Monthly Archives: November 2011

EIPH: If You’re not Breezing, You’re Bleeding

Allen Jerkens pointed to a fitter, sturdier animal as another reason why bleeding was considered atypical in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He said none of his good horses were bleeders.

“Horses worked a lot harder in those days,” he said. “The strain on them in the race wasn’t as much as the strain is on them now. They trained almost as hard in the morning as they did when they ran.”

The best horses would often work the full distance of an upcoming race five or six days before, breeze a half-mile two days out, and maybe even an eighth of a mile the morning of the race. As but one example, three days before Assault finished off the Triple Crown, Max Hirsch sent the colt out for a 12-furlong breeze in 2:32 at Belmont.

-above from yesterday’s DRF article: http://www.drf.com/news/lasix-demystifying-drug-methods-training-without-it

Why do some horses bleed enough to negatively impact performance, while others do not?

We’ve been down this road many times on this blog, but the recent attention paid to the future of Lasix in US racing begs us to take a more detailed look at the role of conditioning and its effects on bleeding/EIPH. One point of this post is that every drug in the history of the world has negative side effects, some that take years to be discovered. Lasix is no exception. Drugs are shortcuts, meant to make things easier on the trainer and owner, often at the expense of the horse itself.

Look at this image above of a horse’s lungs; on your left is the cut-away view where you can begin to see the branching off of networks of blood vessels. After dozens of successive divisions, these vessels become smaller and smaller, eventually ending in air sacs called alveoli. Covering each air sac is a tiny network of blood vessels called capillaries. How thin is the skin of an air sac? About 1% of the thickness of a human hair – that is all that separates the air sacs of the lungs from the blood found in the capillaries. No wonder this membrane breaks under pressure!

If we take all the alveoli in a horse and spread them out we end up with a surface area equal to that of about 10 tennis courts – all this space is where the actual movement of oxygen from the lungs finds its way into the bloodstream. The number of capillaries surrounding these ’10 tennis courts of air sacs’ is believe to be around….300 billion, wow.

Back to conditioning, exercise, and its role in EIPH. Even at a walk, trot, or slow canter some capillaries are bursting. When the lungs are being buffeted by the other internal organs during a gallop even more pulmonary capillaries are exploding with each step. This is inevitable and is the basis for the statement; ‘all horses bleed’. Lasix lessens, but does not prevent, this occurrence. And this ‘lessening’ is vitally important, but also achievable by a logically progressing dose of exercise at speed – as we will soon see.

Think of these alveoli, or air sacs, as balloons coated in a network of blood-filled capillaries. Remember, these balloons are going to burst even at a jog or slow gallop, probably even moreso over a hard dirt surface as compared to synthetics or turf. The key question becomes: How do I manage training to avoid ‘popping’ a significant number of these balloons at any one time – resulting in a bleeding episode significant enough to hamper performance?

Well, the solution is most certainly not to breeze a 2yo up to 4F from a rolling start and then throw him in the gate for a maiden effort at 6F+. At the start of this 2yo’s conditioning regimen, everything is actually perfect. Many of the FL breakers of these juveniles follow a sensible, scientific method of progressive overload meant to avoid bucked shins and grow strong bone as detailed here:

https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2010/08/18/the-ideal-2-year-old-training-program/

Again, perfect! In order to avoid shin soreness due to a sudden increase in the training load; breezes start at perhaps 1F/:17 and systematically progresses to 4F/:50. An unintended side effect is that you also get optimal development of soft tissues such as ligaments and tendons. Notice that the proven frequency needed to progressively grow dense ‘racing’ bone is a bout of speed every 5 days or less, any longer and you lose the cumulative effects of the exercise. Unfortunately, burst capillaries due to EIPH do NOT regenerate themselves as does bone, that would make our job so much easier.

Many top thoroughbreds are getting Lasix at this point as a preventative measure, but it’s not necessary for most due to the gradual increase of the exercise load at speed. Keep in mind this is a key time for skeletal development, and 25+ Lasix shots accompanied by the associated leaching of calcium (a crucial bone builder) is probably not wise. Here is where the shortcut to avoid problems in one physiological system exerts negative effects on another as US turf runners breakdown 3x more often than those in Australia:

https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2011/06/06/its-not-the-surface-stupid-us-turf-runners-300-more-likely-to-breakdown/

If you choose not to believe the use of Lasix contributes to US horses being the most fragile worldwide, that is your right – but you are also then of the belief that Lasix/Salix is the only drug in the history of the world to produce no negative side effects. C’mon you are most likely a bettor, what are the odds of this? 2,000-1?

Sure, possibly millions of alveoli/air sacs/balloons are bursting during each breeze session, but never a billion at one time are exploding and causing a Grade 4 episode:

Grades of EIPH (Photos courtesy of Dr. Ken Hinchcliff, DVM):

Grade 0 – no bleeding visible during scope – fantastic

 

 

 

 

Grade 1 – flecks of blood, or single stream found in trachea – stinks, but even humans can bleed this much, performance unaffected

 

 

 

 

Grade 2 – multiple streams of blood, but covering less than 1/3 of tracheal surface – the dividing line – some horses impacted, others not so much

 

 

 

 

Grade 3 – multiple streams of blood covering over 1/3 of tracheal surface – probably no fun for a racing horse at all as performance is being negatively impacted

 

 

 

 

Grade 4 – blood everywhere, a virtual slaughterhouse – performance definitely compromised, nasal bleeding evident in many instances

Even under the liberal use of Lasix, Grade 1-2 bleeds will be common. What we hope to avoid is the Grade 3-4 episodes, and nearly every horse conditioned to breeze 4F in :50 from a rolling start now expected to race 6F in 1:10 from a gaited start is going to bleed significantly, likely suffering from the first significant lung bleeds in his/her young life.

Move ahead to the 3yo campaign: classic contenders are now racing 8-9F, but still mostly breezing 4-5F in training. That was emphatically not the case in the days of Allen Jerkens, Max Hirsch, Assault, and pretty much every other Triple Crown winner in American history.

So, if a trainer is scoping a horse after every breeze and race, that is a good thing, but one must act on that intelligence in a practical manner.

When you are breezing 4F without Lasix and getting Grade 0 or 1 bleeding episodes – move to 5F when all other systems say ‘go’. You will possibly see a Grade 2 episode, followed by Grade 1’s and 0’s…..now work 6F and begin the process again.

On the flip side, if you continue to breeze only 4-5 panels and race 6-8+, expect multiple Grade 3’s, and get that syringe ready.

Hell, in the time it would have taken a vet to research and write this post this morning, he could have given 20 Lasix shots at $12ea on the backside for a trainer’s breeze day. I can’t blame him, medical intervention to solve problems is the basis of their education/training and now their manner of making a living – but you wouldn’t ask your cardiologist to train your son for a 400m race, would you?

In summary, all horses bleed, and if we are going to race them, they are going to bleed more. Yes, controlling these episodes is necessary and humane, but Lasix is a shortcut that most likely diminishes proper skeletal development at its most crucial stages – and the same effects can be achieved through the conditioning protocol of the old timers.

P.S. Want to see this concept in action (minus the repeated scoping)? Check out a 22yo vet student and his training diary:

https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/a-new-trainers-diary-regarding-scientific-conditioning/

A New Trainer’s Diary Regarding Scientific Conditioning

US bred gelding Times Ahead winning stakes handicap in Baden-Baden, Germany at 20-1

Finally another perspective on the subject other than mine, this time from a brand new 22yo veterinary student-turned-trainer with but a one horse stable – his first 8 starts: 2-3-2 and $25k in German prize money. Not bad for this $4,200 auction purchase with a past record of 5 starts and just $350 in purses earned. Oh, and he also showed up lame after arriving at the farm. I’ll shut up now as promised.

In his own words….

Introduction

Over the last six or seven years, I’ve been involved in the magnificent sport of thoroughbred racing. How to condition these animals to their maximum potential has always been my primary interest. In these years I observed a lot of trainers and practically every single one of them claims their methods are better than anyone else’s, some say it out loud, others just imply it. They will tell you they train differently from anyone else. They will tell you they have the mysterious, so-called “edge”. It took me all those years, up until just a couple of months ago, to find out this is just plain bullshit.

Firstly, the methods of these trainers may look different from time to time, but in 90 percent of the cases they aren’t, because they depend almost solely on the natural ability of the equine athlete.

Secondly, the “edge” one can have can only come from conditioning your equine athletes beyond their natural ability, it’s called exercise physiology and it makes the mysterious “edge” not so mysterious after all.

About me: My name is Bart Hermans,  I’m 22 years old and live in Boxmeer, the Netherlands, though my horse races predominantly in Germany. I study veterinary medicine at the University of Ghent, Belgium. I obtained my training license at the beginning of this year and so far I had eight starts (all in the last 4 months). All eight starts were PP’s with 2 wins, 3 second places and 2 third places obtaining about $25,000(which is quite a lot for German racing).

I write this article, because I think it is a very good example of how the conventional training of my horse turned into a form of semi-scientific training with good success. Above all, I hope those who read this will benefit from it, and others, in turn, will benefit from them.

Buying the horse and starting training

The story with this horse starts about a year ago, when my father and I went to the Newmarket HIT-Sales, to buy the first horse I would train on my own. We decide to look for a low priced, lightly raced 3 year old maiden, who has showed some capabilities. Because of the lower quality of racing in Germany it normally is possible for such a horse to break its maiden over here. For just $4200 we came home with a lovely looking, US-bred colt, by the name “Times Ahead”. He had previously raced five times and came in fourth once, earning a staggering $350.

I decided to geld the colt for practical reasons and to give him some time off, because after a few days he showed lameness and the clinic wasn’t able to find any obvious cause. Three months later I started training, but within a couple of weeks he was lame again. At the clinic they found he had a chipped ankle in his hind limb, how this happened still is a mystery. After operation and revalidation I started training again, this time everything going well.

Race by race description of conditioning program

Race #

Date

Racecourse

Runners

Distance

Race type

Purse

1

07-10-‘11

Duindigt,NL

7

6f

Handicap

$2000

Race preview:  At this point my horse went through conventional training for 12 weeks, doing  1.25 miles of galloping and half a mile of trotting each day. Half a mile breezes went down every 7 to 8 days. Basically the same training as every other racehorse in the nation. In the preparation to his first start I encountered no problems, despite the horse always having an off gait. After the sixth breeze or so, my jockey friend tells me he’s dead fit and should race. Two breezes later I decide to enter him in a handicap race at Duindigt, The Netherlands. He is rated at 51kg, the Dutch standard for horses entering handicap races for the first time, which is fairly low.  On the racecard of that day are two options, a 9f handicap or this race. Normally 9f would be better, but there are a lot more runners in that race. Since the overall quality of Dutch racing is ridiculously low, I see the horse winning both events easily. So I enter him in the 6f race to give him a quiet race, with just a couple of runners.

Race discussion:  He finishes second… He loses to a 10 year old by 1.5 lengths, who managed to earn $1900 in the last three years. The jockey tells me the horse ran a good race. A couple of hours after the race I realize: If this is a good race for the horse, he won’t be able to break his maiden in higher-level Germany. Something has to change!

Earnings: $550

Race #

Date

Racecourse

Runners

Distance

Race type

Purse

2

08-06-‘11

Mülheim,GER

14

8f

Conditions

$4000

Race preview:  For a couple of months now, I have been reading Bill Pressey’s blog and have been doing some research to the scientific side of conditioning racehorses, also I read a few books on equine exercise physiology. Up to this point I didn’t do anything with the new found information and was relying solely on what I saw other trainers do, but something had to change, remember?  I start by giving the horse four weeks off of racing and to use this time to up the ante of my conditioning program.  I make some radical changes: firstly, increasing the daily gallops to 1.5 miles with the last 3f done in about 0:15 to 0:16 sec/furlong. Secondly, and most importantly, workdays are performed once every 4 to 5 days, consisting of a 7f work in about 0:15 sec/furlong and a 5f breeze in about 0:12 to 0:13 sec/furlong with a 5 to 7 minute walk in between. The horse takes this major increase in workload very well and after a few weeks he feels better than ever before. I decide to enter the horse in a conditions race in Germany against considerably better stock.

Race discussion:  He finishes second… But this time he doesn’t lose to a 10 year old goat, he loses to a 6 year old again by 1.5 lengths, who just last year was fourth in a listed race (and winner of a $27,000 race in 2009), in a field much more crowded as well. A horse at least 50 pounds better than the winner of his previous race! This is more like it…

Earnings: $1100

Race #

Date

Racecourse

Runners

Distance

Race type

Purse

3

08-21-‘11

Düsseldorf,GER

13

7f

Conditions

$5400

Race preview:  The horse is on a tight schedule now, I want to race him every 14 days. Because I’m satisfied with his last performance, I won’t change much.  I only increase his daily gallops by another quarter of a mile, because I feel he can easily handle it, also I perform two workdays before his next start in 14 days. The upcoming race, his first at a premium German track, is slightly easier than his last race, so I see a good chance of passing the wire first!

Race discussion:  Woohooo…!  It’s a great feeling to see hard work pay off like this, as he wins the race comfortably, by 1.25 lengths over the horse coming in second and another 7 lengths to the horse coming in third, leading a shredded field.

Earnings: $3300

Race #

Date

Racecourse

Runners

Distance

Race type

Purse

4

09-03-‘11

Baden-Baden,GER

17

9f

Stakes

Handicap

$24400

Race preview:  After winning the last race the horse is awarded a German rating of 66kg (in comparison this is about 25kg/55lbs higher than his last rating in the handicap race in the Netherlands).  At the country’s most prestigious racetrack Baden-Baden, is a stakes handicap coming up in two weeks. This race is by far the toughest race up till now, so I have to toughen up his conditioning as well. The longer distance of 9f will suit him better, because he has built up great stamina in the past weeks, but I fear it’s not enough.  I increase the daily gallops to two miles, both intervals at workdays are increased to a mile at 0:15 sec/furlong and a 6f breeze at 0:12 to 0:13 sec/furlong. I also add another trick I read about on this blog, two days before the race I perform a 2.5f blowout.  So this adds up to two races, two workdays and a blow-out in a 14 day window.

Race discussion:  Again, woohoo…!  He wins the race easily by 1.25 lengths, and the last 50 yards out the jockey stands upright to celebrate his win (see picture at beginning), it’s a brilliant ride, coming to the outside rail after the last turn. Hard conditioning pays off big time, not only for me, but also for bettors, as he pays 20/1!

Earnings:  $14300

Race #

Date

Racecourse

Runners

Distance

Race type

Purse

5

09-25-‘11

Cologne,GER

11

9f50y

Handicap

$12500

Race preview:  After last race, his rating is adjusted to 70kg, which is 9lbs higher. This rating will make it a lot more difficult to win another race. A day after the race I finally receive my long awaited HR/GPS equipment. Over the next few days I analyze every move I have made with this horse, by collecting data from a workday and a few daily gallops. I find out that, according to the data, he recovers amazingly quickly, even on a workday, which means his workload can easily be increased further. To increase his workload significantly, he would need some more time to adjust to the new conditioning program. The turf season ends in two months and not too many races are available, so for purely economical reasons I decide to just take baby steps. The only change I make is increasing his daily gallops again, this time to 2.25 miles. In the 21 days to his next race, I perform four workdays and a similar blow-out as last race. His next race is in Cologne, this time a normal handicap race (stakes handicaps are a rare occurrence here), at a premium track in Germany,  against similar stock as last time, but remember, this time he carries 9lbs extra.

Race discussion:  He comes in third by 2.25 lengths to the winner, he runs a good race, maybe he could have won, but the jockey makes the mistake of settling behind the favorite, who in his turn, settles in the back. The horse is a front runner, and speed is not Times Ahead’s no. 1 quality, its stamina, as I condition him for that.

Earnings:  $1400

Race #

Date

Racecourse

Runners

Distance

Race type

Purse

6

10-09-‘11

Baden-Baden,GER

12

10f

Handicap

$15200

Race preview:  I’m satisfied with the last performance. Because of economical reasons, as explained before, there is no time to increase the workload significantly, so I decide to change nothing in his conditioning program for the remainder of the season, just sitting back, watching him collect PP’s and if he wins he will retire for the season (his rating will go up 7 to 10lbs after a win, making it virtually impossible to win again this season). I can do this, because I know that next season I will have a better horse, because next year I can condition him further above the abilities he showed up to now. Still the horse will improve, because workdays are done before super=compensation is over (I’ll explain this later on).  Again it comes down to two races, two workdays and a blow-out in a 14 day window.  The next race is against better stock than ever before, but he carries a bottom weight.

Race discussion:  He comes in third by 1.5 lengths to the winner, again maybe he could have won, but he is pulling all the way because another horse tries to stick his nose up his butt for about 7f. It’s a good race anyway, showing he is a really consistent horse, willing to fight at any cost.

Earnings: $1700

Race #

Date

Racecourse

Runners

Distance

Race type

Purse

7

10-23-‘11

Düsseldorf,GER

12

10.5f

Handicap

$9400

Race preview:  I change nothing to the condition program, but one thing, I leave out the blow-out this time, as a test. It comes down to two races, two workdays in a 14 day window.  The next race is against the same stock as in his stakes handicap win, but this time we are carrying a top weight.

Race discussion:  A terrible race… He comes in fourth by six lengths to the winner. Literally everything goes wrong , he has to settle way back in the pack, 2f out the jockey almost has to pull him up, because some idiot wants to settle before him and like it isn’t enough he is stuck behind a slow horse until 1 ½  furlongs before the wire. To be honest, he probably couldn’t have won if it was a good race, though the horse finishing second by a nose, was beaten by him in Cologne in the same scale.

Earnings: $500

Race #

Date

Racecourse

Runners

Distance

Race type

Purse

8

11-06-‘11

Krefeld,GER

12

10f50y

Handicap

$7000

Race preview: All the premium tracks of Germany are closed up for the season. A nice race, though a lower purse, is coming up in Krefeld, a lovely track located just 40 miles from my home. Conditioning is the same as last race, but this time, I use the blow-out again, I don’t know why exactly, but it seems beneficial. For this race I use an apprentice jockey, because carrying 132lbs just seems too much in this race.

Race discussion:  He comes in second by a nose, drawn seven lengths clear of the rest of the field. The winner won his last race by seven lengths, so it’s no shame to lose to him. The race goes well, but the apprentice jockey finishes the horse terribly, but that’s probably why he’s got 9lbs allowance.

Earnings: $1700

Future Races

Race #

Date

Racecourse

Runners

Distance

Race type

Purse

9

11-26-‘11

Krefeld,GER

?

10f50y

Handicap

$7000

Race discussion: This will be his last race for this season, after this race day the turf season in Germany ends. Conditioning for this race will be the same as the last, and he will probably be a favorite for the race.

Why moves are made

To understand why the moves in this conditioning program are made, you need to look into the science of equine exercise physiology. Exercise physiology is quite simple, but most trainers will never incorporate it into their programs, so if you do, you’ll create a great edge.

Interval workouts: Interval workouts have many advantages over conventional workouts. In the rest periods between intervals, lactic-acid builds up and muscle fuel is depleted, this may sound as a bad thing, but because of this, the horse will learn to accommodate these stresses, meaning in a race he will be able to maintain high speeds for an extended period of time.  Also you can accomplish more work with your horse, because fatigue is avoided due to the rest periods and injuries will occur less (in comparison to doing the same amount of work in conventional workouts).

Working out more often:  Workout frequencies of every 7-8 days only maintain the fitness the horse already has developed. This is because you workout after super-compensation is gone. I tried to illustrate this with my superb paint-skills in a recovery/super-compensation cycle:

A sound horse will recover from a workout in approximately two days, after this point super-compensation kicks in, meaning the horse is actually fitter than it was before the workout, if you work out again after super-compensation is over, you will be doing nothing more than maintaining (or even losing) fitness. On the other hand, when working out every three to five days, before super-compensation is over, the only way to go is up. Of course this cycle will be longer in unfit horses and shorter in fit horses. Another reason to work out more often, are spiculated red blood cells. As you probably know, horses store about 30% of their red blood cells in their spleen, they are kept there until their flight mechanism kicks in (a workout). After a few days in the spleen the red blood cell will be dealing with acids, making it less efficient in transporting oxygen (via a spiculated red blood cell).

In nature and on pasture, horses tend to empty their spleen themselves, by performing a couple of sprints every few days, but they cannot do this when cooped up in a stall).

Longer daily gallops: Longer daily gallops are done for a couple of reasons, to draw fuel from the muscles, to create a denser net of capillaries in the muscles and to keep the horse calm. Drawing fuel from muscles is a good thing, as explained before. Creating a denser net of capillaries is beneficial because oxygen transport to the muscles will be more efficient. To be honest, the 2.25 miles of daily galloping, as performed by my horse, will not really induce this optimally, which is a point of improvement for next season.  As you can imagine, a sound horse on a conditioning program as described above, will feel very fit, very fast, all the time, so to be able to handle the horse in a orderly and quiet fashion you will need to calm him with these daily gallops.

Ending daily gallops fast: If you end your daily gallops in approximately 0:15 sec/furlong (slower for some, faster for others), you will be increasing so called cruising speed, thus delaying onset of fatigue, in this process you train at 80 to 90% of your horse’s maximum heart rate. You are training the horse to use lactic acid as an energy source.

Prerace Blow-outs: As explained before horses store around 30% of their red blood cells in their spleen, with a prerace blow-out, one or two days before the race, you ensure that on race day your horse has a fresh supply of acid-unaffected red blood cells. These red blood cells are better capable of transporting oxygen to the muscles.

Other factors that contribute to performance

Of course, besides conditioning, there are other factors that can improve performance. I wouldn’t refer to these factors as an edge, because they are practiced by loads of successful trainers. I will take just a few of these factors, and tell something about them.

Nutrition:  Feed your horse enough! It’s better to have a horse looking a little chubby, because that way they are able to store more useable energy than horses that are too thin. Thinner horses fatigue earlier, because the only energy they can use comes from their daily feedings. I like to feed a complete high-oil commercial feed, which is developed especially for racehorses. I rarely use supplements.

Horsemanship:  The most important factor besides conditioning. If you‘re not a horseman, you’re doomed as a trainer. Feeling for your horses is essential, if you lack this, you will create injuries and other problems, as well as not noticing these problems in time.

Riders: Riders should be able to keep horses calm at all times, if a horse is pulling he can’t be trained properly and is prone to injury.  In my experience, good riders are calm, well thinking and horsemen themselves.

Turnout: Though I have no evidence for this, I think it’s best to turn your horses out every day. If turned out every day, most horses remain calm in the paddock and will rarely come back injured, apart from the occasional scratch. I feel my horse performs better, because he’s turned out every day, he’s a happy horse.

Points of improvement:

To stay at the top of your game, you will constantly need to review every move you’ve made, otherwise you’ll lose your edge. Of course there are a lot of points that can be improved in my conditioning program. For next season, I have the following in mind:

Longer daily gallops: To build a denser network of capillaries, to draw more muscle fuel and to be able to deliver stronger workouts. I don’t know how much longer yet, but my guess would be somewhere around four miles a day.

Triple ladder intervals: At this point, I have a horse with great stamina, but he lacks proper speed. To increase both I’m thinking of starting triple intervals next season. Something like: a mile in 0:15-0:16 sec/furlong, 5 or 6f in 0:13-0:14 sec/furlong and a 3 or 4f in 0:11-0:12 sec/furlong. Note that such a workout can only be performed after a very extensive conditioning program.

HR/GPS: The use of HR/GPS equipment should be incorporated more. So far I’m focused at speed only, but heart rate versus speed, should give a better view of what I’m actually doing in a workout, and how it affects the fitness of my horse.

Taper: Because I start a more demanding conditioning program next season, I will have something to really taper back from, for a short period (for a big race, or to make more starts in a short period). Studies show that tapering back from a big workload can greatly enhance performance.

Suggested reading

Practically all knowledge I have about exercise physiology, comes from books and research papers. There are two books that in my opinion stood out above the rest:

The Fit Racehorse II, by Tom Ivers: This book was very helpful in understanding how much your equine athlete is able to handle. If you want to start interval training, this is a must-read, it helps you understand how everything works inside your horse, and why moves are made. Though, even in my opinion, the conditioning programs in this book, will be very hard on the horse and very difficult to achieve.

Equine Exercise Physiology, by Kathryn Nankervis and David MarlinThe bible of equine exercise physiology, very detailed and simple to understand. Everything you wish to know about the subject is in here.

Thanks for the running diary Bart, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Occasionally I get frustrated that my efforts to instill science and technology into a very traditional sport are going nowhere, then I hear from this gentleman halfway across the world and it gives me goosebumps.

Bart has never paid me a dime, nor asked me a single question during this process. He ordered his HR/GPS gear elsewhere and unbeknownst to me, was reading my inane ramblings on this blog for several months and gradually implementing these concepts into his training regimen. It just goes to show us that ego and money are the root of 90% of the problems in the thoroughbred world, and when that is taken out of the equation – the horse itself benefits immensely.

I am used to the criticisms that come along with blogging about this stuff, but Bart is not – so please consider his feelings in any comments that you may leave here. Although I can’t imagine anything other than ‘congratulations’ is in order, well… you just never know in this business.

Video Proof of Why Thoroughbreds Bleed in the US and not in Japan

Click ‘play’ on both of the above videos simultaneously, and watch six horses in the post parade 5min prior to loading in Japan (top clip) and in the United States (bottom clip) over dirt last night on TVG – quite a difference, eh?

I have argued for years that an appropriate pre-race warmup prior to loading in the gate will eliminate or decrease the severity of bleeding in most racing stock without the use of a pharmaceutical diuretic such as Salix/Lasix.

The mechanism behind this concept is twofold: A single furlong at a 15sec clip (or a bit quicker) will cause the spleen to contract and shoot 30% more red blood cells into the bloodstream, thickening the blood and stressing the capillary walls. Slowing to a jog/walk soon afterwards allows these blood vessels time to stretch and dilate in order to decrease blood pressure, naturally. Otherwise this happens in the first few strides from the gate – albeit with no rest period to accomodate the newly thickened bloodflow. Bleeding ensues.

Briefly, EIPH or bleeding from the lungs in an exercising thoroughbred is the result of high blood pressures overwhelming the pulmonary capillaries and causing them to burst, leaking blood into the lungs themselves. There are two variables at play here: the viscosity of the blood itself, and the volume of capillaries present in lung tissues.

Firstly, as described above – the equine spleen is unlike the human version and serves as a reservoir of oxygen carrying red blood cells in horses, this is but one catalyst of the ‘fight or flight’ response found in animals of prey. Secondly, capillaries are tiny straw-like tubes that connect arteries and veins. Genetics determines how many a horse is born with, but conditioning determines how dense that capillary bed becomes: a horse’s arteries and veins are unaffected by the training environment, but exercise at 60-70% of maximum heart rate increases the number of capillaries.

Lasix works by inducing increased urination in a horse, resulting in a lower volume of water within the plasma component of the blood: lower blood volume then equals lower pressures throughout the circulatory system. However, as with any drug (human or equine) there are side effects.

Often enemies of Lasix cite the fact that Europeans do not allow the drug in their racing programs. However, this is not comparing apples to apples. Euros run overwhelmingly on turf or synthetic – and a relaxing 54sec half mile from the gate has little in common with the US style of 45sec in the first half mile over an unforgiving dirt surface.

Finally, with the above videos I am able to confirm what I have always suspected: in jurisdictions that prohibit raceday Lasix AND race on dirt – other interventions such as an extensive warm up are utilized to control the effects of EIPH.

Horses in Japan are trained trackside just like in the US – they don’t have access to hundreds of acres of rolling hillside to train over between efforts, as do the Euros. Yet, you see no lead ponies in the above post parade at Kyoto Racecourse as trainers have conditioned their horses in the mornings to behave appropriately during the big events even with this pre-race blowout.

A common, and valid, reason given by US trainers as to why they don’t practice such a pre-race warmup is that they cannot find riders who are able to consistently pull up the horse after a quick furlong, not in the mornings and not on raceday.

That is a lack of horsemanship on the part of the exercise rider that the trainer overcomes by veterinary intervention – yet opponents of Lasix are touted as ‘cruel to racehorses’ – what a crock.

Trainers out there unwilling to overcome ego and apply some science to the conditioning process be warned: if Lasix is ruled off – you are going to have to do what I just described in order to remain competitive. I recommend you do some experimentation now, practicing the above warm-up protocol before a training breeze – and you will be shocked how well your horse finishes up that breeze after a spleen-contracting furlong 3min before the real work begins.

Stretching and warming up in humans in order to prevent injury has been exposed as a fallacy, the real value in warming up aggressively is to improve performance during competition – this practice WILL buy you a few tenths of a second if you implement it correctly, even in the slowest horse in your barn, provided he is reasonably sound.

If you are based at KEE or CD give me a shout and I’ll come with my HR/GPS equipment, free of charge, and show you with numbers how this practice consistently improves performance.

Good luck!-

Moneyball and the 2 Year Old in Training Sales

The concepts found in ‘Moneyball’ can transform the 2 year old in training sales and greatly increase ROI for auction buyers. I have written and rewritten this post a half a dozen times – ranging from a 5,000 word opus down to just the main bullet points, so this piece may seem to be a bit scatterbrained, and I apologize in advance.

The central premise of Moneyball states that the collected experience of baseball insiders is, by nature, subjective, and therefore flawed in some respects. Rigorous analysis resulted in the creation of new statistics that better defined a valuable player via objective means, and this often flew in the face of conventional ‘wisdom’. The Oakland A’s under Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt in the movie version) ignored common statistical measures of success such as batting average and stolen bases, and found that numbers such as on base percentage and slugging percentage were more closely tied to wins. This concept led to the identification of undervalued talent, and the Oakland franchise repeatedly won as many games as the top spenders, such as the New York Yankees, despite a payroll at the bottom of the league. (Oakland spent approx. $40 million while the Yankees spent over $130 million in any given season)

It’s fairly easy to parallel this concept to the thoroughbred business, we even have a single word defining purely subjective means of evaluating talent: horsemanship.

For decades, auction buyers have used bloodstock agents and trainers to purchase racing stock at both yearling and 2yo sales around the country. Until recently, there has been very little science/technology involved in these decisions – so how has pure horsemanship fared in selecting the game’s future stars?

(Data table taken from ‘Thoroughbred Auctions: Analyzing ROI in Yearling and Two Years Olds in Training Sales’, a study authored by J.J. Risego, Preston Guilmet, and Matt Carter – three students of the University of Arizona Racetrack Industry Program. ROI, or return on investment, was calculated using racetrack earnings from the careers of auction purchases at several major sales vs. the purchase price and training costs, which were estimated at $25k per year. No residual stud values were factored into the equation, so a few ‘home run horses’ could have improved the ROI factors by a fractional amount.)

Not so good.

If you believe that horses are mythical creatures that don’t obey the laws of exercise science and that a negative 70% ROI is the best possible result from selecting potential racing stock at such an early age – save your time and stop reading this blog. You are not my target audience and you will only get angry at what follows because it is threatening to your core beliefs. In Moneyball terms, you are ex-player turned broadcaster Joe Morgan, the most vocal opponent of the Moneyball concepts – even though he has admittedly never read the book. Is it any wonder that when he was the manager of the Cincinnati Reds that the website www.firejoemorgan.com was formed? What a blockhead – publicly lambasting a book which he never took the time to read, but sadly Mr. Morgan’s behavior is indicative of the baseball establishment’s feelings.

So, what is overvalued when it comes to future thoroughbred racing success? Pedigree and subjective opinions of quality based on horsemanship are the main culprits.

At the yearling sales most of what is used to influence the buying decision is pedigree, the walk, and the overall subjective appearance of the young colt or filly in question. At least, that was the case before 2005 when this data was compiled. Since then, more objective scientific means have come upon the scene: heart size and gait/biomechanical analysis. But, each of them has a significant hole as well.

HEART SIZE, OR HEART SCORE

Here is the formula that heart size practicioners rely on: cardiac output equals heart rate times stroke volume, or CO = HR X SV.

Stroke volume is further defined as the size of the left ventricle times the amount of blood pumped with each beat, or ejection fraction: SV = LV X EF. Consequently, the amount of blood available to provide aerobic energy (CO) is the product of HR, LV, and EF. This is neither a Thoroedge formula, nor a horse racing one: this is page one of any exercise physiology textbook and it applies to horses, humans, camels, greyhounds, rats, etc. It is science, it is fact, and it is not open to interpretation.

LV and EF are quantified at rest, but no one ever measures HR during exercise! That is but one reason why you can have a huge heart in a terrible runner. Experience tells me that as many as 15% of the offspring of our top US stallions and accomplished racemares have maximum HR values of just 205bpm, well below the average of 230bpm. No horse can overcome this 10% deficiency in CO. Here is the key: you can measure LV and EF at rest, therefore you can theoretically cover all 4000 yearlings at the KEE sales, but you cannot get maximal HR in a yearling at a walk or jog. However you can get maximal HR in a 2yo who is actively training for a breeze up sale. More on this shortly….

CONFIRMATION/BIOMECHANICS/GAIT ANALYSIS

For our terms, we’ll refer to biomechanics as simply conformation: a set of measurements/angles of a horse at rest. Problem number one is the ‘at rest’ state. No numbers taken at rest are going to be hugely predictive of athleticism at 35+mph. Some will, but many won’t. Gait analysis solves this problem at the 2yo sales by analyzing many of the same concepts, but during race speeds. Excellent improvement, but still we are looking at the outside of the horse and quantifying efficiency of movement – yet we leave out the intensity of effort, which is the other 50% of the equation. We need more useful data and in 2011 it is available to us, albeit with some extra effort.

The overall concept behind Thoroedge: anything that happens of importance in a horse, happens during gallops and breezes. Moneyball was quick to point out that selecting a baseball prospect in high school was much more likely to result in failure than selecting a college ballplayer. Likewise, it would seem that the thoroughbred 2yo sales would give us better ROI numbers than the yearling auctions, however the chart above proved that to not be the case. Heart size and gait analysis are very much on the right track – but the missing pieces of info from these methods can be available to us at the 2yo in training sales.

CREATE YOUR OWN STATISTICS

Like the Oakland As, we must create our own statistics to maximize ROI and here they are: Maximum Heart Rate, V200 and Heart Rate Recovery.
All of these numbers are captured during the conditioning process for a 2yo headed to the in-training sales via onboard HR/GPS equipment, but not necessarily on the day of the public breeze itself.

Maximum HR is genetic and is unaffected by training. The average for thoroughbreds is 230bpm, and I have seen many successful runners worldwide with max HR values as low as 215bpm – but none with a number of 205bpm, those rarely even make it to the track in one piece as every step they take on the track requires 10% more effort. This number is what I call a ‘low hurdle’; just passing this test with a number of 225bpm or so doesn’t guarantee success by any means, but failing this test does guarantee failure. As a matter of fact, any horse with a max HR of 205bpm or lower isn’t even subjected to the following two measures of athleticism, as he belongs in an equestrian event rather than a thoroughbred race.

Once we know maximum HR, we can calculate V200: velocity of gallop at a HR of 200bpm, which on average is 85% of maximum. Todd Pletcher and a few others unknowingly call this ‘cruising speed’, and they are right on target. Heart size alone is meaningless for our purposes, what I want to know is how much work that heart can fuel – and I don’t need 20 years of data and a massive sample size to understand that ‘faster is better’ when intensity of effort is controlled for. Poorly conformed horses will often have a poor V200 unless some other factor makes up for the deficiency. Even very well put together horses will suffer with respect to V200 if any other factors are lacking such as: capillary density, mitochondrial density, poor neuromuscular control, oxygen levels in blood, respiratory difficulties, etc. I am not a vet, and I don’t know what is right or wrong with a horse, but quantifying how the whole system performs is well within my wheelhouse.

Here is V200 data I have compiled over the years in horses actively campaigning in the US over dirt:

V200                      Class

<20mph               can’t win, likely unsound or simply unathletic
22-24mph            not likely to hit the board, but in the ballpark
25-27mph            $25k claimer at lesser circuits, maiden winner at KEE or CD
27-30mph            allowance level up to state bred stake
30-32mph            getting closer, possible G3 black type if placed correctly
>32mph                graded stakes athlete, 35mph is your superstar

Horses derive energy in a race from mainly two systems: aerobic and anaerobic. V200 measures aerobic efficiency by collecting HR and speed data during a routine morning gallop around 2:15-3:15 min/mile pace. When they start to breeze and use anaerobic energy in the absence of oxygen, well then we need this last measure of ability/performance…

Heart Rate Recovery data is collected once the horse hits the wire after a breeze and begins the gallop out process. During this time the heart rate will drop precipitously from the maximum HR achieved during a piece of fast work like a 10-12sec furlong. Ideally heart rate will be 120bpm after 2min of passing the finish post, and 80bpm another 3min later. That would be 100% recovery and is a home run for a 2yo in the midst of an aggressive conditioning regimen.

Take two runners at a breeze-up sale. One works an eighth in 10 flat, while another comes across the line in 11 seconds. The faster of the two may show a recovery HR of just 62%, while the ‘slower’ one exhibits a 91% recovery. This is significant. As the old saying goes: ‘It’s not how fast they go, but how they go fast’ – and this is what that maxim looks like in actual numbers. Speed is overvalued in these instances, whereas stamina is a relative bargain. Neither of these horses is ever going to run a 10sec furlong again, and even the fastest horses are only at peak speed for a few strides in any race. Stamina wins races (even at 6F) and is often overlooked at auction, giving us a prime buying opportunity IF we can collect the data from inside the animal in question.

**To emphasize: we are not looking at the potential of stamina in a pedigree, we are gauging the actual presence of stamina during track exercise – big, big difference.

NUMBERS OVERLOAD

Beyer speed figures, the Ragozin sheets, Thorograph, etc. are all statistics put out to help handicappers pick winners. Sometimes they work well, sometimes they don’t, but they all share the same flaw: they only quantify workload, not intensity of effort from each individual horse. Too many in this industry have been overwhelmed by numbers purporting to define class or ability that don’t come from inside the actual horses in question. This reminds me of another old horseman’s saying: ‘People have opinions, horses have the facts’ – so very true. D. Wayne Lukas I believe is the originator of the phrase?

Both of these old sayings prove that horsemen and women have been considering the scientific side of the sport for decades, albeit unwittingly. I intend to bring these concepts to the forefront. Science and technology has vastly improved many facets of the industry over the past few decades – pretty much everything but equine selection and conditioning – and that is an oversight we can use to gain an advantage in today’s marketplace.

Look, pedigree is merely potential on paper – once the foal hits the ground, we can now measure whether or not the preferred genetic traits are being expressed in terms of actual performance. Pedigree doesn’t matter again until one hits the breeding shed after retirement. Both baseball and horse racing are rooted in tradition, but there has now been proven to be new knowledge available to baseballers, and there is also new horseracing knowledge as well.

In conclusion, I leave you with this quote directly from Moneyball – where you can substitute ‘horseracing’ for each reference to ‘baseball’:

“When you think of intellectuals influencing the course of human affairs you think of physics, or political theory, or economics. You don’t think of baseball, because you don’t think of baseball as having an intellectual underpinning. But it does; it had just never been seriously observed and closely questioned, in a writing style sufficiently compelling to catch the attention of the people who actually played baseball. Once it had been, it was only a matter of time—a long time—before some man of action seized on newly revealed truths to gain a competitive advantage.”

 

BC2011 Post Mortem: Mott, Mo and Trakus

What did Bill Mott do differently than the others at Churchill this weekend?

For starters, all of Mott’s BC entries spent the entire month of October on the Churchill grounds. That’s a full month of exercise over the specific dirt surface at CD, roughly 20 miles of galloping and a few miles of works, cumulatively. I can’t help but wonder how that practice would have served So You Think this weekend, or Zenyatta in 2010?

Pedigree experts can save the ‘conformation determines surface preference’ arguments. I am fully aware that hoof size, pastern length, knee action, and a slew of other factors can favor one type of surface over another for a runner. Those things are genetically determined and unchangeable, agreed. But what no one ever considers is the different sequences of neuromuscular coordination required to run on sand, or dirt, or poly, or turf. Each animal has to fire, and relax, different muscles at different times to get over the ground. So You Think may very well be at his best on turf, but a few dozen miles of neuromuscular practice over the unique surface here in Louisville would have moved him up a few lengths.

I see this all the time with clients who train in Australia. Quite often the early work is done on the farm over a pretty hard dirt surface, where one mile gallops in 3 minutes may first give a working heart rate of 180bpm, gradually improving down to 165bpm over several weeks. Then, the horse is taken to a track to gallop over a more forgiving, sandy surface. My email dings with concern: “What happened! I’m used to seeing him go a mile in 3 minutes with an HR of 165bpm, today it was 183!” After a few more back and forths we figure out the surface change issue. After that first alarming session, he continues to exercise over the new surface and HR drops accordingly as he becomes more used to the task. Lower HR equates to less energy expenditure for the workload.

I don’t care if SYT was on the dirt in Australia in 2009 – that doesn’t help him on Saturday evening at Churchill Downs. He arrived late Tuesday, spent 2 days in quarantine, and merely galloped over the CD strip on Friday morning. The lesson to be learned here is that specificity of surface trumps ability and class at the highest levels. Bill Mott would have never taken Royal Delta or Drosselmeyer on a plane to Royal Ascot and entered a turf race without so much as a single gallop on the grass!

Also, a blog favorite – the pre-race blowout – was put to full use by Mr. Mott. Each of his BC runners went a fast 2F the morning before his/her race. This didn’t make the DRF however, so unless you were there or read one of the worktab touts – the fact may have escaped you. Needless to say, I didn’t see this from O’Brien, Baffert or Pletcher, although Scooter Dickey did so with Flat Out. Again, for those new to the subject; blowouts are not merely psychological tools to get one ‘on his toes’. There is an extremely important physiological basis for the practice and it involves the unique equine spleen:

https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2011/02/27/the-curious-case-of-richard-dutrow-conditioning-genius-or-drug-cheat/

Don’t let the Dutrow reference fool you, Carl Nafzger also blew out both of his Derby champions the morning before the big one.

NO ‘MO’ MO

Finally Uncle Mo has been put out of his relative misery, heading off to stud at Ashford in Lexington. He’s the equine LeBron James: massively talented, yet unable to win the big one past the high school/juvenile level. The postscript from Team Repole/Pletcher: the ‘cuppy’ surface was to blame. No wait, later on we get the bloodwork which shows an elevated count of some obscure liver enzyme, a statement whose wording led me to believe the test was taken AFTER the disappointing effort.

Why not before? Then maybe he could have scratched and added a few thousand bucks to his stud fee next season at Coolmore. No one would have blamed the horse, and the question as to whether or not he could get 10F would never have been definitively answered. The thought here is that the Irish realize US buyers don’t care if the 10F is proven or not, we just want a 2yo champ with a whisker’s chance of holding that form onto 3. We’ll simply get the stamina from the female side of the tree.

Taking bloods is 1940s era work, this is 2011 and blood work done after an exercise bout, can tell you so much more:

https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/what-uncle-mos-upcoming-bloodwork-will-miss/

TRAKUS IN THE HOUSE

Nice to see the Trakus info used for this big weekend of racing; ‘distance traveled’ has been used before to quantify trip, but the addition of ‘average speed’ was extremely interesting. Surely with this data and others we can come up with a objective Beyer-like figure that isn’t so open to opinion? What was most telling was the split times for Caleb’s Posse in the Dirt Mile: 23.68, 23.20, 23.90, 24.07.

He slowed a bit the final quarter, but still a remarkably consistent energy expenditure, reminiscent of Acclamation and his stirring 10F in 1:59 and 2 last month at SA: 24.0, 24.4, 24.2, and 47.2 over the final half mile (can’t find quarter breakdowns) in the Clement Hirsch Turf Championship. Yes, that’s turf and a full 5 seconds faster than the BC Classic winning time on dirt.

Running the final quarter in a time faster than the first quarter is termed a ‘negative split’, although it should be probably be christened a ‘Zenyatta’ split when applied to horses. Secretariat also accomplished something close to this in his 2:24 Belmont triumph over 12F. It’s simply the most physiologically efficient use of energy, so it’s no surprise it leads to fast times, and this is another huge hurdle for a European turf runner like So You Think to overcome as most American dirt races are run in the opposite fashion: Drosselmeyer came home in 25sec in the Classic, after a first quarter in 23 and change, for instance.

A GOOD WEEK FOR THOROEDGE

On the backside I was twice asked by ‘name’ US based trainers just what the hell does Aidan O’Brien do with HR/GPS monitors? Happily Coolmore won 2 events and almost a third. I now look forward to working with these guys over the next few months with the hope that the practice of listening to the inside of an exercising horse gets a foothold in this country.

2011 BC Classic Selections: So You Think(NZ) and Flat Out Much the Best

Caution. I’m officially the world’s worst handicapper: I pick my personal favorites that support my biases on the concepts of conditioning. I also pick Louisville every year to reach the Final Four, much to my wife’s chagrin. Fair warning, here we go:

So You Think (NZ):
Aidan O’Brien is a personal favorite of mine because he routinely uses HR/GPS equipment at Ballydoyle, and the implementation of such technology is the entire focus of Thoroedge. A few months back I predicted that SYT would win the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and also set a track record:

https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2011/09/30/can-so-you-think-run-the-fastest-arc-ever-on-sunday/

Well, he ran fourth – but it took that track record to beat him by just 5 lengths, and his trip was less than stellar. Given the hard ground at Longchamp, the hope here is that he takes to the CD strip without too much difficulty. As I write this on Tuesday morning I don’t believe the Coolmore contingent has yet arrived on the grounds at Churchill. Without a strong gallop over the surface to gain some familiarity with the track, SYT will have to be much the best on Saturday in the Classic. Remember Zenyatta flew in at the last moment in 2010 and Mike Smith stated publicly that her first quarter on the dirt was less than ideal, possibly costing her the win. So if we see a 3F work posted SYT on Thursday or Friday – I become much more convinced of this selection.

Flat Out:
Everyone touts the recent 4F/:46 and change move as reason to love this horse, and I agree – but it’s the mile in 1:43 charted last week that piques my interest. Elsewhere in this blog I detailed the work regimen of Triple Crown Winner Assault, and proclaimed weekly short, fast breezes coupled with weekly miles in 13 sec fractions as the best method to produce a classic winner’s stamina with a finishing kick. Well here comes Mr. Dickey following that precise method – bravo to this old timer. If SYT has even the slightest issue with the dirt, he comes in behind this one.

Game on Dude:
Again readers know I prefer the methods of Mr. Baffert to others: https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2011/09/21/baffert-vs-pletcher-head-to-head/
With his works and races coming over the SA dirt strip, I can no longer discount a West Coast entry due to the presence of Cushion Track – therefore he fills out my trifecta.

Also rans:
Gio Ponti – twice beaten by recently retired Cape Blanco, a Coolmore 2nd stringer, over the turf.

Havre de Grace – subpar work over Keeneland Polytrack this week according to many observers, possibly overcooked like her nemesis Blind Luck?

Uncle Mo – certainly the most talented of the bunch, but while talent wins you the occasional G2 and definitely carries the day as a Juvenile, it’s likely not enough vs. this crowd. Readers of this blog are familiar with my criticisms of the ‘4F every 7 days’ method practiced by Todd Pletcher and the rest, yet to his credit Mo has been sent 5F a few times during his comeback from illness and even clocked a recent 6F work at Belmont – and anecdotally has lengthened his gallop outs to boot. Probably too little, too late, however. I’m not sure, but I think this is one of the first times that a Pletcher 3yo has recorded a 6F work? If so, does he think that Mo may be a bit short at 10F off of a less than taxing training/racing schedule over the summer?

Next post: An illuminating look at how the concepts of ‘Moneyball’ can apply to the sport of thoroughbred racing, specifically in the US.

So You Think, Flat Out, Game on Dude.
Good luck and safe travels to everyone!-