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:
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:
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.