Monthly Archives: July 2011

This Week at Saratoga: Allen Jerkens and Old School Conditioning

Breezing 3 days apart, working maidens distances equal to their race debut, last work within 5 days of a race, etc.

The only guy gutsy enough to do something different in this era of copycat conditioners, the legendary hall of famer, Mr. H. Allen Jerkens.

Bold Warrior, 3yo, 3:2-1-0
Race 7, 9F, Curlin Stakes
Saratoga, Friday 29th

July 24th – 7F/1:27
July 22nd – 3F/:36 *rider dumped, workout aborted
July 14th – 7F/1:27
RACE June 29th – 7F/1st/94BSF
June 20th – 6F/1:14

Bella Silver, 3yo, first time starter
Race 6, 6F, MSW 40K
Saratoga, Wednesday 27th

July 22nd – 5F/1:01
July 17th – 4F/:49
July 13th – 4F/:49
June 22nd – 4F/:47
June 19th – 6F/1:17
June 14th – 5F/1:02

Famous for knocking off such thoroughbred legends as Secretariat, Kelso, Riva Ridge, Buckpasser, and Forego – at age 83 Allen Jerkens is still competing on the big stage with lesser known stock. What is the true measure of a superior training job? In my mind, it’s getting the best performances out of the horses you are dealt, pretty much the definition of being known as ‘The Giant Killer’.

Those of you who critique my conditioning methods, and there are many, must keep in mind I am no pioneer – I simply attempt to call attention to the practices of the horsemen of yesteryear – with the belief that if more of today’s best stock was trained in such a manner using the latest technology, we would soon find our next Triple Crown champion and our horses wouldn’t get injured quite so often.

Now, if they change the 3 dirt classics to be run over 10 weeks instead of 5 – then you certainly can condition them like quarter horses with 4F works every 7 days, but that will never be the case in my lifetime (fingers crossed). Keep in mind, at this time 65% of early Derby favorites are injured following the ‘less is more’ approach:

In Mr. Jerkens own words from the Eclipse winning piece by Bill Finley entitled ‘Do We Need a Sturdier Racehorse?’:

“The biggest change in racing is that people are of the opinion that you shouldn’t run horses very often,” Jerkens said. “It used to be that if a horse was sound and hadn’t lost any weight from his last race and was feeling well, and if a race came up, you would run them. Now people for some reason think they shouldn’t run. I can’t understand it. I’ve had a lot of horses in my life who won real big races close together. What’s going on, it’s a fallacy.”

-Upcoming book reviews: Training Thoroughbred Horses by Preston Burch, and The Fit Racehorse II by Tom Ivers.

Anyone with comments/questions about these two works are most welcome to send them to me ahead of time, that way I can tailor the review post to address any high points.



Claimed for $16k and Sets a Track Record Just 28 Days Later

This is a great example of a young trainer schooled in the science of equine exercise physiology beginning to make a big name for himself, congratulations to Mr. Chris Crocker. I often get asked if I can recommend a US-based trainer on the East Coast who uses heart rate/GPS technology in his conditioning program – here is your man.

In a race taken off the turf, VA-bred Chedi sets one mile record on the sloppy main track at Colonial Downs in 1:34.79. Video here:

Straight from this horse trainer’s mouth/blog:

“You must find your horse’s optimum cruising speed to fight high lactate levels, which results in muscular fatigue.” – So true, this is termed V200 on this blog. Training at this pace, which is different for each individual horse, greatly improves stamina in the presence of lactic acid. You can’t eyeball this speed, the important stuff is going on inside the horse and is objectively quantified by an onboard HR/GPS monitor. If you leave this up to the horse (especially a maiden), you are almost always going too fast.

“Train your horse’s muscles specifically to the distances they are running. The shorter the race distances, the more you work on 3f sprints to maximize the fast twitch muscles. You should sprint your horse more than once a week at 3f or less.” – Again, the ‘4F every 7 days’ approach may be fine for a huge stable, but the smaller guy can individualize workouts to maximize potential. Sprinters at 6F benefit greatly from short, frequent works. See a world-class Australian sprinter training a single furlong in 10sec:

“The longer the race, the more 2 minute miles and cardiovascular fitness should be practiced. Weekly workouts of 5 furlongs are usually best mixed with long slow gallops and lots of jogging.” – Seattle Slew was famous for a daily half hour of jogging in the chute before completing his gallop/breeze work. You must not overlook these slow (boring) foundation miles in your horses competing at classic distances.

“Don’t waste your time or money on the latest fad in equine sports nutrition. Stick with what you know and what is backed by some sort of scientific research.” –

“Heart monitors can be used to determine peak performance as well as blood test to determine performance levels. This ensures peak performance health of your horse and readiness to race.” – Subjective opinion via traditional horsemanship is a vital component of conditioning success, but not to the exclusion of modern technology.

Chris Crocker best exemplifies the ThoroEdge motto: “Where the Art of Horsemanship Meets the Science of Equine Conditioning.”
Look for much more success from this young trainer and his charges in the near future.

Foes of Lasix are Cruel to Horses? Ridiculous Nonsense.

Our brilliant vets and trainers have discovered the only drug in the history of the world with no negative side effects, amazing! How lucky are our horses, huh?

What many horsemen fail to realize is that young 2yo horses are more than just a pair of lungs, most importantly they are running around with a still-developing skeletal system until past age 3. Proper exercise and nutrition has been shown to maximize bone density during this very important development phase for the competitive equine – but nearly no thought has been given to what undermines this skeletal foundation.

Everyone realizes that calcium is one of the necessary ingredients for bone health in humans and horses, it stands to reason that an owner/trainer would prefer that calcium be readily available for a growing horse. As a matter of fact, the marketplace is full of supplements containing extra calcium meant to optimize bone remodeling, so it must be on some radar screens.

Lasix causes the horse to excrete fluid, and accompanying this fluid loss is the loss of certain minerals, of which calcium is one. You see, Furosemide was developed in humans not to prevent EIPH, but to prevent kidney failure. While calcium is necessary for healthy bone growth and maintenance, it is an enemy of the diseased kidney, therefore Furosemide is used to get rid of it through excessive urination. So what we are left with is a young horse that is repeatedly asked to stress his bones at the maximum during breezes and races – all while being forced to do so without adequate amounts of calcium around to repair the subsequent damage.

But, weakening bones don’t keep horses from making starts as bleeding lungs most certainly do. So in their haste to get or keep a young horse racing – trainers inject Lasix for the purpose of stopping this EIPH, with no concern as to what repeated dosages of a diuretic before exercise do to the animal in question on a skeletal level. Not coincidentally, 65% of our top colts on the Derby trail in January are on the shelf by June:

Lasix, good for EIPH? Absolutely, unequivocally.
Bad for bones in a growing thoroughbred? Without a doubt.

Thoroughbred’s great weakness as a breed is their skeletal system. Selective mating has given us increasingly muscular horses with increasingly lighter bone structure, and the use of a calcium-leaching diuretic further exacerbates that inherent problem. Please forget the ‘dirt vs. synthetic’ argument: when we compare turf to turf stats, Australian horses (no Lasix) are faster than their US counterparts and breakdown at a MUCH lesser rate:

At last look, 2 of the top 6 horses in the world according to Timeform are Australian sprinters Black Caviar and Hay List. No American turf sprinters make the top 20. I’ve heard the subjective arguments that our turf courses are firmer than others and that is partially to blame for our sky high breakdown rate – but how can that be if our race times are slower? On turf US horses are allowed to use a potent diuretic 4 hours prior to post – and breakdown 3X more often while running slower finishing times, far from an ideal combination. I, for one, don’t require a Jockey Club sponsored study to confirm this fact.

Back on topic, here is a list of things that are truly cruel to horses:

-Withholding water after administering a diuretic in order to guarantee maximal weight loss before a race. This also guarantees systemic dehydration.
-Conditioning horses to breeze 4F yet expecting them to race 8F+.
-Refusing to employ any type of race specific warm up, as horses are drug around during the post parade by lead pony.
-Never galloping a horse further than 2 consecutive miles in its lifetime, depriving him of the chance to build up dense capillary beds in exercising muscles.
-Spending 9min per day per horse on the training track so you can get through your 40 head before 10am.
-A $1500 vet bill for one month described as ‘typical’ for a Derby horse, seen here where I Want Revenge required injections just to breeze 4F:

Here is what a typical gallop looks like for a horse that doesn’t need Lasix to run on dirt and doesn’t bleed (click to enlarge):

That’s nearly 4 miles at a 2:30 clip on dirt, at an intensity proven to optimize aerobic development and oxygen utilization, something this colt has been conditioned to perform over his career. He has built up large amounts of physiological structures that make EIPH less likely to occur.

His trainer is already preparing for the future where Lasix may be permanently banned – will others soon be forced to follow suit?

In short: trainers and vets are simply doing what they do in their own lives: taking a pill to solve a health problem rather than attempting to do so through diet and/or exercise. Remember Orlistat? Brand names are Alli and Xenical. Everyone thought they had the magic bullet to lose weight: sit on your butt, eat junk, and take an FDA approved pill that claimed to eliminate fat storage. Years later we find that Orlistat is extremely toxic to your liver, in addition to not really helping you lose all that much weight. Fen-Phen was another similar situation: OTC at any GNC store, later taken off the market due to deaths related to heart damage.

There are no shortcuts, there are no free lunches. If Lasix aids lung function, it must do so at the expense of another physiological component- in this case the already fragile skeletal system gets the short end of the syringe.

Book Review: Scientific Training of Thoroughbred Horses by Dr. Allan Davie

The Australian author works extensively with some of the biggest thoroughbred operations in the world, essentially everyone who owns a high speed treadmill for conditioning. Mike de Kock, Coolmore, and several Australian trainers consult with Mr. Davie on a regular basis – to name a few. This book, copyrighted in 2003, was penned as a follow up to “A Scientific Approach to Training Thoroughbred Horses”, of which I have NOT read and cannot locate online. Here we go.

We begin with an analysis of the 3 systems used to deliver energy to a racing thoroughbred: the ATP-CP system, the aerobic system, and the anaerobic system. ATP-CP uses stored fuel throughout the muscles to support exercise, but only lasts for a few seconds. Aerobic metabolism takes oxygen out of the air and delivers it to the muscles, and anaerobic metabolism produces energy from glucose/glycogen and leaves us with lactic acid as a waste product.

Next, we are made aware of the different muscle fiber types in a thoroughbred: FT, or fast twitch, muscles which deliver the highest power output, yet fatigue easily. ST, or slow twitch, which gives horses their endurance capabilities. Within each type of twitch muscles fiber there are also subtypes of fibers. Whichever percentage of fiber a horse is born with does much to determine his optimal racing distance.

Conditioning a horse to win races focuses on improving 3 main physiological factors: cardiac output (how much blood the heart can pump), maximal oxygen consumption/VO2max (how much oxygen the muscles can actually take from the blood and use), and lactate threshold/OBLA (the point at which energy utilization in a racing horse becomes more anaerobic in nature).

*Very good point here by Mr. Davie: unlike in humans, horses with large VO2max values do NOT show increased chances of success. Personally I have a bit of a difference in opinion. First of all, we really only collect VO2max values in endurance human athletes who perform in races lasting over an hour – not very applicable to a horse race lasting 120seconds or less. Therefore it doesn’t surprise me that V02max in horses is less predictive of a winner. Also, at the top levels of human sport VO2max loses some of its luster in predicting performance, as economy of motion is becoming more of a marker.

Of course, cardiac output, VO2max, and OBLA are both genetically predetermined and also influenced by nutrition, aging, and training. The pedigree merely sets the blueprint – the other variables determine how much of this blueprint is realized.

Mr. Davie also does a great job of emphasizing the importance of the aerobic system in equine sport. Even our ‘sprints’ at 6F rely on aerobic metabolism for as much as 70% of the total energy expenditure – this is a much higher percentage than in comparable human events. I will add my two cents here: when you limit a horse to gallops of 1.5-2 miles in training – you also limit the extent of his aerobic development. Don’t do that.

At the most basic level, conditioning a performance horse involves application of a stimulus over time designed to elicit specific physiological adaptations from the systems involved in the event. Although Davie included a very nice graphical representation of this in his book, I also blogged the same info a few years ago – so I’ll include that here instead:

Preparing a horse to compete is best done with an approach to training that involves specific stages: foundation, general preparation, and specific preparation. As one progresses through the stages intensity of exercise increases, while volume (in general) decreases.

Interval training, the most often searched keyword on the internet that leads readers to this blog: The concept is that with IT you can manage fatigue to the point that the horse is able to do more quality work in a specific session in a safer manner. I am fond of saying: “The difference between humans and horses is that humans can train through fatigue and become stronger, while horses who train while fatigued become injured.”

Interval training involves manipulating several variables in order to maximally stress the systems responsible for racetrack performance. You can vary the speed of exercise, the duration of a gallop, the number of repetitions, and the rest interval in between. Davie does a nice job of mentioning that the psychological nature of the horse must be considered at this point. High strung fillies, for instance, who just can’t seem to relax during the rest intervals, are not good subjects for such training. Similarly, if you train over a small hard track with sharp turns, IT is less than desirable.

Of course, the ideal training preparation involves developing the systems key to exercise while at the same time minimizing the risk of injury. Davie has found the use of a high speed treadmill as the best alternative. Rather than repeat the same info, I refer you to a specific page of my blog/site where I used much of Mr. Davie’s info in speaking of the advantages of this type of conditioning:

The rest of the book goes on to detail specific training regimens for thoroughbred racehorses and is very informative. I hesitate to go into too much detail as this info is copyrighted. What Davie and I have found is that the gallop speed at OBLA is the prime determinant of racehorse success. Consequently, training at this intensity is the best way to improve this number. Additionally, I have found if you can quantify this ‘cruising speed’ in your horses – you can better place them in a class where they can find success.

I’d love to recommend where one can find this book, but I have not seen it available online. I had to return my copy to the gentleman from which I borrowed it – do any of my Australian readers have an online resource where it can be purchased?

Overall a fantastic book filled with practical info you can use today in conditioning your thoroughbreds, IF you have a treadmill. If you don’t and you still wish to take advantage of this stuff you may do so, but you best become intimately familiar with an onboard HR/GPS device to use in the field with a capable rider.

Behind the Scenes: The Unique Conditioning of a Top Turf Sprinter

Australian sprinters currently hold 2 of the top spots in the Timeform Overall Top Ten horses in the world rankings with Black Caviar at 1 and Hay List at 6.

The rest of the list is dominated by European middle distance wonders such as So You Think (NZ), Frankel (GB), and Workforce (GB). This blog has pontificated on what the Euros do conditioning-wise to put such remarkable stamina into their charges: spending 1+ hour per horse per morning, lots of long slow distance hacking, speedwork 2x per week in interval fashion uphill on the grounds at Newmarket, etc.

But now, we also have a rare look at a specific conditioning session for a top Australian sprinter of yesteryear: Scenic Blast. (click to enlarge)

Thanks to our colleagues at we enjoy the above HR/GPS chart visualizing an exercise bout from Scenic Blast at the tail end of 2008, roughly 80 days before his triumph in the 6F Newmarket Handicap that earned well-deserved worldwide accolades.

This is not a stamina builder, this is not a typical American 5F in :58 move, this is a workout designed to maximize one aspect of equine performance: neuromuscular coordination at higher than race speeds. As a horse, or human for that matter, gets experience at faster-than-competition paces, it makes those race speeds easier to achieve and maintain. Simply put, you get faster by training faster. Leave the endurance sessions for another day. This workout trains one thing: foot/eye/brain coordination and the resulting firing/relaxing of locomotor muscles to produce blazing speed. Contrary to popular belief, if done correctly a workout such as this maximizes soundness, but please note that ‘done correctly’ involves more monitoring than via mere stopwatch, you need an Etrakka like device to gauge physiological responses to the overall conditioning program – precisely what this blog/site is dedicated towards integrating into equine conditioning regimens worldwide.

A 10sec furlong in the middle of a racing campaign, are you insane? Many of our American 2yo in training do this at the breeze-up sales (most often over dirt) only once in their lifetimes in order to draw top hammer prices; and many believe that this demanding practice often leads to a lifetime of soundness issues and/or less than peak performances. You can rest assured Scenic Blast did not do this in his formative juvenile years – he was 5 at the time of this chart.

So, surely running at 45mph on a regular basis leads to breakdowns, right? Not so in Australia: Australian turf runners are 3x sounder than their American turf counterparts, and also faster according to Timeform. Of course, we blow their doors off on dirt – our home court advantage.

Sadly enough we know how this story ends. Scenic Blast eventually came to California, never trained like this again, and flamed out rather quickly versus less than stellar competition.

In conclusion: has implementing regular ‘leg speed’ workouts of 10sec eighths in Australia contributed to the Aussie dominance of the turf sprinter ranks worldwide? Or, is it just a coincidence? Maybe Scenic Blast is the only one to ever do this type of work in the middle of a championship campaign – or perhaps all Australian conditioners adopt a ‘me too’ approach after seeing success, just as many American trainers mimic the 4F works every 7 days of our big name trainers. Either way, it seems like ultra fast speedwork leads to ultra fast horses who tend to be quite sound when compared to others in the world who fail to practice this method. At the very least, American synthetic sprinters would do well to knock off some 10 sec furlongs over that forgiving surface, maybe then we’d crack some of the world rankings.


A few simple rules before a ‘leg speed’ workout of this type is to be attempted:

  1. Horse must be sound
  2. Workout is only focused on short duration/high speed. This ensures no fatigue at the end of the workout which ensures there is enough energy to get there (top speed). And a good warm up.
  3. A light well balanced rider that ensures perfect balance and acceleration.
  4. A graduated exposure to high speed. Once per fortnight is all that is needed and after about 5 goes top speed will increase by about 1.5ks (my gut feel if nothing else interrupts training along the way)
  5. A perfect surface
  6. That the horse goes into the workout after all previous stress workouts are fully recovered from. You don’t do this 2 days after a 1000 in 58.