Monthly Archives: December 2011

Conditioning for a MSW: Santa Anita vs Gulfstream

Have you ever been to Siena Farm in Paris, KY? You must go just to see the above sculpture, surely one of the world’s best works.

Today happens to open a telling window into the 2 wildly divergent preparations trainers take in order to get a runner to his/her first race. Race 3 at both Santa Anita and Gulfstream is a MSW worth approx. $50k, with SA sending 9 starters to compete over 6F, and a field of 8 racing 6.5F in Florida. That is where the similarities end, and quite abruptly I might add:

Number of horses with 6F works on the tab:
-8 of 9 at Santa Anita
-1 of 8 at Gulfstream

Total number of works 6F or longer in the field:
-21 at Santa Anita
-1 at Gulfstream

Avg. number of works at the race distance per starter:
-2.3 at Santa Anita
-0.13 at Gulfstream

To summarize, the average entry into a 6F MSW out West has 2-3 similar works under his belt, while 7 of the 8 starters in the East have zero such efforts.

For simplicity’s sake we can pin the SA approach to Bob Baffert, and the GP routine to Todd Pletcher. Earlier in the year we examined this matchup in greater depth here, where we highlighted the different approach to getting both The Factor and Uncle Mo back to the track after a layoff:

https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2011/09/21/baffert-vs-pletcher-head-to-head/

In retrospect, both The Factor and Uncle Mo were obliterated at the Breeder’s Cup in November. The link above states that Baffert performs better when volume is taken out of the equation – earning over $27k per start compared to Pletcher’s $17k and change.

Both trainers coming into BC2011 had 7 previous winners on the big weekend of racing, but Baffert accomplished this feat with 20 less starts than did Pletcher.

But this older post dealt with mostly older, more seasoned horses, today we are looking at maidens, and many first time starters. So, back to the subject: Why do West Coast trainers as a group work MSW stock 6F or more 21 times while East Coasters only do so once?

It’s well known the track at SA is rather hard, and the GP strip is fairly tiring – but those who train at each location must also race over the same surface, so it’s tough to buy that as an excuse.

Secondly, the common argument is ‘some horses take to more work than others’ – but that, too, fails to hold water as nearly all CA horses are sent the full race distance in this case, yet only one FL horse does so. Surely no one can claim that West Coast horses ALL require/thrive on more speed work?

Most likely it’s the copycat syndrome at work here. Trainers at each location copy what they see coming from the best – which results in horses going longer at SA where Baffert is king, and shorter at GP where Pletcher is the role model.

However, when it comes to results on the racing world’s biggest stage, the Baffert approach reins supreme as evidenced by both his Triple Crown and Breeders Cup records. Every young trainer today can choose which approach to emulate. But, why stop there? Why not consider some of the sport’s Hall of Famers from around the globe…

Anyone here remember the great TJ Smith in Australia? He took the Baffert approach to extremes with his ‘bone and muscle’ method of conditioning. Smith would put speedwork into his youngsters 3x a week – inducing nearly all of them to go off their feed.

What then? Lay off? Hell no – push forward with more training.

Those that got back into the feed tub continued on to help Mr. Smith win 33 consecutive Sydney training titles! Those who stayed off feed were sent away, as he felt it was best to find out early which had the talent to succeed. Interestingly enough, Smith seems to be one of the first to include a healthy dose of protein in his feeding program. Surely more to investigate there, but that is many steps above my pay grade.

I doubt many commercial US trainers looking to attract new owners can follow the model of TJ Smith, as no one wants to be known on the backside as the guy, or gal, who purposely conditions stock to the point where they lose appetites.

My new book will show you how to objectively determine if your horse needs the Baffert or the Pletcher approach, so stay tuned. Please see my last post on how to secure your complimentary advance .pdf copy.

One working title is ‘Internal Horsemanship – Reading the inside signals of your horse in order to gain optimal fitness.’
Traditional horsemanship is really ‘external’ in nature as one is reading the outside signs of horse health and behavior, striving to determine if one should walk, jog, gallop, or breeze on any given day. These opinions are subjective in nature, and quite valuable.

However, once that is decided, ‘internal’ horsemanship takes over and dictates precisely how far, how fast, and how frequently exercise sessions should be structured in order to maximally benefit the individual. That reminds me, I gotta stop posting and start writing this damn thing.

Happy New Year!-

Happy Holidays With a Free Book from Thoroedge

As a big fan of geography, I always find these things interesting. Above is a snapshot taken this morning of web traffic to this blog in the overnight hours of December 21st. Volume is quite low given the holiday season, but here are all of the countries represented in that roughly 8 hour window:

United States
France
Serbia
Israel
South Korea
Malaysia
Australia
New Zealand

Pretty cool. At one point earlier this year I had counted over 25 countries sending traffic to this small blog concerning the physiology of thoroughbred conditioning. Overall, I would say the largest single country outside of the US is Australia – where I hear they have hundreds of racetracks. Seems that horse racing to Aussies is like baseball or football in the US?

Lastly, here is an electronic gift to all readers. Over the next few weeks I will complete my first book:

Is Your Horse F.I.T.?
Your Thoroughbred Conditions Himself with Feedback Induced Training

Let’s get this straight from the get-go: The Horse is the Boss.

FIT stands for Feedback Induced Training, where internal responses to exercise are gathered before/during/after exercise sessions and later analyzed to determine the 3 F’s: how Fast, how Far, and how Frequently each horse is telling you he needs to go in order to improve with the smallest chance of injury.

Traditional horsemanship entails observing the outer signals (behavior, coat, eyes, ears, etc.) when making training decisions; what I aim to do is teach horsemen how to collect and analyze the inner signs (both good and bad) of a horse in training. Most all feedback gathered from a horse in the traditional manner is subjective and qualitative; an expert opinion, in other words. However, the internal feedback gathered during exercise is both objective and quantitative, a series of numbers.  What FIT gives you is a measure of actual fitness, and therefore the best opportunity to improve it.

Tentative chapters:

  1. ‘THE $3 MILLION DOLLAR BOOK’
  2. F.I.T. – FEEDBACK INDUCED TRAINING
  3. HRV – THE SAFETY NET AGAINST OVERTRAINING
  4. SUPERCOMPENSATION – THE KEY TO OPTIMAL CONDITIONING
  5. THE HORSE IS THE BOSS – INDIVIDUALIZATION
  6. 6 PRINCIPLES OF EXERCISE PHYSIOLOGY
  7. HOW HORSES DIFFER FROM HUMANS
  8. DIET – FEEDING THE F.I.T HORSE
  9. HORSEMANSHIP AND FITness
  10. SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND HORSE RACING
  11. STEP ONE: SELECTION OF AN ACTUAL ATHLETE
  12. NIAGARA EQUISSAGE, STORM, AND PHOTOBIOSTIMULATION
  13. IF YOU LOSE LASIX
  14. ON AVOIDING BUCKED SHINS
  15. GALLOPS OVER DIRT VS SYNTHETIC
  16. THOROUGHBRED INTERVAL TRAINING IS NOT HUMAN INTERVAL TRAINING
  17. NEUROMUSCULAR COORDINATION IS ALWAYS OVERLOOKED
  18. THE PRE-RACE BLOWOUT IS A NECESSITY FOR SOUND HORSES
  19. STAMINA – THE MYTH OF THE 2 MINUTE LICK
  20. 21ST CENTURY BLOODWORK
  21. A NEW TRAINER’S DIARY REGARDING PROGRESSIVE CONDITIONING
  22. THOROUGHBRED ‘MONEYBALL’
  23. PEDIGREE IS MERELY POTENTIAL, YOU CAN MEASURE ACTUAL ABILITY
  24. RECOMMENED READING
  25. APPENDIX A – GUIDE TO GRAPHS AND ILLUSTRATIONS

Perhaps half of the material is found somewhere on this blog over the past 36 months, but there will be much original, practical, applied info and several HR/GPS charts from horses around the world – including a multiple Group One winner training at Newmarket, England.

Please leave a comment below if you would like to receive an advance .pdf copy in January. I’ll see your email address on this end, but other commenters will not.  You must leave your comment before Dec. 31st at midnight to qualify for the freebie and you can expect the book in late January, should be close to 250 pages.

Thanks to all for the support, and here’s wishing you a prosperous 2012!

Workout Patterns of a Lasix-free Gulfstream entry

107 entries at GP on Sunday, December 4th and only one running Lasix free – trained by blog favorite/Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens of course, how can he accomplish this feat? (CLICK ABOVE TO ENLARGE)

Wild by Nature got whipped in this race after a stumbling start, but that is not the object of this post. 106 horses ran under Lasix today at Gulfstream and 80% of them were disappointing as well. The point here is what does Mr. Jerkens do in order to compete without the drug?

On the PP sheet above we see the following workout pattern for Wild by Nature:

Dec. 4 – race 8+F
Nov. 30 – breeze 5F/1:00
Nov. 24 – breeze 7F/1:27
Nov. 20 – breeze 5F/1:03 over off track
Nov. 15 – breeze 4F/:49
Prior works and 1 race at Belmont

Now I don’t have access to this horse or trainer, but this blog is certainly a fan of breezing 85% of the race distance, working more frequently than the typical once every 6 days, and the mixing of short/fast moves with longer/slower breezes.

Last week we talked about this approach in getting horses to the races without the use of Lasix, and here Mr. Jerkens continues to practice what he preaches well into his 80s:

https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/eiph-if-youre-not-breezing-youre-bleeding/

While I certainly applaud Mr. Jerkens sticking to his guns and racing this 2yo without Lasix until he proves he needs it, I realize that he is competing at an extreme disadvantage – likely spotting the rest of the field 20+ pounds of fluid.

To summarize: primarily to bleed or not to bleed is up to the pulmonary capillaries of the individual horse, but human intervention, as proven by Mr. Jerkens, can aid the process significantly. It’s not racing that makes ’em bleed, it’s not training that makes ’em bleed – it’s the DIFFERENCE in intensity between the 2 tasks that is the culprit.

Put another way, if you can breeze 7F and scope clean, you are more likely to race 8F and scope clean as well.
The same cannot be said for entering that 8F race off of a series of ‘clean’ 4F works.

Alas, true horsemanship in this manner will not be around much longer as the Mr. Jerkens of the world are slowly receding into history.

US Thoroughbreds Are Not Only Slower, But Also Breakdown More Often

What a mess: we are breeding for speed – but not getting it, and simultaneously our horses are getting injured more often while running route races in times similar to those of the 1940s. Unlike the Leonardo da Vinci quote above – some of us are indeed saying something about it.

Dick Jerardi recently wrote about the lower Beyer figures for BC Classic winners these days here:

http://www.drf.com/news/jerardi-top-beyer-figures-thing-past

But, I beat him to the punch just over a year ago when comparing raw winning times in American classics over the past 7 decades:

https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2010/11/29/triple-crown-times-have-not-improved-in-70-years-why/

OK, so we’re not appreciably faster despite 70 years of selective breeding of ‘the best to the best’. With an average foal crop in that time span of 15k or so, that gives us 1 million chances at breeding a faster racehorse.

Back in the 1980s we even decided to help this process along a bit, by legalizing raceday Lasix and Bute in an effort to humanely allow these animals to reach their full potential on the track. Certainly if our horses are no faster – and now benefit from these veterinary treatments during competition – we at least should be seeing fewer fatalities, right? Wrong:

Thoroughbred fatality rates per 1,000 starters:

US – 1992 – 1.6 (http://www.ivis.org/proceedings/aaep/1997/Mundy.pdf)
US – 2010 – 2.0 (dirt = 2.14, turf = 1.74, synthetic = 1.55) according to the Jockey Club

Back in ’92 there was no Polytrack or Tapeta to ‘cushion’ the stats either, or they would be even lower and the current negative trend would be more pronounced.

How about the pace scenario in route races like the Kentucky Derby?

Perhaps our horses are faster through the first few panels these days, and that ends up hurting the final winning times? Not according to Derek Simon at the TwinSpires blog:

http://blog.twinspires.com/2011/03/no-early-speed-no-triple-crown.html

Lasix and 1992:

According to the Jockey Club, 1992 was the first year where more than 50% of US racers were administered Lasix. That year the breakdown rate, as noted above, was 20% lower than today’s number where 95% of starters get the drug, and remember, also generally running slower in the process.

Perhaps off topic, perhaps not – this week former WinStar Farm co-owner Bill Casner enlightened us on the objectively measured post-race/recovery effects of Lasix in his string of runners:

http://www.thoroughbredtimes.com/national-news/2011/12/06/casner-weighs-the-consequences-of-salix.aspx

My Admittedly Biased Solution:

Condition your horses like the old timers, plain and simple, but do so with an eye towards science and modern technology in order to ‘stack the deck’ in your favor as much as possible.

When one breeds for speed, what one is trying to get is a horse capable of producing a greater force against the ground when sprinting – that is what pure top-end speed boils down to. One manner in which a horse can do so is to possess lighter bone structures in his lower leg, as it gives him less of a weight to swing through his stride cycle.

So if you have a precocious 2 year old who is blazing fast and possesses a certain amount of stamina up to 8F you have two opposites at work: outstanding musculature capable of exerting massive amounts of force on the ground, AND thinner/lighter than average bones in the lower leg that are more prone to injury; both skeletally as well as to the supporting soft tissue systems.

You have to address this problem through progressive conditioning protocols, the polar opposite of never breezing further than 5F once a week. Don’t listen to me, I could very well be an idiot, but listen to the Hall of Famers who were able to race the champions of yesteryear:

Allen Jerkens:
“Horses worked a lot harder in those days, 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.”

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

Trainers today universally espouse the ‘less is more’ philosophy, but the speed data and injury rates cited above actually seem to confirm the opposite, that ‘less’ is actually ‘less’ – especially when it comes to producing strong racing bone in fast, sound horses.