Frankel vs. Uncle Mo: When 2yo Precociousness is Done Right

“A good horse needs a lot of training. Not only can they take it, they want it, and you’re not doing them any favors if you don’t give them the chance to develop their ability.”
-Billy Turner, trainer of Triple Crown Champion Seattle Slew

Juddmonte Farms’ superstar 2yo champion Frankel, trained by Henry Cecil, won the English 2,000 Guineas today in impressive fashion, something Uncle Mo will attempt to duplicate in Kentucky next week as the reining Breeders Cup Juvenile champion. Frankel remains undefeated after leading wire to wire in the 1 mile European classic: after building a comfortable 15 length lead he put himself into idle and coasted home a 6 length winner on the uphill turf course finish. That got me thinking I should delve deeper into the conditioning regimens between the two countries, as I have always known there to be significant ideological differences in how trainers condition their young charges.

To that end, I recently received my first heart rate/gallop speed chart from Newmarket last week (not from Frankel) – and it perfectly illustrates the vast differences in speed work versus what I see in America every day. Let’s investigate. Click image to enlarge.


Y-axis is heart rate in red, pace in min/mile in blue
X-axis is elapsed time
On the left/Euro chart, the dark red shading is elevation change
(Names and dates have been blacked out due to confidentiality agreements)

Variable EURO USA
Total distance 4.9 miles 2.6 miles
Distance 4F x 2 intervals 4F
Ground Uphill turf Flat dirt
Time 1:08, 1:02 0:52

What we have above are 2 maintenance workouts for elite stakes level horses, approximately a week before a big race in their respective campaigns.

Because of the unique configuration of Newmarket, it takes this one a 30 minute walk to even reach the training grounds, quite a bit different than the typical American proximity to the training surface. The American style half mile breeze in :52 is easy to identify. I’ll concede the American way will build better 6F sprinters on dirt, but I think it leaves optimal stamina development lacking for the classics.

Using any definition, the Euros practice interval training.

Study the chart and notice how this filly gallops up 2 separate hills during her workout: with the second one being quite a bit steeper than the first. She gets a 14 minute break from exercise while descending the first hill in preparation for the second climb. Therefore, the European filly gets 1 mile of maximal heart rate workout, twice that of the American. She also gets that intensity at a much slower (safer) pace due to the severe incline of the grounds.

Due to the turf and the severe incline, speeds are kept down – but heart rates are still near maximum. Don’t figure that I favor Master of Hounds this weekend, he may be all class on Tapeta, but no amount of conditioning will overcome the surface issue he will face at CD.

Aside from the brilliant Billy Turner who used to jog Seattle Slew for 30 minutes before even attempting to gallop him, and who worked Slew 2 separate miles in 1:37 the week prior to the Belmont, which other trainers in recent history have succeeded in transferring 2yo precociousness to the early 3yo classics?

The only American trainer to accomplish this feat in my recent memory is Carl Nafzger, and readers of this blog know how I feel about him:

Taking a page from the Billy Turner/Seattle Slew playbook, Mr. Nafzger breezed Unbridled 4F the day before every big race and was likely similarly aggressive with Street Sense in 2006.

On the Euro side, recent successes have been Mastercraftsman (IRE), New Approach (IRE), and George Washington. These 3 were trained by Aidan O’Brien of Coolmore fame and his mentor, Irish trainer Jim Bolger. I can’t speak to Mr. Bolger, but O’Brien is very much in tune to the latest technology and undoubtedly both utilize similar conditioning works as the interval training chart above-

HR/GPS use with Coolmore at Ballydoyle

“It is not just visual monitoring at Ballydoyle, there is also the scientific approach. Heart monitors are fitted to every horse and a GPS armband is on every rider. Data is logged, ready for examination.”

You see, when you know precisely how your horse responds to exercise – it is easier to push the envelope a bit with regards to intensity. The result is an athlete less prone to injury and more likely to hold his 2yo form into his 3yo campaign. Even top US trainers are still handcuffed by training at trackside facilities around the country, all on the flat. Therefore, in order to stress a horse to maximum HR, fast speeds must be employed.

Back to Uncle Mo. We know how Todd Pletcher operates; extremely conservative racing schedules and similarly conservative speed work. Weekly 4F works are the norm for his 2yo talent, although it is interesting to note the two 5F moves by Uncle Mo this week at Churchill. For the most part, all other US based trainers follow suit. Lately our 2yo champs have not fared so well at 3 under such conservative management: Midshipman, War Pass, and Stevie Wonderboy come to mind. To be fair, Looking at Lucky had a great year last season – now off to the breeding shed.

Seems to me that US trainers prefer their champions to be born that way, not made in the mornings on the training circuit.

Uncle Mo: Is he the next Seattle Slew or War Pass?
I made my case back in February:

The final answer to that question should become much more apparent this weekend. I know many in the media had anointed him the Next Great One prior to his Wood effort, but the current US model of relying on natural born talent over aggressive conditioning still has me writing him off at this point in time.


About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on May 3, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Bill O’Gorman wrote the book on this. It’s available in PDF form off his website for those interested.

  2. Great post. The way horses are conditioned in modern times has always struck me as overly conservative, particularly in light of how vigorously horses used to be campaigned. With all the benefits of the european method (particularly the use of inclines) I can’t believe some aren’t at least trying it over here.

  3. The link to read “Racing Horses: About my Father’s Business” is
    You can read the whole book, just can’t copy it. Pretty generous!

  4. Interesting stat from the 2000 Guineas, the first 4 home had all had a prep while many of the back markers came there fresh including 2nd,3rd,4th favourites. The pace of the race was so quick the lack of fitness told on many of fresh horses imo.

  5. Good point R Dove, I expect to see the same in our KY Derby this weekend. How/where do you find the pace info for a Euro race?

  6. the visual impression & also my handtiming & various other peoples handtimes. sadly the BHA don’t feel sectionals are worth the money to implement

  7. I imagine there is also no way over there to account for detailed info on workouts/gallops in prep for a particular race?

  8. to bpressey: Over here in the UK, all horses (excpet those in Newmarket) are trained at private facilities owned by the trainer, and we rely very little on detailed times etc. Everything is visual for us, or at least for the large majority. I work for Eve Johnson Houghton who trains near Oxford in England, and everyday our horses will do a 4f gallop uphill on woodchip synthetics, and then they walk back down (about 5 min walk) and do it again, this time over 7f. And twice a week the horses will do fast work in company on our undulating turf gallop over a mile, but they would first do a regular 5f gallop.

    As far as sectional times go, I would quite like to see them implemented.

    • Thanks for the detail Plio. I think what is best for all is a mixture of the high points of each countries training styles. For instance, Euro horses would surely benefit from some stopwatch feedback during short anaerobic speed bursts, while Americans would benefit from some longer gallops and stamina building intervals on an incline.

  9. Is an enlargement available for the second diagram?

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