Monthly Archives: April 2011

Private Training Center for Sale and the Tour of the Century info

Southern Indiana-based private training center available for $850,000 OBO. Not listed on the MLS. Certified for workouts to be published at DRF/Equibase, Wheeler Training Center is now on the market for the first time in 20+ years, even as slots fueled Indiana purses near $35k for MSW.

Where to begin? Three quarter mile dirt/woodchip training track with starting gates, probably needs some work on top layer of surface. Caretakers home, equipment sheds, several barns, 40+ stalls, 200+ acres overall, par 3 golf course, currently operating bar/restaurant, and a 6000+ square foot home with private lake. For those of you familiar with the area, this land is about 10 miles up the road from Cook’s Training Center on Indiana Hwy. 60 towards Borden. Less than 2 hours ship time to Keeneland, Churchill, Indiana Downs, Hoosier Park, and Turfway.

Let me know if you are interested and I will put you in touch with the trainer that currently resides at the property. The owner is fielding offers from commercial interests that would bulldoze the thoroughbred operation, so this is a last ditch effort to get some horse people involved. My email is

Thoroughbred Racing Tour of the Century? How about 22 days visiting top thoroughbred racecourses in France, England, and Ireland? See this link for more info about the Australian guys putting such a fantastic trip together, leaving in early June:

Back to regular equine physiology/science matters next post – but I had to throw these two seemingly unrelated things out there, thanks for listening.


5th at Keeneland Today, Something Amiss with Amoss?

Finally, praise for a modern day trainer instead of criticism. Mr. Amoss starts 3yo filly Keyana Washington at 3:19pm today at Keeneland against older mares and fillies in a 6F affair for a $30k tag. She is unraced, but check out this hyper-aggressive worktab between the polytrack at KEE and the dirt at FG:

April 7th – 6f/1:15
Mar 29th – 5F/1:01
Mar 11th – 6F/1:12
Mar 4th – 6F/1:14
Feb 11th – 5F/1:00
Jan 28th – 1m/1:44 (a mile, is this a typo?)
-6 other works from 5-6F before this, some bullets, some slow pokes.

M/L is 4-1, but this homebred daughter of Seeking The Gold looks to be the class of this group and will undoubtedly take some late action. It’s rare I have time to pick these out before the race, as evidenced by my upcoming piece on Lasix/Bute free Tackleberry, so this should be interesting to watch in person…off to Keeneland I go.

Anecdotally, I am not aware of Amoss being anything other than a typical modern day conditioner, for you horsemen and women out there, why would a trainer who hangs his hat on 4F works suddenly do this much with a nicely bred filly before her first outing?

Carl Nafzger is a True Supertrainer

“With Unbridled, when I was in the test barn after the Belmont, I damn near cried because I realized I ran a short horse.” What?!?

Nafzger routinely breezed Unbridled a half mile the day before each big race, including the Kentucky Derby, and even this aggressive preparation still results in a ‘short’ horse?

More from Mr. Nafzger in today’s Paulick Report-

“Real Triple Crown horses thrive (on the spacing of the races). I made a mistake between the Preakness and Belmont with Unbridled: I ran a short horse in the Belmont. He was thriving, and I said I’ve got to take it easy on him.”

Full interview here:

So ‘taking it easy’ on Unbridled cost him a Belmont victory, yet most trainers today routinely take it much easier on theirs in the months leading up to such a grueling 3yo campaign. Mr. Nafzger learned the hard way that when a horse is thriving, that is precisely the time to push forward for more development, rather than resorting to 4-5F ‘maintenance’ works. In reality, often those workouts ‘maintain’ nothing other than mediocrity.

Watch closely as many horses fail to breeze AT ALL between the 3 TC races this year, much less a half mile the morning before either race. Even a horse as immensely talented as Unbridled, with all the work put into him, came up short on conditioning in this Hall of Famer’s eyes. Yet today’s trainers believe a 4F work 7-10 days out is sufficient with their talented stock.

As a result I believe all of today’s 3yo are short, and it will be once again evident as even the winner struggles home on rubber legs at CD in 4 weeks – and is likely absent from the starting gate 5 weeks later in NY.

What Uncle Mo’s Upcoming Bloodwork Will Miss

Give me a break: 1940’s style blood work for Uncle Mo a few days after a disappointing effort? A near total waste of time. So you pick up a systemic illness and/or infection, big deal – use a thermometer. What we need to know is Mo’s precise fitness level. Some trainers have stepped into the 21st century with blood lactate testing after gallop exercise, as shown above by Dr. David Evans, author of the Australian study entitled: “Training and Fitness in Athletic Horses.”

To keep everything uniform: Mo should be tested during a routine morning gallop session in somewhere near a 2:00/mile pace. Let’s say one week after a race. Should have been done after his BC triumph, should have been done after the Timely Writer, and again here after the Wood Memorial. After his workout, while still on the track at precisely 2min post gallop, blood should be drawn as above. No need even for a full blood draw, these days we can use a pinprick of capillary blood to do the trick and get results in 15 seconds with a handheld device.

What we are after is the amount of lactic acid found in the bloodstream after such an easy exercise session. (A $15k claimer may need to gallop a 2:40 mile for comparison’s sake.) A horse of graded stakes caliber will show a lactate reading of under 4mmol/liter after a 2 min lick – indicating much of the work being accomplished by aerobic means.

Once you have this number, you can objectively determine if his fitness level is where it needs to be, as it undoubtedly was last November. Then Mr. Pletcher can move up to 5-6F breezes if deemed necessary before a possible Derby entry, or scratch and save a further loss of residual value at stud.

Lance Armstrong was a lower tier losing cyclist 15 years ago before being diagnosed with testicular cancer. Along with exercise physiologist Chris Carmichael, he instituted this precise measure of fitness and embarked on a long Tour De France winning streak:

If bloodwork is too messy, use an onboard HR/GPS monitor. After a gallop as instructed above, download the info to a PC and if Mo’s average heart rate during the exercise is under 200bpm, all systems are go for Kentucky.

My point is: horsemen can now take advantage of tools not available to their mentors when they learned their craft 30 years ago. Does this stuff standalone without any horsemanship? Of course not, it is merely another tool to help with decision making, but it provides objective info from the inside of a horse, a piece of the puzzle that is often lacking trackside.

When you finally have your horse in peak condition, collect this physiological data so you will know if/when you can reach it next year, without guesswork and subjective opinion.

More info on Dr. Evans and lactate testing- here:


The Morning After: Comma to the Top vs Toby’s Corner

Two near identical efforts Saturday, how do they look Sunday morning?

Comma (in pic above): “He looked super and he ate up. He was bouncing around this morning and he jogged down the road like a Marine.” – Trainer Peter Miller

Toby: Trainer Graham Motion said that Toby’s Corner came out of the Wood a bit tired – “he’s been laying down all morning”.

To the naked eye both look to show similar form on Saturday:

Comma to the Top: SA Derby, 1 and 1/8 mile in 1:49, Beyer 94
Toby’s Corner: Wood, 1 and 1/8 mile in 1:49, Beyer 95

Toby’s Corner made the typical 2 starts at age 2 while Comma to the Top made 10 in his 2yo season. That is foundation, or bottom, or whatever the hell you want to call it – and that is how it shows up, in their actions 12 hours after they lay their belly down in the homestretch on a key Derby prep.

I Told You So: Uncle ‘No’ Mo

January 29th: “My two cents: a 50% chance that Uncle Mo will get injured during his prep for the Derby. He’ll only breeze 4F a few times, he’ll only race twice – and I think he comes up lame in the process. I hope not, but that is what I forsee.”

Now it’s Saturday at 6:08pm, just after the Wood Memorial debacle, and it hasn’t been announced yet that Mo is hurt, but after that performance it’s obvious the threadbare conditioning regimen failed this wonderful colt greatly, just as the same concepts did in Eskendereya roughly 365 days ago to the hour.

I was eviscerated in message boards for suggesting that Uncle Mo was anything less than our next Triple Crown champion. Noted ‘experts’ in the industry fell over themselves, acting like 12 year old schoolgirls in proclaiming Mo the next greatest thing.

Pletcher and the other supertrainers condition these horses like wild animals: soft 4F rolling breezes once a week, 2 weeks off fast works post race, 2 mile gallops 3-4x weekly, and close them up in the stall for 23+ hours a day – in the hopes they will run their eyeballs out every 5-6 weeks. This gets you your black type with one great performance, but it also gets you an injured horse quite often in the long run.

Stronger gallops at 2 minute lick pace, speedwork 2x a week, etc. – sounds funny – but more work creates stronger athletes who are less likely to get hurt. They still get hurt, but not as often. Instead Uncle Mo is treated like a weekend warrior: sits in a cubicle/stall all week, and is asked to compete on the weekends. It doesn’t work for humans and it will not work for horses.

It is our duty to protect these wonderful equine athletes from themselves, making sure their insides (bones, ligaments, lungs, muscles, etc.) are sufficiently developed to match up with their outsides (fight or flight adrenaline fueled nature). Not so for Mo, but perhaps down the line a big name trainer will make the necessary adjustments.

What is Stamina? (or the myth of the 2 minute lick)

Just 24 extra seconds of stamina is worth $50 million dollars in an American 3 year old colt.

How is that?
Consider that dozens of American 3 year olds can go 8F in 1:36, but ZERO can go 10F in 2:00 come the first Saturday in May. I don’t care how many of them can rip off a first quarter in :22 or a half in :45, speed doesn’t matter – it’s the ability to hold 95% of top speed that wins at classic distances and creates thoroughbred legends. The great Secretariat’s Belmont victory consisted of 12 furlongs in 12sec/furlong pace – a full 48 seconds of additional stamina that today’s equine athletes fail to possess, do you think he ever breezed a 10sec furlong at age 2 like the Green Monkey?

Let me state that again: Peak speed doesn’t equal success in classic distance American races. The fastest workers at two year olds in training sales routinely bring the highest hammer prices, and just as routinely disappoint on the race track. An analysis of one particular Barrett’s sale over the years shows that fast workers typically return about 20% of their sales price in race earnings – and at least one top consignor shows better racetrack results from his RNA’d stock in these same sales. Interesting, to say the least.

Obviously pedigree plays a role in stamina, but genetics merely sets the blueprint for stamina development, the training environment dictates how much of that blueprint is achieved in the real world.

At least one world class trainers has figured that out:
Dubai and South Africa based Mike de Kock: “When your horse may not have the bloodlines or ability of their opponent, fitness is the one area in which you can beat them.”

Poker is a perfect example of the age-old ‘nature vs. nurture’ question.

As a trainer, you may either play Texas Hold ‘Em Seven Card Stud or you play the much less popular Seven Card Draw. In stud, you get 2 cards of your own (genetics) and everyone plays off of the 5 community cards (environment). However, in Seven Card Draw there are no community cards – every player gets the chance to trade in up to 4 of his cards (genetics) received from the dealer. You can’t trade them all in, but you are not forced to play the hand you are dealt, nor are you forced to play the community cards (environment) that others are bound to in Texas Hold ‘Em. You may trade in some cards and get poorer ones in return, or you may improve your hand significantly. In Stud that is purely a game of chance, but in equine training/conditioning you can literally ‘stack the deck’ in your favor.

Confused yet? Maybe that was a clumsy analogy, but as a horseman you are not stuck playing the genetic cards dealt to you by breeding in terms of stamina, you can better your hand by altering the conditioning stimulus for each individual horse. To do this properly, you need to know exactly how stamina is developed on a physiological level.

In thoroughbred race horses, stamina is the ability to hold 95% of top speed for a longer period of time. This differs from endurance horses, who like human marathoners, must run all day long at a slower pace. Thoroughbreds must deal with holding speed in the presence of lactic acid, therefore training paces must take this into account.

Stamina is not some mythical quality, it is measureable.

Stamina consists of actual physiological structures inside of a horse’s body. Again, pedigree dictates what quantity and function the animal is born with – as well as its rate of development through age and training – but targeted conditioning itself improves this scenario.

For simplicity’s sake we’ll first focus on just one of these structures: mitochondria. You can see these things in a muscle – although you need a very powerful microscope. This is the powerhouse of the muscle cell: where nutrients from the diet and broken down in the presence of oxygen to produce aerobic energy and eventually movement down the track. (By the way, all the mitochondria in a horse’s body are inherited from the mother, which again points to the genetic importance of the female lines in breeding theory.)

Heck, let’s add one more physical component of stamina: capillaries. Horses are born with a set number of arteries and veins with which to transport blood to and from the working muscles during exercise. Capillaries are the very small vessels that run between these arteries and veins. The surface area of these blood vessels is where gaseous exchange takes place – the taking in of oxygen from the blood and the release of waste products such as carbon dioxide back into the environment. Most importantly, although the number of arteries and veins are set at birth, the number of capillaries is not. Exercise increases capillarization – and therefore increases the surface area for gaseous exchange which results in more aerobic energy output.

Very simply put, the quantity and quality of mitochondria in the muscles and capillaries in the circulatory system dictate the presence or absence of stamina in a thoroughbred racehorse.

Now training an endurance horse, or human, is simple – miles upon miles of slow exercise to build these structures. Thoroughbreds cannot do this – else they will simply be able to run forever, albeit slowly. Thoroughbreds race mainly in 120 seconds or less at high speeds – and with great buildups of lactic acid in the process.

So, we must discover the intensity of exercise, or pace/speed, that allows a horse to build the precursors of stamina, while at the same time introducing enough lactic acid into the bloodstream so that fast twitch muscles are not ignored. That pace is called V200 – or velocity at 200 beats per minute, which roughly corresponds to 85% intensity of effort in the average thoroughbred.

Class                                                  V200/ideal stamina building pace

2yo start of training                         3:30-2:30 min/mile
claimer                                               2:30-2:15
allowance                                           2:15-2:00
stakes                                                 2:00-1:50
graded stakes                                    1:50-1:40

In terms of lactic acid, these V200 paces are equivalent to VLA4, which is the gallop speed that results in a blood lactate level of 4mmol/liter in an exercising thoroughbred. Lactic acid is not all bad – at this intensity/pace the horse can actually teach himself to use lactate as an energy source, as well as teach his blood to buffer the increased concentration of hydrogen ions – this V200 pace is nature’s TCO2 milkshake.

We get close to building ideal stamina when we speak of a Two Minute Lick, a mile galloped in 2:00 flat, or 15 sec/furlong. This is indeed an ideal stamina builder, but only for one specific class of horse, basically an allowance type runner, perhaps a non graded stakes competitor. If you throw 2 minute licks at your 2yo or your claiming stock – you are not building stamina, this is essentially speedwork for them. Plus, the fact that they ‘can’t blow out a candle’ 10 minutes after such a workout means little, but that is another story for another day. Surely, you trainers out there have had many such instances where you thought your horse would stay based on a few 2:00 lick gallops, only to be surprised otherwise on raceday-

I have seen traditional 1.5-2 mile gallops in many horses over the years, from $4k claimers at Beulah Downs on up to stakes winners at Churchill. 99% of these works average around a 2:15 to 2:30 pace, and only for a mile or so in the middle of the session. That intensity of work during a gallop is only good for stamina in a small range of athlete (see above chart) and does little to build stamina in a quality horse. Should you take your stakes horses and gallop them faster than a 2:00 mile every day? Of course not. But it would be wise to begin with one day each week targeting conditioning for optimal stamina development.

Americans, by necessity, must train for speed due to our race tactics, but why ignore stamina in the process?  We do a fantastic job of conditioning to withstand the rigors of speed during a fast opening quarter or half – but we sort of ignore the stamina end of the equation. And with no real reason, by definition training for stamina is sub-maximal in nature and easy on both the minds and the bodies of today’s thoroughbred. V200 is often referred to as ‘cruising speed’ by Todd Pletcher and others.

Stamina and Published Works

Except for our very top graded stakes competitors, stamina workouts are too slow to be timed and will not show up in the worktabs of the DRF or Equibase. Therefore, it remains difficult to figure out which trainers, if any, utilize these types of exercise in their daily regimen. American trained horses who are stabled trackside will rarely get enough track time to knock out many 2:15 miles, but I would suspect that horses trained off the farm, or at a private training center such as Fair Hill in Maryland, would be more likely to have some exposure to stamina building exercise. Surely the European turf stars are trained in such a manner – as exercise riders over there tell me these horses get an hour a day of exercise on average at a variety of paces.

Despite selectively breeding the best to the best for dozens of generations, here in the US our classic Triple Crown races are being won in times roughly equal to those in the 1940’s:

Perhaps it’s time to address the conditioning angle in an effort to stretch our horses out a bit further?