based on a 230bpm maximum). Any less and the work was too easy, any more and it was too hard. Trainers will find that one can go 1-2F further in work over synthetic surfaces than on dirt with the same horse, as the 50% lower concussive forces of artificial surfaces makes the going easier which is reflected in a lower oxygen debt.
If you haven’t yet please read the whole piece from European Trainer, as several SA based conditioners relate their differing approaches to altitude training. But, one doesn’t have to build a training center on top of the nearest mountain range to reap these benefits, as a few US based companies manufacture altitude stalls (where the horse lives up to 20 hours per day) and even enclose high speed treadmills under a dome, where high altitudes are simulated. Check these guys out:
They also have a very powerful testimonial/endorsement from millionaire trotter Broad Bahn, a recent winner of the Hambletonian.
Lastly, please do not confuse altitude training with the growing presence of hyperbaric chambers, like this one:
Hyperbaric chambers actually INCREASE the pressure of oxygen, in an effort to increase the efficacy of antibiotics, and improve injury repair time in horses around the world. Interestingly enough, humans use such technology to enhance recovery time in healthy athletes as part of the training process. If any enterprising horseman/woman wants to give it a shot – I have access to a used mobile dual horse hyperbaric chamber for sale at a big discount, just shoot me an inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org and I can put you in touch with the seller.
P.S. Why does he want to get rid of it? He was venting the oxygen from it last month, went around the corner of the building to check the external vent, and found one of his grooms smoking – a big no-no next to one of these things. Made him nervous as hell. Then he thought for a second: this guy wrecks my trailers once in a while, do I really want him near high pressure oxygen with his smokes?
Armstrong was banned for life recently from competitive cycling (and triathlons), even before his public admission of guilt, but the fact remains that he passed hundreds of drug tests in his lengthy career, hundreds of them. Possibly, he failed 1-2 such tests that he was able to cover up with his money, power, and influence – but that hasn’t been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, yet. Any ‘proof’ of such violations would be in the form of yet more circumstantial evidence – mounds of which have led to his current suspension.
So, if he was a US thoroughbred trainer – you would have hundreds of horses that had run under his name and been drug tested in multiple jurisdictions, passing in every incidence, but he would currently be serving a lengthy suspension based primarily on the testimony of his fellow trainers, grooms, assistants, etc. It’s also important to note here, some of his more well-known accusers – men such as Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, are fellow drug users who FAILED the same types of drug tests that Armstrong passed, then lied under questioning about the results. Landis even wrote a book called ‘Positively False’, while Hamilton posited his failed test was due to the infamous ‘vanishing twin’ theory: where unbeknownst to him he was conceived as a twin, but his sibling perished quite early, leaving some different blood behind.
And these guys are your expert witnesses. They’re no choirboys.
Of course there are many others willing to testify to Armstrong’s abuses, and they cannot all be lying, and Armstrong was a famous jerk: a bully bent on vengeance to all those who opposed him. Similarly, Rick Dutrow is quite mouthy with the press, and fellow trainers surely can’t be happy when he says things like this about fellow Belmont competitor Casino Drive:
“I saw him coming off the track when somebody pointed him out to me. There’s no way in the world he can beat Big Brown. He’s just another horse in the race. Big Brown will have to school him just like he’s done to every other horse.”
Imagine banning Rick Dutrow for life based on the eyewitness testimony of other trainers themselves possessing a laundry list of violations (yet always steadfastly maintaining their innocence) and a handful of ex-employees who had been dismissed over the years – yet Dutrow never failed such a test. (In real life he did, of course, dozens upon dozens of them.)
Just what is the purpose of drug tests in cycling, then?
I’ve heard cyclists, and probably Lance himself, refer to these drug screenings as pesudo IQ tests: meaning you have to be a dummy to get caught. Many are not aware that cycling drug tests are not necessarily geared (pun intended) to expose a foreign substance, but to determine if blood values are within pre-defined naturally-occurring ranges. Let’s examine one such test: the T:E Ratio – or the ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone in the blood. The approved range used to be 6:1, but was lowered to 4:1 several years ago. Allegedly, 3 times in the 1990s Armstrong tested up to 9:1, but when the ‘B’ sample was tested (a more extensive screening involving carbon isotopes), the result was within the approved range.
Again, imagine a trainer testing above the level of TCO2 allowed on 3 instances out of hundreds of runners – those findings being dis-proven by B sample testing, but then punishing him anyway based on the eyewitness accounts of rival trainers who had failed the same tests but ‘saw’ him with the box of baking soda and the gastric tube in hand. That is what happened to Armstrong.
Today the question is moot because he admitted to cheating for the past 2 decades, but let me take this chance to enlighten a few on the scientific advances Armstrong brought to cycling. First off, conditioning for cycling throughout Europe was typically ‘racing oneself into shape’. Legions of top level cyclists would sit around the months before the big races literally eating cheese and drinking wine. Similarly, in the US golfers used to be quite a lethargic beer-swilling bunch until Tiger Woods came along and changed the way many prepared for such events.
Armstrong, during his rise to prominence, spent hundreds of more miles on his bike than did his competition, quite often in the hills of Spain many months before the Tour de France. Likewise, Rick Dutrow isn’t afraid to buck (pun again intended) tradition by running his horses back on short rest to great success:
Perhaps my favorite nugget gleaned from reading several books on cycling science was the concept that Lance rode with a much different RPM value than had previously been utilized in the European cycling classics. Typically men would choose a bicycle gear that would allow them to turn their legs at a pace of 90 revolutions per minute. Most famously, German star Jan Ullrich would turn his pedals at a snail-like 70rpm, putting massive stresses on the muscles of his legs – and he won the Tour in 1997 with such a method. Lance also pedaled similarly before his bout with testicular cancer, but when he came back he, along with physiologist Chris Carmichael, eschewed conventional ‘wisdom’ and found that Lance generated more sustainable power at 110bpm – while simultaneously lessening the stress on his legs and passing it onto his titanic cardiovascular system. Now, many follow that lead – but he was the first.
Back to Dutrow, who I’ve noted in the past is still a huge proponent of the pre-race blowout made famous by old school conditioners like Carl Nafzger:
Please don’t take this post as an homage to either Armstrong or Dutrow; these two pathological cheaters deserve their punishments. But don’t overlook how Armstrong was ‘convicted’, nor the fact that both men also used physiological edges, frowned upon by many at the top of their respective sports, to achieve greatness – as sullied as these achievements now appear. They won not only because they cheated better than other cheaters, but also because they were practicing their craft differently than the others who followed carbon-copy methods.
Lastly, I owe Armstrong, actually his coach Chris Carmichael, a debt of gratitude for showing me how physiological testing and analysis in training can help one become a better competitor – but of course I adapt that to horses.
Before entering a young horse in a big race, like these Derby preps, I like to see them 2 min lick for one mile with their heart rates staying below 85% of maximum – that tells me they possess the aerobic stamina to run 9F at race pace. Likewise, I’d like to see the same youngster breeze 5F in 1:00 or better displaying a maximum value over 220bpm and showing half that number, 110bpm, as a heart rate recovery number within 2min after passing under the wire, during the gallop out. To enter a 3yo in a big race without those metabolic numbers is sure to be a bad idea – because that’s what the winners of those races possess under the hood.
Here is a brief blog entry I authored regarding this topic on my 40th birthday a while back:
Not a very clever title to this post, but I need to cover 2 different angles today, my apologies. Let’s do the last thing first, why not? I have 2 used high speed equine treadmills that are looking for a new home, please email me at email@example.com for details.
Price is discounted 50-75% from new. Quality used machines don’t hit the market that often, but in this case we have a retiring trainer looking to unload some nice gear.
Now the interesting part of the post: One trainer had 5 horses leave Ft. Erie and head up to Woodbine this season and record claiming wins. For those of you not aware of the HUGE class difference here is a quick primer on these 2 Canadian circuits:
In 2012 a typical $10k claim ran for a purse of:
$24,000 at Woodbine.
$14,000 at Ft. Erie.
In 2012 an allowance race carried a purse of:
$67,000 at Woodbine.
$18,600 at Ft. Erie.
I wish I was an astute enough researcher to see how many other horses, not trained by this gentleman, made the large jump in class from FE to WO and emerged victorious. Any sharp handicappers or turf writers out there willing to help? I can look back at this trainer’s 2011 record and note that ZERO of his horses were able to make that jump, despite several attempts. Here is some past performance info on the lucky 5 from our friends at Betfair:
I post this info reluctantly, but sometimes I like to toot my own horn – as all of these horses were on STORM. A few times in the comment section of this blog readers have taken me to task for talking about the one supplement that I sell, inferring that I was simply trying to sell a product (heaven forbid). But these results are remarkable, and I have tested several other supplements that failed to produce results, and therefore have never graced the pages of this blog.
I also tout the benefits of the Niagara Equissage saddle at www.thoroedge.wordpress.com/equissage and Photobiostimulation therapy from www.equinemusclemaintenance.com although I have no financial interest in either.
My point is, when you objectively quantify thoroughbred fitness with HR/GPS and blood lactate equipment, you uncover some modalities that seem to improve nearly every horse across the board – and when you find those gems, you better use them.