Monthly Archives: June 2011
Animal Kingdom is finished for 2011 and 12 of 20 horses that made several early Derby watch lists are now on the shelf due to injury. That’s 60%. Is this just the nature of the beast, or can this number be improved upon? Trainers will blame breeders, breeders will blame race day medications, etc. and next year the cycle will repeat itself. Given the fact that American horses racing on turf break down 3x more often than those in other countries racing on the same surface: https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2011/06/06/its-not-the-surface-stupid-us-turf-runners-300-more-likely-to-breakdown/ I tend to believe there are things US horseman can do to cut this number down significantly, perhaps even in half. But first, the list:
- ALTERNATION – missed the TC trail, but seems to be sound and ready for the fall
- ANIMAL KINGDOM – Derby winner, breaks synthetic jinx – then breaks his hock, NOT from clipping heels but rather from an ongoing issue says top vet Dr. Larry Bramlage: “Normally, no matter how hard a horse hits his leg on the ground in an accident, there is not enough force to show this type of uptake on the scan for a period of at least 10 days. This tells me that, like a lot of racehorses, he probably had a little something going on in there that he was dealing with.”
- ARCHARCHARCH – chipped ankle in Derby, retired
- ASTROLOGY – good 3rd in the Preakness
- BOYS AT TOSCONOVA – hurt early at 3 and taken out of training
- BRETHREN – also ran in Ark Derby, hasn’t returned to track yet
- COMMA TO THE TOP – chipped ankle in Derby, refer to many links of mine about this hard knocker out West who was my favorite
- DIALED IN – off in right knee, did Zito’s light training/racing for this colt cover up, or cause unsoundness?
- ELITE ALEX – missed the TC trail but still healthy we think
- JAYCITO – injured foot
- MUCHO MACHO MAN – sound, ran all 3 TC races, trained further and often compared to others despite ongoing farrier problems
- PREMIER PEGASUS – injured, hairline fracture at Santa Anita
- ROGUE ROMANCE – sidelined early with fractured foot
- SANTIVA – disappointing TC season, but emerged sound and pointed towards fall
- SHACKLEFORD – longshot almost wires Derby, wins Preakness, and respectable effort in Belmont, will he contest the Travers?
- SOLDAT – Derby disappointment, pointed towards fall, apparently sound
- STAY THIRSTY – good 2nd in Belmont, lives to fight another day
- THE FACTOR – speedball sidelined with fractured ankle
- TO HONOR AND SERVE – injured suspensory ligament
- UNCLE MO – poor Wood effort, rare infection of liver later discovered
So, what to do – keep our heads down and figure that horses are fragile and more than 1 of every 2 is doomed at some point? Blame it on dirt when even our turf runners are dropping like flies compared to the rest of the world? Or make an effort to figure out what interventions can help us to better control this wastage? Notice I said ‘control’ not ‘eliminate’ – as all athletes, equine or human, will get hurt in competition to some degree.
You can read hundreds of other blogs to gather viewpoints on breeding, artificial surfaces, and both legal and illegal drug use, but here we’ll concentrate on proactive measures to mitigate injury risk that have proven effective in other human sports.
- Proper pre-competition warm up and more proper conditioning for stamina, both of which can also cut our reliance on pre-race bute and lasix: https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/a-natural-solution-to-address-bleeding-in-racehorses/ I might add in addition the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy as a method to enhance post exercise recovery in young horses, most specifically in lung and developing bone.
- Use of therapeutic practices as a preventative measure, rather than waiting for an injury to occur: https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2011/06/24/be-proactive-to-ensure-peak-thoroughbred-performance/ 50 years ago, athletes only received massages when something was wrong, now it’s a common proactive measure to avoid injury in the first place.
- Stop this ‘less is more’ philosophy of training: https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2011/06/27/aidan-obrien-sweeps-irish-derby-again-how-does-he-do-it/ After you read this piece about Aidan O’Brien, TJ Smith, and Woody Stephens, you will see how they actually believe that ‘less is indeed less’.
- Most importantly, stop guessing as to the condition, class, or ability, of your horse. Even the top horsemen in the world had no clue that Uncle Mo was less than 100% after watching him breeze 4F at Palm Meadows before his stumble in the Wood Memorial. No clue, whatsoever. This is the 21st century and there are numerous tools to help horsemen that did not exist 10, or even 5, years ago. It does not make you less of a horseman to take advantage of this stuff. Here is one such practice in use by the top endurance athletes in the world: https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/what-uncle-mos-upcoming-bloodwork-will-miss/
Or do nothing and watch another season where 1 of every 2 of your top prospects fails to reach his potential due to injury. The choice is yours.
Albert Einstein: “Doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting different results, is the definition of insanity.”
Coolmore horses finished 1-2-3 in the latest running of the Irish Darby at the Curragh this weekend, marking the second consecutive year accomplishing the feat, giving Mr. O’Brien his sixth successive Darby triumph and ninth overall. Remarkable.
Contested over a mile and a half on turf for 3yo colts and fillies, the gem of the Irish racing calendar is surely a formidable test of stamina for a young racing prospect and can reasonably be compared to our Belmont Stakes – won 5 consecutive times by legend Woody Stephens in the mid 1980’s.
These 2 winning streaks call to mind the career of Australian conditioner TJ Smith, who won 33 consecutive Sydney training titles from 1953-1986.
Meanwhile, in the US Todd Pletcher gets the top racing stock and goes 0-24 in the Kentucky Derby before Calvin Borel gifts him a win on Super Saver in 2010. It’s not like he was simply unlucky, as he only had 3 in the money finishes since 2000. Please don’t take this fact as an indictment against Mr. Pletcher, rather take it as an indictment against the American ‘less is more’ style of training and racing. Neither the Irishman O’Brien, the American Hall of Famer Stephens, nor the Australian legend Smith followed this minimalist trend of physical conditioning, yet all of them reached inarguably greater levels of success than Pletcher, Zito, Romans, Motion, etc.
- Aidan O’Brien. As mentioned previously in this blog, every horse training at Ballydoyle goes out wearing a heart rate monitor and GPS device, and all data is analyzed regularly in order to influence training decisions dealing with how far, how fast, and how frequently to train. Ballydoyle also has a high speed treadmill in use at the farm. Nevertheless, he came up short with Australian transplant So You Think (NZ) at Royal Ascot earlier this month. Time for a long rest before another effort? Pletcher and the like say ‘yes’ but not this guy: “I will take responsibility for this personally. After he won his first two races so easily I had gone easy on him. I think it was trainer error, I didn’t have him fit enough for this kind of race.” Previous trainer Bart Cummings likely agrees as evidenced by the fact that at age 3 this colt was fit enough to capture both Cox Plate and Emirates Stakes victories in a 2 week window. Then at age 4, he again won the Cox Plate and followed ONE WEEK later with another Group One victory. No Pletcher trainee breezing 4F every 7 days will ever enter, much less win, 2 graded stakes races in a 14 day window.
- Woody Stephens. As luck would have it, 2011 Preakness winner Shackleford comes from the barn of Dale Romans, who also employs a gentleman by the name of Scott Everett, who worked as a groom and foreman for Mr. Stephens during his astounding Belmont run. From the DRF: “Swale was probably the most talented horse we had, but my favorite was probably Conquistador Cielo. He had a lot of physical problems, he had bad shins as a 2 year old.” Bad shins, time for a break, time to take it easy, time to breeze 4F at most and race every 35 days, right? That is the ‘less is more’ approach in a nutshell, especially with a fragile colt. Not for Mr. Whittingham as Cielo reeled off 6 consecutive victories in a 12 week stretch, including the Metropolitan Handicap FIVE DAYS BEFORE the Belmont, which he then won in a 14 length romp. He then ran 3 more times at age 3, ending with the Travers in the fall.
- TJ Smith. Mr. Smith employed what he calls his ‘muscle and bone’ method of conditioning equine athletes. In short, it entailed working them at speed 2-3x per week until they went off feed – then continuing on with the hard work, until they either got back to cleaning up the feed tub, or fell off further. Imagine that today on the backside at Churchill or Belmont, a horse going off feed and continuing to breeze, it never happens. Probably the first ‘rule’ in many barns is to stop training when appetite wanes – yet not so for the most successful racehorse trainer in Australian history. According to his veterinarian Percy Sykes, Smith was also a pioneer in the area of equine nutrition, being one of the first to include protein in the diet – which everyone now knows is a key component of maximizing recovery between exercise sessions.
Thus far Pletcher and the other American supertrainers have yet to convince me that ‘less’ is actually ‘more’, especially in light of the fact that the top trainers elsewhere in the world, and those in America before the advent of D. Wayne Lukas, often followed training and racing protocols that can be considered polar opposites of the prevailing mindset. Perhaps that is what 20+ years of bute and lasix have done to the breed?
Admittedly, all of these trainers have horses go down due to injury, whether trained lightly or aggressively worked, as that is part of sports, human or equine. However, I would much more see my 3yo colt chip an ankle after 14 starts (Comma to the Top), than merely 4 (Archarcharch) – at least an honest effort was made to improve bone density through exercise and racing by Peter Miller. With Archx3 already retired, will be interesting to see if/how Comma comes back this fall at a mile.
A recent post of mine compared fatal breakdown rates on turf in the US vs Australia, and it was found that American horses conditioned under the ‘less is more’ philosophy brokedown 3x as often as their Australian counterparts when controlling for surface. Can we finally state that ‘less’ is not ‘more’?
‘Less’ is indeed, ‘less’. Big surprise.
My next post will deal with the top 20 colts found on most early Derby watchlists in January of this year – 12 of which are currently injured and out of training. 60% wastage on the best of the best, surely in the future US horsemen can mimic the practices of Aidan O’Brien, Woody Stephens, and TJ Smith and cut this number down to 35% or so?
Why do we wait until a horse is injured before we start to use the latest therapeutic tools in an attempt to get him back to the races? We need to realize that the simple act of running 40mph while only turning left is going to cause problems over time, as that is the nature of sport – human or equine.
I have written about this concept in the past with the Niagara Equissage saddle here: https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/equissage/ and today I am going to speak about another exciting modality: photobiostimulation via cold laser treatment.
To truly be effective, lasers must be of the Class IV variety and able to deeply penetrate tissues. How do you know if you have a class IV laser in your barn? Look at the price tag, if under $20,000 you don’t have such a device and are not getting the necessary depth of stimulation.
According to Ron Riegel, DVM cold lasers work by the following method: “The photochemical response includes a cascade of biochemical events in the cell. This actually causes the cell to go into hyper-drive, with an increase in cellular metabolism and cellular respiration rate. The photons, when they are absorbed by the mitochondria of the cell, produce more ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and increase the energy level of the cell.”
Again, this blog is all about improving athletic performance, not treating an injury after the fact – that’s the job of a rehab center. The basic premise of any sport is to perform repeated movements with a high degree of force. This causes imbalances throughout the athlete. A trainer will often be heard to exclaim how sound his horse is, but the truth of the matter is that EVERY horse in training is off in some way, shape, or form. This is by no means an indictment on the horsemanship skills of the conditioner; it’s just a result of the game.
Photobiostimulation via cold laser is unique in that it treats the animal at the cellular level, and its benefits last several days after one hour-long treatment session. The most common quantified evidence is the lack of heat in previously sore areas, or no longer needing to inject a joint as it begins to produce its own healthy synovial fluid.
More from Dr. Rigel:
I picked a horse that hadn’t won anything. It had a sore back and was in training and shouldn’t have been. I’d bought my first thermograph, so we hooked it up live to this horse and watched it as we did the laser therapy. The temperature of the area immediately dropped when we did this, and I thought that in a matter of just a few minutes it would go right back to where it was. The trainer and I watched it, then went for a cup of coffee and came back and thermographed the horse again after the guy left with the laser, and the horse was even better,” he says. The heat in that area was still gone.
“We trained the horse all week, and this beneficial effect lasted about 4 days, after just one treatment. That really got my attention.”
I Am Laserman
Steve Bourmas is the leading expert on cold laser use in American racing thoroughbred and standardbreds, treating such stars of the sport as Blind Luck, Dakota Phone, Indian Winter, and Iam Bonasera
Steve goes by the name ‘Laserman’ at the track and is using this device unlike anyone else. He spends anywhere from days to weeks to months getting a horse ‘right’ – but then the real problems begin, as many horses become so healthy that they are able to run further and faster than ever before – opening up a whole new chance to get injured with their ‘new’ bodies and minds.
Congrats to Steve and his extremely forward-thinking owner who sees the need to keep his horses in optimal shape with regular therapeutic treatments BEFORE they are needed at the farm or rehabilitation facility.
Steve and I will get together here in June 2011 with my mare in training named A Special Delivery: https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/about/thoroedge-racing-partnership-current-offerings/
As you can see to date she has delivered nothing special whatsoever as an Indiana-bred who failed to even generate a Beyer in half of her 8 lifetime starts to date. Can Laserman get her to the winners circle after just a few treatments? Stay tuned…
You want to get inside your horse’s mind and understand how he feels during a race as lactic acid builds up? Simply go to your local high school track and attempt to run one lap, 400m, at your fastest possible pace, as this is akin to a 6F effort for any thoroughbred. Should take anywhere from 80-120 seconds depending on your fitness level and age. Oh yeah, you are only allowed a walk/jog warmup for a few minutes beforehand, just like your horse. And when you finish, make sure to walk/jog back to the car (stall) for the drive home – no cool down running or stretching allowed, just as your horse experiences in a typical morning at the training track.*
You will feel pretty good the first 80m, or approximately 12-18 seconds, as you burn through the ATP energy sources already present in your body. You can even hold your breath if you wish (but I do not recommend), as no oxygen is involved in this process and no lactic acid is formed. Soon, however, the ATP from this system is gone and you must convert stored glycogen into glucose from which you can create additional ATP for energy. But this comes at a cost, as lactic acid is formed and your blood becomes more acidic with the buildup of hydrogen ions. Aerobic (with oxygen), metabolism is present also, but since this post is about lactic acid we will leave that discussion for another day.
So, now we are roughly 100m, or 25% into the workout, and lactic acid is rapidly on the rise. It takes a while to buildup to bothersome levels (over 10 mmol/liter), perhaps you can cover another 50m or so before things start to feel funny, and not a good ‘funny’. Let’s be very generous and assume you get to the 200m mark before you start to feel the burn in your muscles at a concerning level. How do you react? Well, for one your stride length decreases as you tighten up. You start to use your arms and upper body more vigorously to counteract the heaviness in your legs (a horse will use his neck). Heading towards 300m things start to fall apart more rapidly. Your brain is now becoming involved, begging you to quit. You will even start to feel a bit disoriented, which is not desirable as you attempt to maintain coordination and avoid the dreaded ‘bad step’.
You start to have an intense burning sensation throughout your body, including your chest, and each step feels more awkward than the last. While your first 50m may have been covered in 7sec, 50m now takes 8+sec and feels horrible. Good thing no one is on your back cracking the whip, eh? The last 50m is quite miserable, frankly, and you are relieved to be done. While you went out in 15sec for the first 100m, you came home in 18sec for the last 100m. Just like a racehorse not named Zenyatta or Secretariat.
Lactic Acid/Bathtub Analogy
Picture each muscle containing thousands of claw foot bathtubs, each with an open drain in the bottom. As you turn on the faucet during intense exercise, lactic acid starts to fill up the tub. When the tub is full, lactic acid spills onto the floor of the bathroom, soaking your muscle cells in acidic hydrogen ions. Fatigue is imminent. However, you do have an open drain in the bottom – which allows your body to take lactic acid out of the tub and use it for energy via mitochondria present in your muscle cells. The larger the drain or the larger the tub, the longer you can exercise without lactic acid flushing your muscles. All lactic acid is not bad you see, some can be used to fuel movement. It is the waste product of hydrogen ions that is the culprit in muscle acidity, not lactic acid itself.
Enter The Milkshake
If acidic blood essentially defines fatigue, so how can we intervene? – by counteracting that acidity with an alkalizing agent such as sodium bicarbonate introduced into the bloodstream. The base of the bicarbonate buffers the acid of the hydrogen ions, drawing acidity out of the muscles into the blood and neutralizing it, thereby delaying the onset of fatigue. The milkshake works, or did work, and therefore has been declared illegal. So we are left with finding currently legal methods to address the need for improved lactic acid buffering. Here are 2 such interventions:
The Low-Cost Easy Way: Supplement the feed with patented beta-alanine:
I have written at length about this substance, here is the info if you wish to read it – https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/storm/
The Free, but Difficult Way: Change your conditioning practices:
Again, I have detailed this previously as well –
Interval training is just one possibility as it can DOUBLE the amount of mitochondria within the muscle cells, giving the horse additional powerhouses with which to create energy from lactic acid. Interval training is actually MORE suitable for horses than humans, as if done correctly, it can lessen the time spent exercising while fatigued – and every horseman knows the vast majority of injuries occur when a horse is tired. They quite often negotiate bad steps just fine in the first quarter of a race, but a bad step in the last quarter is often disastrous, unless your name is Afleet Alex and you have been (sort of) interval trained by Tim Ritchey:
Years earlier Alysheba had a similar incident with Bet Twice in winning the Kentucky Derby, do you think Alysheba was prepped with 4F breezes every 7 days? No, he was not.
Interval training scare the hell out of you? I understand, as most in the past experimented with these methods incorrectly and on poor horses, giving up when IT did not immediately transform a claimer into a world-beater. No need to get too radical, read the link above for some less threatening changes to your current conditioning protocols. Or, simply add some slow jog/trot miles past the 2 mile barrier early in your horse’s race preparation in an effort to improve the aerobic portion of the equation. This concept will be further detailed in a future post.
*Here is where I must attach my disclaimer: Thoroedge is not responsible for any injury or illness as a result of this exercise. Each individual is responsible for contacting their physician prior to undertaking any fitness program. You’ve been warned.
So You Think, Australian superstar moved to Coolmore’s barn this season and began the year with 2 resounding victories before falling a half length short at Royal Ascot yesterday.
What jumps out at me is trainer Aiden O’Brien’s comments afterwards:
He was notably candid about So You Think, admitting: “I will take responsibility for this personally. After he won his first two races so easily I had gone easy on him. I think it was trainer error, I didn’t have him fit enough for this kind of race.” (Contrast with American trainer: “He looked great after his last 4F work, didn’t blow out a match – he just didn’t fire today/failed to handle the surface…etc.)
Bravo Mr. O’Brien! Today’s American trainer would think just the opposite after consulting the Ragozin/Thorograph figures and would undoubtedly prescribe a period of rest and/or light training – instead Ballydoyle chief realizes this elite equine athlete will likely thrive on additional work.
Remember So You Think (NZ) came from the Australian barn of Bart Cummings, while I don’t profess to know specifically the conditioning protocol employed by Mr. Cummings, I would wager it is fairly aggressive compared to the American standard – as evidenced by the fact that at age 3 this colt was fit enough to capture both Cox Plate and Emirates Stakes victories in a 2 week window. Then at age 4, he again won the Cox Plate and followed ONE WEEK later with another Group One victory.
When was the last time an American trained colt was able to win 2 graded stakes races within one week at age 4? I could spend hours looking it up – do any readers know off the top of their heads? (I imagine you must go back at least 25 years….)
The ongoing ‘synthetic vs dirt’ debate concerning thoroughbred safety is a simpleton’s way of investigating the problem, or perhaps that of a Polytrack salesman. Of course there will be more skeletal injuries on a harder surface that lead to more catastrophic breakdowns. The injuries suffered on synthetic are more soft tissue in nature and have a lower incidence of fatalities.
But all of this misses the main point: even when controlling for surface, the US is abhorrent when it comes to fatal thoroughbred injuries.
According to the US Jockey Club: the US fatality rate on turf over a recent 2 year period is 1.74 per 1,000 starts while a retrospective study finds the Australian fatality rate on turf over a 7 year period at just 0.6 per 1,000 starts. That’s a very statistically significant difference.
The US data is all over the place, most recently the New York Times, so here is the Australian piece for your perusal (if you cannot download email me for a .pdf copy):
Last year in the Eclipse award winning piece from Bill Finley entitled Do We Need a Sturdier Racehorse, one viewpoint addressed the too high injury rate in American thoroughbreds as being the result of a ‘management’ factor, not breeding for speed, not surface composition, etc. This management factor is indeed the culprit, and it encompasses several things concerning how we condition, campaign, and medicate our racing stock here in the US.
variable USA AU
Turf breakdowns/1,000 1.74 0.60
Avg. daily exercise 15min 45min
Avg. weekly breezes <1 >2
Racing frequency 1x/month 2x/month
Raceday medications yes no
For once I don’t believe additional biased commentary from myself is necessary, numbers don’t lie – only people do. Hell, elite Australian runners routinely race 2x PER WEEK, even at the top levels of the game. We used to do that in the US, that’s why we have a race at CD the week of the Kentucky Derby called the Derby Trial – now better known as the Preakness Trial.
I’ll leave you with a description of a typical Australian racehorse workout recently gathered from one of my readers:
“I do interval training 7 or 8 days out from the race, with 3 reps at 32kph on a 4 degree incline on my treadmill. Each rep is 2min in duration with a 2min rest between.
Then a hard 800m gallop out (breeze) on a Tuesday before a racing Saturday.
I also walk him for 20 mins in afternoon each day for 2000m at 4 degrees incline, speed 6 to 7 kph.”
Compare to the standard American week of a couple 1.5 mile gallops on the flat, and rarely, if ever a strong blowout 3 days before a race. Who is more fit for the task at hand?
We used to do some of this stuff here in the States in the not too distant past, does the name Carl Nafzger ring a bell?
I submit that we can control the instances of EIPH in the vast majority of thoroughbreds through the re-structuring of conditioning regimens and a mandatory pre-race warm up protocol.
To review, thoroughbred bleeding is principally due to high blood pressure build up in pulmonary capillaries during a race, this pressure quickly increases faster than these vessels can accommodate the increased blood flow, leading to many ruptures within the sensitive lung tissues.
Lasix is touted as our best option for prevention: it is a diuretic and removes water from blood plasma, which decreases blood volume, in turn decreasing pulmonary capillary pressures, thereby lessening or removing instances of bleeding within the lungs.
Do you really think that any drug has 100% positive characteristics, such as prevention of bleeding, without having any less than desirable side effects?
Among others the loss of electrolytes due to increased urination is of primary concern. Potassium and calcium are responsible for many cellular processes in the horse, such as maintaining a healthy bone density. Interestingly enough, these adverse effects are further exacerbated by corticosteroids. C’mon, there is no free lunch – especially where drugs are concerned. Not for humans, not for horses. Yet overweight humans continue to search for the magic pill that will help them lose weight and the US thoroughbred establishment backs the magic Lasix injection as a cure for bleeders.
So, the challenge remains to lessen EIPH without introducing negative side effects from any pharmacological ‘treatment’. Again, the 2 root causes of EIPH :
- Blood pressures too high during race
- Capillaries burst due to sudden increased pressures and lack of necessary flexibility
My suggested remedies:
Enforce a specific warm-up regimen prior to each race. It shouldn’t have to come to this, but watching horse after horse walk/jog while their neck is wrenched towards a lead pony in the post parade is nauseating. How is 2 minutes of 10mph jogging with a heart rate of 120bpm supposed to prepare a horse’s circulatory system for an event consisting of 35+mph speeds and maximum heart rates near 230bpm? No wonder when firing from the gate that the pulmonary capillaries are caught sleeping and cannot keep up with the demands of rapidly increasing pressures from within.
To make matters worse, when a horse is asked to pick it up to a sprinting pace, his spleen contracts and shoots up to 30% more red blood cells into the mix, further thickening the blood and the associated high blood pressures. This is part of the ‘fight or flight’ response designed by nature to allow this animal of prey to escape his predators.
This splenic contraction needs to take place PRIOR to loading into the gate, not within the first few strides of a race. Nothing major, just a nice 1-2F in 13sec/furlong pace, finishing up with 5-7 minutes left before loading. Is your horse not behaviorally trained to pull this off without running off with the rider? Well then you have some extra work to do in the mornings until he is capable. Some will learn immediately, others will be a headache – that is the nature of the beast. He should be warming up in this manner prior to any training breeze as well for good measure.
How does this enforced warm-up address the two key causes of EIPH?
With the 30% additional red blood cells introduced into the horse’s system 5-7 minutes before post time, you are allowing millions of pulmonary capillaries quite a bit of time to adapt and stretch, a process called vasodilation. As it stands right now, that burst of blood volume is shot into the horse during the first few jumps from the gate, and he is then expected to continue for an additional 60-120 seconds at near full throttle. With a mandatory race-specific warm up, by the time a horse fires from the gate, he has had several minutes to adapt to the increased blood pressures from the splenic contraction while waiting to load.
Condition horses aerobically for longer distances.
Currently, 99% of American horses never gallop further than 2 miles a day. Aerobic exercise is by definition achieved at an intensity of approximately 60-70% of maximum heart rate. A stakes winner may accomplish this at a 2:45 per mile pace, while a bottom level claimer may require a 4min mile pace, perhaps even a trot. Regardless, it is slow/safe speeds I am talking about – which may be boring as hell, but necessary to undertake in order to truly build a foundation for the racehorse.
As seen above one of the major problems in EIPH is the ability of the pulmonary capillaries to handle rapidly increasing blood pressures. Most readers probably think the amount of capillaries in a horse’s lungs is set by genetics. This is absolutely true, but additional aerobic training increases the number of capillaries in the lungs as well – and more capillaries equates to more pipes with which to deal with a large increase in blood pressures.
Once a horse is in the middle of a campaign, it’s too late to add significant aerobic mileage. This groundwork needs to be put in once he’s started training for the upcoming season. Don’t stop increasing distance when his gallops reach 1.5-2 miles, slow down the pace a few times each week and move up to 2.25 miles, then 2.5, etc. It should be noted that without an onboard heart rate monitor you are almost guaranteed to go too fast for optimal aerobic development as your horse, and rider, will be in a hurry to finish.
Taking Lasix away from a horse is cruel? Give me a break.
Asking a horse to sprint several 11-12sec furlongs out of the gate with zero warm-up, that is what is cruel for the horse, not the withholding of a drug designed purely to allow them to outrun their physiological warning signs. Similarly, conditioning a horse to breeze 4F in :48 then expecting him to run 8F in 1:36 isn’t very humane either, but I digress.
Simply ‘adopting the European model’ of zero tolerance on raceday drugs is not the solution. Traipsing through a half mile on turf in :52sec has very little in common with a first half mile on dirt in :46 – as some of the pressures on the lungs of a horse is undoubtedly due to the combination of being asked for higher speeds more quickly on a less forgiving surface.
All of this being said, nearly all current runners are stuck in the Furosemide cycle, and nothing you can do to a 4yo conditioned to race on Lasix his whole life is going to work wonders – these interventions are best suited to the yearlings you have going into formal training this fall. Perhaps in preparation for the possible upcoming raceday drug modifications/removals?
Compare my suggested prevention of bleeding to prevention of bone injuries in young horses. Once Dr. David Nunamaker discovered that more fast furlongs at age 2 resulted in superior bone development, the incidences of bucked shins and saucer fractures dropped dramatically. Likewise, the pulmonary capillaries of our horses need to be conditioned specifically to the task of American-style racing.
I’m no pioneer, this stuff was detailed 15+ years ago by a fellow much smarter than myself and summarily ignored by everyone:
In anticipation of a litany of possibly derisive comments to this post, I leave you with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi:
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Not sure why this post suddenly became white hot after 4 years, but another post I did is also relevant to the topic, and I think a bit better:
Of course, the practical application of this piece was evident just 4 weeks ago as Runhappy won the Breeders Cup Sprint sans-Lasix, and with a plethora of race-like works under his belt (which earned the connections many naysayers).