Irrelevant question of course, but an interesting one in light of how the Caribbean Classic series has been handled until lately.
The last few runs have taken place at Gulfstream Park, and Pegasus entry Kukulkan won the last one back in December.
Before these last few years, the Classic has been alternated between many Central and South American countries.
This type of rotation has been eventful because some of those locations are at sea level like Gulfstream, but some are at very high altitudes.
When at sea level (33 times) horses shipping in from high altitudes have won 12 of those races. However, when the Clasico has been run at high altitude locations 12 times, 11 winners were from high altitude locales as well.
Why does this matter? Living and training at high altitudes results in the formation of additional red blood cells, which carry oxygen to working muscles. The same effect as beloved American drug EPO causes. Having more RBC doesn’t make a slow horse faster, but it does makes him run slower for a longer time. Don’t tell me this is meaningless – I’ve seen Belmont winners finish the final quarter in 27+ seconds.
Kukulkan races/trains primarily in Mexico City at an attitude of 7500ft above sea level. And did so up until arriving in South Florida last week. The video above shows 7F in 1:27 with a nice gallop out.
If this Pegasus was at a Belmont- like 12F, that EPO like effect from high altitude would be even more pronounced.
Kukulkan’s last GP race was slow, but he won by 10+ lengths and wasn’t asked for much.
With Dettori up for this big one, he’ll certainly be asked for all he’s got at some point. Being the longest shot on the board, finishing in the top half of this race would be an amazing achievement.
But put this field in Mexico City at 7500ft above sea level, and this undefeated Mexican champ is quite possibly going to hit the board.
Of course the two longest shot Kentucky Derby winners in modern history came from high altitude locations; Canonero II and Mine That Bird.
I wrote about this almost 6 years ago here:
Buried in that post is some neat info about South Africa, one of the few (maybe only) countries with lots of training and racing at both low and high altitudes.
Here in the US we had a notable train high/race low winner in the Breeder’s Cup a few years back:
Here’s a great piece from Sid Fernando, please read it, but I will summarize below:
First off, I told everyone how to help minimize bleeding with a strong pre-race warm up nearly 7 years ago:
And certainly my dear readers know that I believe exercise can cure most ills, even those that veterinary intervention fail to clear up.
Now the story:
Glorious Empire(IRE) just won the G1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga at age 7 after:
Winning 4 of 6 starts in the UK at ages 2 and 3.
Sold to Hong Kong racing interests.
Bled in a barrier trial at HK. Strike One.
Bled again in his second race in that jurisdiction. Strike Two.
Apparently in Hong Kong it’s 2 strikes and you’re out. Forced to retire.
So, back to the UK – perhaps it’s just the HK humidity/environment?
Now training on Lasix, don’t you know.
14 months after leaving HK, bleeds in his first UK race.
On to the good ol US of A and the medicine cabinet.
Three allowance races under Tom Morley, hits the board once.
Claimed for $62,500 after a race in which he bleeds again, through the Lasix.
2.5 months off, lots of oxygen treatments in the hyperbaric chamber.
Back racing, first win in 2 years. Saratoga $50k claiming event.
Grade 2 turf race at Laurel, Lasix aplenty, bled again through both nostrils.
Now he goes to a real horseman named Chuck Lawrence, ex steeplechase jock.
Osteopathic treatments, more hyperbaric chamber visits, and a BIG change in exercise.
Now the old boy works 7F-8F with solid gallop outs.
Now he gallops a strong mile THE MORNINGS OF HIS RACES.
Now he warms up vigorously off the pony before entering the starting gate.
Wins 3 of next 4, including a G2 and that G1.
Amazing what can happen when you use exercise instead of the needle.
May 18, 2014 was my last post, over 4 years ago – where have I been? I’ve literally been the luckiest guy in the world since then, connecting with the ideal owner/trainer duo and working exclusively with them on winning big horse races. The success we have had thus far has been incredible. I would say it’s been ‘greater than my wildest dreams’, but that’s simply not true – I have some crazy dreams. Chief of which is winning the first Triple Crown without Lasix in a loooong time. Baffert won’t beat me to that.
We’ve already won the first Eclipse award on dirt without the crutch of Lasix in 25 years….AP Indy had been the last one. That’s pretty good company, I hope our champ’s stud career emulates that one. So don’t laugh at me just yet. The key is to hitch your wagon to people who make a habit of beating the odds, that’s been my primary lesson learned the past several years. Better late than never I suppose.
Just a bit over a year since my last post we caught lightning in a bottle and ended up on a 6 month thrill ride like no other. Even thinking deeply about those big wins brings on the tears nearly 3 years later. I dreamed often of winning big races, but never thought about the team and connections that would be behind those victories – that truly was the best part, sharing this experience with them – because (unlike me) they truly deserved it after spending decades and many, many millions trying to reach the pinnacle of the game. Those 6 months in late 2015 changed my life forever. I’ll cherish those memories (no matter what happens in the future) all the way to my deathbed.
So I am quite busy with the work, but hope to find time to write when something big strikes me as important. Close to 10 years ago I blamed trainers for our triple crown drought. I think I even claimed we’d not see another TC winner in my lifetime. Shortly thereafter I thought about putting an asterisk to that remark that read – *unless it’s Bob Baffert. And you know the rest. So here is my new proclamation:
NO TRAINER OTHER THAN BOB BAFFERT WILL WIN A TRIPLE CROWN IN MY LIFETIME, UNLESS THEY COPY HIS EXERCISE METHODS.
That’s better, all bases are covered. Now on to the meat of this topic.
It’s well known that Todd Pletcher is the king of the Derby preps. It’s also well known that Bob Baffert is king of the classics. The publicly available data, along with trackside observations of gallop outs, is indisputable that, on average, Baffert trains further and faster. Certainly the tracks are different as are many other variables. But my main point is that each of these two trainers get similar racing stock to train, each win big races, but each do it in different manners.
Plus a deeper dive into the data reveals some interesting points.
Major prep wins: Pletcher 27 and Baffert 17.
(Arkansas Derby, Santa Anita Derby, BlueGrass Stakes, Wood Memorial, Floriday Derby, Sunland Derby, Louisiana Derby, and the Tampa Bay Derby.
Classic victories: Pletcher 5 and Baffert 14.
Ratio of prep wins vs classic wins: Baffert 1.2 and Pletcher 5.4.
Derby winners in Preakness: Baffert 5-5 and Pletcher 0-2.
100% to 0%. Small dataset? Sure. But we are looking at thousands of horses trained over a few decades.
And don’t even get me started on the future racing success of the classic winners these two trainers have produced. Super Saver and Always Dreaming vs American Pharaoh, etc. Pletcher’s prep winners peak on that day for the most part, while Baffert’s are equipped for the longer haul. Should Justify win the Triple Crown next week maybe I’ll delve into that data a bit further as the thousand foot view is pretty startling. We can include future G1 wins of Classic winners for instance…
I first thought of writing this post when I saw Justify go a half mile in 46+ just a tad over a week since his Preakness win, in which he seemed to tire at the end – arguably. Gallop out was 59. Baffert stated he’d work him again next week. 2 works between the 2nd and 3rd legs of the grueling Triple Crown for a horse who’s lifetime races have all come in the past 5 months.
*Lukas just worked Bravazo a solid mile in 1:42+.
Splits: 13.20, 25.60, 38.20, 50.60, 1:03.40, 1:16.60 and 1:30.
Out 1 1/8 miles 1:58.
The old coach confuses me. I have a book where he states ‘I don’t work horses fast. If one of mine gets a bullet, the jock is in trouble.’ And I see bullets from Lukas horses all the time. I suppose people change bedrock personal theories over the years. My wife sure has. A topic for another day I suppose.
You think Pletcher would train fast twice with a double classic winner before a Belmont effort? Hell no. But I doubt we’ll ever get to find out as you gotta win 2 classics first. In my estimation, Baffert wins on talent and conditioning, and Pletcher wins solely on talent. Both men find success with a lot of hard work. And good racing stock. When a trainer is unwilling to work his horses seriously, he brings out the ‘freshness’ excuse. I’m sure some horses respond better to that approach, but not all of them.
The Paulick Report had a GREAT piece they typically trot (pun intended) out this time of year on the exercise patterns of Triple Crown winners. Find it if you can. I ripped off some of that info and added much of my own in what follows here:
Sir Barton, 1919. – 6 starts at age 2, with 0 wins.
could find no workout data
May 3, won Derby as maiden.
May 8th, won Preakness.
May 18th, won 9F Withers.
June 14, won Belmont.
Gallant Fox, 1930. – 7 starts at age 2, with 2 wins.
May 9th, won Preakness. (order was reversed that year)
May 17th, won Derby.
June 3rd, breezed 9F in 1:49+. (nearly a track record)
June 6th, breezed 4F in :46+.
June 7th, won Belmont.
Omaha, 1935. – 9 starts at age 2, with 1 win.
May 4th, won Derby.
May 11th, won Preakness.
May 25th, raced in 8F Withers, finishing second.
June 7th, breezed 5F in 1:01.
June 8th. Won Belmont.
War Admiral, 1937. – 6 starts at age 2, with 3 wins.
May 8th, won Derby.
May 15th, won Preakness.
May 19th, breezed 11F in 2:22. Just under 13sec/F.
May 26th, breezed 12F in 2:34+. Just a tad faster per split.
June 2nd, breezed 12F in 2:34+.
June 5th, won Belmont in track record time of 2:28+.
Whirlaway, 1941. – 16 starts at age 2, with 7 wins. Champion 2yo.
May 3rd, won Derby.
May 10th, won Preakness.
May 26th, breezed 4F in :48+.
May 29th, breezed 4F in :51 over sloppy track.
May 30th, breezed 9F in 1:52+.
June 4th, breezed 10F in 2:02+.
June 7th, won Belmont.
Count Fleet, 1943. – 15 starts at age 2, with 10 wins. Champion 2yo.
May 1, won Derby.
May 8th, won Preakness.
May 22, raced in Withers.
May 27th, breezed 10F in 2:07 on sloppy track.
May 31st, breezed 3F in :34+!
June 1st, breezed 10F in 2:04.
June 4th, breezed 3F in :35 flat.
June 5th, won Belmont.
Assault, 1946. – 9 starts at age 2, with 2 wins.
May 4th, won Derby.
May 11th, won Preakness.
May 25th, breezed 10F in 2:05+
May 28th, breezed 4F in :52 on sloppy track
May 29th, breezed 12F in 2:32+
June 1st, won Belmont
Citation, 1948. – 9 starts at age 2, with 8 wins. Champion 2yo.
May 1, won Derby.
May 15th, won Preakness.
May 29th, won Jersey Shore Stakes at ?F.
June 5th, breezed 8F in 1:40.
June 11th, breezed 6F in 1:12+.
June 12th, won Belmont.
Big gap here in Triple Crown winners, when we pick up again the exercise load has diminished somewhat significantly, but still much more than today. Oddly, it appears a law was passed that trainers were not allowed to work their horses further than 8F. All of them did it before, none of them will again as we move ‘forward’ into the 21st century.
Secretariat, 1973. – 9 starts at age 2, with 7 wins. Champion 2yo. His stall at Claiborne now occupied by Runhappy. Talk about surreal.
May 5th won Derby
May 19th, won Preakness.
May 27th, breezed 6F in 1:12+ on sloppy track.
June 1st, breezed 8F in 1:34+. Good heavens.
June 6th, breezed 4F in :46+. Hello Justify.
June 9th, won Belmont stakes in record 2:24 like ‘a tremendous machine.’
Seattle Slew, 1977. – 3 starts at age 2, with 3 wins. Champion 2yo.
May 7th, won Derby.
May 21st, won Preakness.
June 12th, breezed 8F in 1:38+.
June 17th, breezed 6F in 1:11+.
June 11, won Belmont.
Affirmed, 1978. – 9 starts at age 2, with 7 wins. Champion 2yo.
(was trained ‘easy’ according to Laz Barrera)
June 1st, breezed 8F in 1:40+.
June 7th, breezed 5F in 1:01.
Another multi-decade gap in TC winners here leading up to American Pharaoh, so we’ll look at the many near misses in the interim, as morning exercise continues to drop off precipitously.
Spectacular Bid, 1979. – 9 starts at age 2, with 7 wins. Champion 2yo.
May 19th, won Preakness.
May 27th, breezed 7F in 1:26.
June 4th, breezed 8F in 1:39 over sloppy track.
??? 3F in :34+, cant’ find date anywhere
June 9th, third in Belmont.
Pleasant Colony, 1981. – 5 starts at age 2, with 2 wins.
May 16th, won Preakness.
May 24th, breezed 5F in :59+.
May 30th, breezed 8F in 1:39+.
June 3rd, breezed 4F in :46+.
June 6th, finished third in Belmont.
Alysheba, 1987. – 7 starts at age 2, with 1 win.
May 16th, won Preakness.
May 25th, breezed 8F in 1:41+.
May 31st, breezed 8F in 1:44.
June 6th, finished 4th in Belmont.
Sunday Silence, 1989. – 3 starts at age 2, with 1 win.
May 20th, won Preakness.
May 26th, breezed 3F in :37+.
May 31st, breezed 8F in 1:39+.
June 6th, breezed 3F in :37.
June 10th, ran second in Belmont.
That’s it for the mile works, never to be seen again.
Cue the Invasion of The Quarter Horse Cowboys and their offspring/copycats.
Silver Charm, 1997. – 3 starts at age 2, with 2 wins. Baffert.
May 17th, won Preakness.
May 28th, breezed 6F in 1:14+.
June 3rd, breezed 5F in 1:01.
June 7th, finished second in Belmont.
Real Quiet, 1998. – 9 starts at age 2, with 2 wins. Baffert again.
May 16th, won Preakness.
May 28th, breezed 5F in :59+.
June 2nd, breezed 5F in 1:01.
June 6th, finished second in the Belmont.
Charismatic, 1999. – 7 starts at age 2, with 1 win. Lukas.
May 15th, won Preakness.
May 25th, breezed 6F in 1:16+.
June 1st, breezed 5F in 1:00+.
June 5th, ran third in Belmont.
War Emblem, 2002. – 3 starts at age 2, with 2 wins. Baffert.
May 18th, won Preakness.
May 29th, breezed 5F in 1:00+.
June 4th, breezed 5F in 1:01.
June 8th, finished 8th in Belmont.
Funny Cide, 2003. – 3 starts at age 2, with 3 wins.
May 17th, won Preakness.
May 28th, breezed 5F in :59+ over muddy track.
June 3rd, breezed 5F in :57+ and was roundly criticized.
June 7th, finished third in Belmont.
Smarty Jones, 2004. – 2 starts at age 2, with 2 wins.
May 15th, won Preakness.
May 28th, breezed 7F in 1:29+ and was criticized?!?
June 5th, finished second in Belmont.
Big Brown, 2008. – 1 start at age 2, with 1 win.
May 17th, won Preakness.
June 3rd, breezed 5F in 1:00.
June 7th, pulled up in Belmont, DNF.
California Chrome, 2014. – 7 starts at age 2, with 3 wins.
May 3rd, won Derby.
May 17, won Preakness
May 31st, breezed 4F in :47+.
June 7th, finished 4th in Belmont
American Pharaoh, 2015. – 3 starts at age 2, with 2 wins. Champion 2yo. Baffert.
May 2nd, won Derby.
May 16th, won Preakness.
May 26th, breezed 4F in :47+.
June 6, won Belmont.
Key takeaways from above:
-alternate long and short works.
-Long/slow meaning over a mile near 13sec/f paces.
-Short being 3-4F and fast as hell.
-Go every 3 days.
-Go over off tracks, albeit slowly.
-Blowout close to race (Nafzger too).
No more works over 8F after the TC drought broken by Secretariat, plus those works often led to 7 days off from speedwork afterwards.
Tough to find workout data on the Triple Crown near-misses in the old days, but it’s safe to assume that they corresponded roughly with the Triple Crown winners of each era. Interestingly, all the data above breaks itself down quite clearly into 3 groups:
The old school glory days from 1930-1948:
-long 8F+ works between Preakness/Belmont, or even a race in that gap.
-also short, speedy works as well
-fast works every 2-4 days
-last work 1-3 days out from big race
The middle ground era from 1973-1989:
-no works over a mile
-frequency of breezes drops to every 5-7 days
-never a race in between the Preakness/Belmont
-last work 3-6 days out
New school (less is more) training from 1990-2016 and beyond:
-works top out at 6F
-no speedy 3F works, more 4-5F and slower, expect for Bob Baffert
-frequency 7 days+ between efforts
-last work 4-10 days out from big race
Lots to digest here, but I find the steady trends alarming. I also have a lot of data on winning times for the 3 classics, and they aren’t progressively getting faster. Anyone with ninja Excel skills please leave a comment with contact info and maybe I can provide some data to graph this stuff out? Nearly a century of winning times and training loads on the same graph – possibly both trending similarly, and not for the better.
I started this post with my favorite video. Runhappy working 6F in 1:10 and galloping out a mile in 1:35 just before the 2015 Breeder’s Cup Sprint. Notice how exercise rider Omar Torrez at 150lbs has to choke him down to keep the first quarter at 23. A week earlier he posted an identical work from the gate. That’s two 8F works for a horse preparing to win the 6F championship. Plus he had a blowout 3-4 days prior. When I relive those days, I watch this video more than any of the races. A half mile work in 48 would have left him scaling the walls of his stall like the world’s only 1100lb cat.
We had created a monster.
Coincidentally my brother shot this video from the roof of Keeneland, where he works. And my recently retired father worked one of the VIP rooms at KEE that day as a bet taker. Meanwhile, I sat within 20’ of Mr. Lukas that day on the 4th floor of the grandstand wearing a suit for the first time in a decade. I told you the last few years have been surreal as 35 years ago you could have found the 3 of us (sans Lukas but plus Mom), at Fairmount Park near St. Louis – cheering like hell for one of our $2500 claimers.
Please forgive me for not writing another fawning piece about how good this is for the sport, but I can’t do that in good conscience. I’m certainly in the minority, but just because you read that slobbering drivel in every single publication in the country doesn’t make it right. As a matter of fact, it’s that emotional fan-boy, short-term thinking that is permitting the continued decline of the sport in the US, but we’ll get to that later.
First off – it’s most likely he won’t win. The stats:
22 horses have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, but lost (or didn’t start) the Belmont. 11 of those came before 1978 and the final successful 3-race effort of Affirmed. So we have 11 Triple Crown champs in history, 11 failed efforts after 2 wins prior to 1978, and 11 Derby/Preakness winners since 1978 who have failed on the third leg.
Put another way: prior to the last TC winner in 1978 – 22 horses won the first 2 legs, and 11 won the final prize. Since 1978, 11 have won the first two yet failed at Belmont Park. Granted the time before 1978 goes back a long ways, but to be 11/22 up until 1978 and 0/11 since cannot be a mere coincidence – the odds would be astronomical. You know my bias: the reason is because our conditioning practices have shriveled up to short, slow gallops and infrequent breezes.
That brings us to California Chrome. He would be the first TC winner since the legalization of Lasix in New York in 1995. That alone is the best reason to hope he fails. If he wins, you will never, ever get rid of that raceday diuretic. Many are just fine with that, I am not.
He would also be the first winner to not breeze at all between his Derby and Belmont wins. Again, many don’t care, but I do. I want horses to exercise and develop their way into the history books, not get there due to pharmaceutical interventions sandwiched around jogs/slow gallops.
EDIT: Perhaps a short work is in the plans: “I’ll play it by ear,” Sherman said of a timetable for California Chrome’s pre-race work. “He don’t need much, (just) a half a mile work. I kind of keep them fresh. It’s usually five to six weeks before I even run them. Now, I’m running two major races in five weeks. To me, it’s awful tough on a horse. He’ll get a nice rest after the Belmont.”
I’m no math whiz, but he’s actually running 3 big races in 5 weeks. Assault won the Dwyer 2 weeks after the Belmont, but I digress – I’m sure watching Chrome in his stall for 23 hours a day come late June will be just as thrilling for race-goers.
(As a side note: Chrome wears the FLAIR nasal strip, which is not allowed in New York racing. I’ll Have Another faced the same dilemma a few years back, before scratching the morning of the Belmont with a bad ligament. Amazing how NY legalizes drugs on raceday, but forbids a nasal strip or trip to the hyperbaric chamber. Don’t forget when NYRA legalized Lasix they promised us MORE starts per horse. We all now instead we got less, much less. Dolts.)
I was on the Chrome bandwagon a few weeks before the Derby as I read plenty of stories about strong 2 mile gallops over the track at Los Alamitos. I woke up at 5am for several days to get to the CD backside hoping to clock one of these sessions, but they never happened. Chrome shipped in late and merely jogged a few days with a single slow 1 mile gallop tossed in. He did much the same in the 2 weeks prior to his Preakness win. I don’t think that is good for horseracing, taking the foot of the gas during a Triple Crown campaign. Many trainers smarter than me agree, Carl Nafzger among them.
But there are some good reasons to hope Chrome wins. Number one is he made 10 starts prior to the Derby, spaced roughly a month apart. Good for him, perhaps others will attempt the same – racing them into shape rather than relying on genetic talent to find the winner’s circle. Much like Comma to the Top a few years ago, that type of schedule would never be undertaken with a six figure auction purchase.
Secondly, perhaps a TC champ would put to rest this garbage about spacing out the 3 races further. America’s new motto these days seems to be: ‘Lowering the bar for everyone!’ Don’t condition them like the champs of old, don’t breed for stamina (a crock), don’t eliminate raceday drug use, etc. – but give them more time in between races. Sickening.
Finally, his triumph would expose the relative lack of importance of pedigree. Sure you can go back several generations and find champs on both sides of the family, but you can do that for every $5k claimer as well. Give me 4 $30k athletes over a single $120k yearling purchase with ‘bloodlines’ any day of the week. The last 4 Derby/Preak winners were all purchased for $60k or much less: I’ll Have Another, Big Brown, Smarty Jones, and Funny Cide. Zenyatta? $60k. Curlin? About the same.
Trainer Art Sherman has repeatedly mentioned his lack of desire to run back off 2 weeks rest. Yet we saw arguably Chrome’s best effort against quality competition in the Preakness. As you celebrate these connections just remember that without the lure of the Triple Crown, Chrome would have spent this past Saturday walking the shedrow instead of racing, had Sherman his druthers. Derby horses coming back on 2 weeks rest ran 1-2-4 in the Preakness and none of them will ever run back on short rest again in their careers. Mind-numbing.
That is the kind of crap I am afraid of watching for the next 40+ years should California Chrome triumph at Belmont in 3 weeks. It’s nothing personal, but the performances of our thoroughbreds have been on the decline for decades with the proliferation of raceday drugs, fewer starts per year, and the elimination of stamina-building conditioning protocols; and a big Triple Crown triumph will only detract from fixing those problems.
P.S. I stumbled upon a FB post where a gentleman mentions that the Chrome camp thinks the champ showed some signs of wear and tear after the big Preakness win. That horse is all heart, and sometimes that becomes a champion’s undoing, especially in the face of a non-existent exercise regimen. Often this ‘I want a fresh horse’ B.S. is code for ‘I’m scared to do too much because he’s not been himself in the mornings.’ Another old timer told me I would be shocked at how many big, big races were won by horses who were less than 100% sound at the time.
P.P.S. Funny how the ‘time doesn’t matter’ zombies are all ga-ga over a fast winning time (and Beyer) at the Preakness. You can’t have it both ways. Cutting back in distance and racing off short rest is often a powerful angle with many good horses. And I’m still waiting on the answer to when time does matter? The 2023 Derby over a fast track being won in 2:09? I guess as long as that horse goes on to win his next 2 races then all is well?
P.P.P.S. When is it going to hit Mr. Sherman that his horse was actually stronger and fitter during the Preakness after winning the Derby 14 days earlier? Why already the talk of a nice, long break after the Belmont? At some point doesn’t the performance on the track have to count for something? That’s it, too many questions to ask that will never get answered.
I just can’t shake the feeling that if today’s thoroughbreds need 10 days after a race to get back to normal, that something is wrong with the conditioning behind them. That’s not just my opinion, as any Hall of Famer trainer prior to D. Wayne Lukas would tell you the same thing.
I leave you with a quote from Jimmy Jerkens: “You can’t get ready for a mile and a half keeping him in the barn.” – dammit why isn’t he on the verge of winning the Triple Crown? Keep this in mind should Wicked Strong stop California Chrome’s quest for history in a few weeks time, or any other new shooter for that matter.
If only Sherman would talk that way, even if he was faking it for crying out loud, I could get on board with this horse. Instead I may be the only one not excited for what the next few weeks will bring us.
Edit: Exhibit A-Z:
Above is the May 7th edition of the DRF, from the day Swaps won the Kentucky Derby. Click to enlarge.
Day before the Derby: light jog like Chrome?
Nope. 5 furlong work.
Leading up to the big race: a leisurely week of jogging and light galloping like Chrome?
Nope. 6F race 7 days prior to the First Saturday in May.
Before that race? Another light week of ‘freshening up’?
Nope. 4F blowout the day before AND a 5F breeze 3 days prior to that.
The final 10 days before the Derby summarized:
California Chrome – a single 4F work at Los Alamitos and perhaps 2 cumulative miles of galloping.
4 race speed furlongs total.
Swaps – a 6F race, 3 works totaling just shy of 2 miles, and undoubtedly 10+ miles of galloping.
20 race speed furlongs total, 6 of them in an actual race.
It’s well known that Chrome’s trainer Art Sherman was the exercise boy for Swaps during these times. I would love to ask him why he thinks trainer Mesh Tenney prepared Swaps in such a manner for a grueling Triple Crown season, and why today Mr. Sherman decides not to do the same?
Regardless of what happens over the next few weeks, California Chrome is no Swaps and horses today pale in comparison to those of yesteryear when looking at total volume of exercise. And when you limit exercise, you limit response to exercise – i.e. improving both durability and stamina. If you were to measure the bone density of both Swaps and Chrome during their respective 3yo campaigns you would see a marked difference.
TODAY’S HORSES BEGIN TO SHOW THEIR WARTS PAST 9 FURLONGS AND ON SHORTER REST
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I should feel pretty good about myself this morning. However, if the ‘imitator’ does such a better job of things, then perhaps he should get all the credit. Enter European racing analyst James Willoughby.
First here are a few posts I did years ago detailing the ever slowing times of our 10F Kentucky Derby and our 12F Belmont Stakes:
As you can see, my data analysis and presentation resembles a Joe Biden speech: frighteningly simplistic smatterings from an old man who seemingly rides the fenceline bordering illiteracy. Thank goodness for Mr. Willoughby who in April of 2014 put these trends into a much cleaner presentation:
Read it. Please.
Things seemed to have taken a turn for the worse in the 1980’s. Right about then is when Lasix became pervasive (and legal), while at the same time quarter horse cowboys invaded the thoroughbred game with their ‘less is more’ philosophy on conditioning and their ‘more is more’ view of stable size. Now those very studs are failing to impart stamina to their offspring – perhaps because their stamina was derived from pharmaceutical means rather than through genetic responses to intense conditioning practices. I’m told the concept of environment affecting genetic change is termed Epigenetics.
Regarding California Chrome: splendid raw times and Beyer figures in California up to 9F when well-rested. No argument there. More from the author:
I really have nothing to add. It’s apparent that at 10 and 12 furlongs the American thoroughbred is in decline. The more we rest them and the less we test them in training; the slower they become over longer distances.
Now that’s an award – the winner gets a bottle of select Irish whiskey! Mr. Haugen is a leading Scandinavian trainer who recently took a $15k purchase to Dubai and won the Meydan Sobha Handicap. I don’t understand handicap ratings, but Avon Pearl was a 78 and beat some 100 class horses in Dubai. Must be quite a feat-
From the below linked article: “Haugen is a passionate believer in technology to help him train horses and has spent much time working with and developing strategies for the use of heart rate monitors as well as analyzing blood lactate.”
Mr. Haugen tells me his goal is to win both the trotting Derby as well as the galloping Derby in his home country of Norway. Can you imagine a US trainer winning both the Kentucky Derby AND The Hambletonian in the same year?
Also, fellow HR/GPS trainer Jeremy Gask won the race following Avon Pearl’s triumph with Medicean Man, the first of 2 triumphs in 7 days at the Dubai Carnival meet:
I love the horse, and the connections, but a final quarter in 26+ off a slow pace does not bode well for the 12F Belmont in five weeks’ time. He would have lost every Derby on a fast track in the 1960’s by multiple lengths. Hell, the final HALF was :52!! That was not California Chrome accelerating down the Churchill stretch, that was him decelerating slightly less than the other slowpokes.
I think 12 have won the Derby and Preakness since the last Triple Crown champ, and all fell short over Big Sandy. Chrome will do the same, if he gets by a new shooter (Social Inclusion?) in 2 weeks’ time in Maryland. Or perhaps he meets a Derby competitor who skips the trip to Pimlico and goes home to NY to rest up (Wicked Strong?) before the Belmont.
I first liked him off of his ambitious racing schedule the past 12 months, but fell out of love with him this week at Churchill as he arrived mid-week and did next to nothing over the CD strip. Wisely so, it appears in retrospect I must admit. I suppose his first plane trip and race outside of CA was stress enough that Mr. Sherman laid off the aggressive 2 mile gallops that had taken place at Los Alamitos.
I am in the process of doing some work with a glycogen loading protocol, and I wonder if horses, like humans, need to taper back the daily exercise in the days leading up to a big race, while at the same time loading up on carbohydrates in an effort to top off glycogen energy stores? But then I love the pre-race 3F blowout a few days out, so who knows where I am going with this-
Again, the $10k horse from modest beginnings coming out of a low-end circuit is one of my favorite story lines, but if Chrome is sat on the next 5 weeks with nothing more than jogs and slow gallops (no works), I will hope for him to lose the Triple Crown decisively.
Once more, I use Assault as the example of what a Triple Crown winner does in the mornings from May thru June:
3 – 4F in :48
4 – Won Kentucky Derby by 8 in 2:06 on sloppy track
5 – walked at CD
6 – shipped to Pimlico
8 – 3F in :40
9 – 8F in 1:45
11 – Won Preakness Stakes by a neck in 2:01 on fast track
12 – shipped to Belmont
16 – 4F in :52
18 – 3F in :40
20 – 4F in :48
22 – 8F in 1:44
24 – 3F in :35
25 – 1.25 miles in 2:05 (:50, 1:15, 1:40, 2:05)
28 – 4F in :50
29 – 1.5 miles in 2:32
1 – Won Belmont Stakes by 3 in 2:31 on fast track
5 – 4F in :52
7 – 4F in :51
9 – 8F in 1:43
11 – 3F in :36
13 – 8F in 1:43 at Aqueduct
15 – Won Dwyer Stakes by 5 lengths in 2:07 on fast track
-With all those works, did he ever simply gallop? Does he need to?
-16 breezes in that 45 day window, averaging nearly 6F per effort, in 12-13 sec/f paces.
-A Triple Crown AND Dwyer win within those very same 6 weeks.
-Note the Preakness was run 1 week after the Derby and he still worked TWICE.
-Also note he worked the entire race distance of 1.5 miles 2 days before the Belmont. You gotta be kidding me. I feel like I am making this up.
How about War Admiral in 1937?
“”Between the Preakness and the June 5 Belmont Stakes, trainer George Conway poured it to the little Admiral. Working at three-day intervals, War Admiral breezed 11 furlongs in 2:22, 12 furlongs in 2:35.40, 12 furlongs in 2:34.60, and 12 furlongs again in 2:34.60, the last move coming just three days before the Belmont.”
So, what am I saying? Should every TC runner start to emulate these programs? No way, not even close. First off, those old timers galloped an honest 2+ miles daily for months before April of their 3yo season, and weren’t plied with Lasix as a ‘preventative’ measure everytime they went fast at age 2.
Secondly, you must first gauge the recovery of your horse after a 5F work before going 6F, etc. Of course, I do this with a HR/GPS monitor, they weren’t doing that in the 40’s I assure you. Back then every horse went through a meat grinder of a conditioning schedule; many got hurt, but those that survived were monsters – absolute iron horses.
Today, they all go through a threadbare regimen: 1.25 mile daily gallops and weekly 4-5F works, only galloping out strong during the weeks prior to Derby. Many still get hurt, and the best of the survivors run Derby times of 2:03 and Belmont times over 2:30; times akin to those of several decades ago – despite a million occurrences of breeding the ‘best to the best’. What a scam.
Now imagine the future path of California Chrome:
I can show you his worktab prior to the Preakness right now:
And I can show you his worktab the week before the Belmont:
All this considered and the winner of the 2014 Belmont, whoever he is, will run slower than 2:30 on a fast track, guaranteed. That will be the fourth consecutive 2:30+ time in the decade, which hasn’t happened since the 1930s.
Chrome is the best of yet another bad 3yo bunch and that’s fine, but it won’t earn him a place alongside the legends of the game as a TC champion, in my opinion. But if I’m wrong; I’d be glad to be proven wrong by this bunch of connections: at least we have 10 races going into the Derby and those long 2 mile gallops to fall back on as reasons for his success.
EDIT: The Beyer came it at 97, the Oaks winner carded a 107. If Chrome ran successive quarters of 24-24-24-24-25 I would love him, but he ran roughly two 26’s at the end. And please, gearing him down from 35mph to 33mph 60 yds from the wire is meaningless to the final time.
PS. Fresh horse? If anything he was the least fresh, with 10 races in the last 12 months. All of them were ‘fresh’: nothing but jogs, slow gallops Derby week, last work 6-7 days out, no races for 3-5 weeks, etc. – and 15 of 19 ran like shit.
PS2. Mr. Sherman is already talking about taking it easy the week before the Preakness in Maryland, remember these quotes from the conditioner when he comes up short in the Belmont. But in all fairness he really has no choice at this point. All those well-spaced out 4-5F works at Los Al have pretty much committed him to this path already.
PS3. I’m reminded of all those 9F preps where the winner ‘did it so easy’, was ‘well within himself’, and my personal favorite ‘galloped out so strongly, the extra furlong of the Derby is in his wheelhouse’? 90% of those prep stars came home on rubber legs yesterday through easier fractions than they found in their 9F efforts.
EDIT2. I’m not the only one with doubts, from today’s paper:
Jockey Victor Espinoza: ‘he just got a little tired. A mile and a quarter, coming off shipping and everything, but he is fine.’
Trainer Art Sherman: ‘he didn’t eat every oat, but he just left a handful.’
Trainer Mark Casse: ‘I couldn’t believe how slow the race was because the track was fairly fast all day. ‘
EDIT3. Criticisms aside, he’s one good looking horse the morning after arrival at PIM:
6-way Superfecta Box:
(costs $36 for the $0.10 variety, or get a group together and split the $360/$1 version)
I don’t like the lack of lengthy works, but daily gallops are a solid 2 miles and he is probably the most talented. He also somewhat makes up for this with 10 starts in the last 12 months. Plus I love the lack of pedigree, which is always overvalued in my opinion.
Old school workouts by Jimmy Jerkens: long 7F works rotated with 3F blowouts in the days prior to post, likely the only entry to do so. Learned from his daddy, no doubt. If conditioned less aggressively, a possible bounce candidate off of the big Wood Memorial performance.
My favorite during the prep season due to several mile works down at Palm Meadows. However, seems to be a consistent Beyer 100 animal, which may lose this weekend to a freak performance but should still find a spot in the Top 4.
I have to have a Baffert entry, so I take this one who has worked 3 times in 10 days, around a ship from SA to CD. Also worked in the slop this week. Does Baffert think he’s short? If so, Chitu has about the same shot in my opinion.
Although his hand was forced by the need for Derby points, Romans ran him twice in a week at KEE in mid-April. I wholly expected a small 4F work at CD this week, but he went 6F – long for a Romans 3yo. The hunt for qualifying points over Polytrack may have led to this one being quite fit on Saturday, by mistake.
Ride on Curlin.
Lots of 7F works for this one, too. Just a $25k auction purchase and I again love the lack of market for this one. However, if you want to leave one out on this list, it would be him.
EDIT: 10:40 Derby morning. I’ve seen none of those long, strong gallops from California Chrome this week. Uh-oh, Sherman has taken the ‘bubble wrap’ approach: “I like to run a horse back (from his last race) seven or eight weeks later, but I had no choice. Now we got this race and I didn’t push him for that reason. To win, you got to have a fresh horse.”
What to do? He only has 3 starts this year, and now the foot has been taken off the gallop pedal, I toss him out of the winner’s circle. Cue the ‘bad trip’ excuses from the camp afterwards. Superfecta still? Possibly.
That’s a HR/GPS chart from a 4F work in 48 flat yesterday at a major East Coast racetrack. Note the low jog HR in the first few minutes, around 100bpm. Speed peaked at 37.8mph and held steady at 37mph – precisely 12sec/furlongs. 2min after the work ends, after a decent gallop out, HR is 120bpm and 3min later is dropping under 100bpm. And this horse hasn’t raced in 2014 yet.
Now we go back to December and check out one of several 4F works for the same horse, between his 2 unsuccessful starts for a big-name trainer with several Grade 1 wins to his credit:
This is 4F in 51. The jog HR is a very high 140bpm and the post breeze 2min recovery is 150pm. Terrible for a horse who has several works and a race under his belt. Unsurprisingly, to me at least, a week later he ran a well-beaten 7th. Amazingly, the trainer in question felt good about his chances! And this guy has won millions in purses over the past few decades.
So, why does this 3yo colt look great today after a miserable showing 4 months back? A major reason is he posted 2 slow 6F works with strong gallop outs before attempting the fast 4F move last week:
4/27 – 4F in 48
4/19 – 6F in 1:18
4/5 – 6F in 1:19
The old horseman’s adage, ‘One race is as good as two works’ only applies if the horse in question is reasonably fit for the task. Based on that first 4F HR/GPS chart, this one should have never been in the starting gate – as he was nowhere near ready, and even a respected horseman couldn’t see it with his own two eyes.
Now this young trainer with a different approach has him prepared to run well off a big layoff, and likely at huge odds to boot. Some owners and trainers allow me to blog about what they are doing in real time, but this team sees the HR/GPS as a competitive advantage, so I must protect their privacy.
But the take home lesson is good for all:
Don’t run a horse who recovers so poorly off a 4F work, it’s hopeless. He can’t win at 6F+, and he is at increased risk of injury. A better way is to slow him down in the mornings, stretch him out a few panels, then come back to the speed. And when you have the HR/GPS charts there is no guesswork – both owner and trainer (and myself) can go into the next race secure in the knowledge that he’s going to run well.
Now we aren’t out of the woods just yet, many horses can go a good 4F but the wheels come off during an extra furlong at speed. But if this same horse goes 5F next week and has similar recovery numbers, I’d bet the house on him when he next attempts to break his maiden. Regardless, he’s now prepared to improve off a race or two, which was definitively not the case last year.
EDIT: May 25, 2014: He ran 2nd, beaten a half length after trouble in the stretch, to a Pletcher/Repole $250k purchase. Race taken off turf and down to a 4 horse field, yet ours still went to post at 14-1. Even Hall of Fame trainers eyeballs plus decades of experience lack in accuracy compared to a HR/GPS chart when estimating equine fitness/ability. That is a fact.
PS. Kentucky Derby horses?
That kind of graded stakes ability is displayed by doing 6F+ works in 12’s with a similar, or better, recovery. Even though many posted works this week are of the 4-5F variety – nearly all include reasonably aggressive gallop outs of 1-2F. I’d give my right arm to know the HR behavior as they wind down on the CD backstretch. Half of the field likely has no business being in this race and the HR numbers would identify that bunch.
On the gallop side?
If California Chrome is galloping 2 miles every morning in 4:00-4:20 total time with a HR under 185bpm – he may just be unbeatable on Saturday as most others cap daily exercise at 1-1.25 miles.
In honor of the Kentucky Derby, here is a pic from my entryway that captures the essence of the song CD plays just before the post parade on Derby day. Coincidentally, the song was composed in the precise year my new house was built, 1852, by Stephen Foster, not 2 miles away from where I now sit.
Read an amazing story about a $500 bargain who won the Kentucky Derby in the DRF, Old Rosebud:
In that piece was a quote from legendary trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons that caught my attention:
“It’s what you can’t see that matters most.”
He probably wasn’t thinking about physiologic structures inside the horse when he said that, but he was on the right track.
I try to simplify it greatly. Let’s assume that one factor dictates equine athletic performance. It’s not true but helps for this example. That factor will be mitochondrial density. As you know, mitochondria are the energy powerhouses of the muscle cells. Genetics sets the blueprint as to what is the maximum value in a horse, but training dictates how much of that potential will be realized. Proper conditioning develops more mitochondria, which in our simplified example, wins more races. We could do the same thing with another physiological variable: capillary beds – you are born with a certain amount, genetics dictates your ceiling, but only training/racing can increase the number of capillaries developed between arteries and veins, leading to improved oxygen metabolism….and racing performance.
Both of these are observable physiological structures within the horse. Both of them are positively influenced by proper conditioning. Neither of them are observable to the naked eye. It’s quite likely that whomever wins the Kentucky Derby in 2 weeks’ time will have the most of each.