Monthly Archives: May 2012

War Admiral’s 1937 Triple Crown Campaign and no FLAIR for the Belmont

The Riddle colt did not emerge from winter quarters until April 14,1937,when he won the six-furlong Calvert Purse at Havre de Grace in gate-to-wire fashion. Next came the Chesapeake Stakes, Havre de Grace’s main prep for the major spring events. War Admiral won by six lengths over Flamingo Stakes winner Court Scandal and shipped to Churchill Downs as the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

War Admiral had never raced farther than 81/2 furlongs, and the Derby was his third start in 24 days. Yet trainer George Conway was not afraid to work him hard to get him fit, sending him out for a lO-furlong spin four days before the Derby. On a sloppy track, the Admiral covered the distance in 2:08, finishing up eagerly.

The track was fast at Churchill Downs on Derby Day, May 8 – the colt was fractious at the post but got away cleanly and spurted to the lead. That was the last his rivals saw of anything but his tail as Pompoon ran gamely through the stretch, shaving the Admiral’s three-length margin to 1+ lengths, but War Admiral was in hand as he sailed under the finish line.

The time was 2:031/5, the second-fastest Derby up to that point.

The Preakness fell only a week after the Derby in 1937, and War Admiral and Pompoon both worked nine furlongs four days before the race, with War Admiral going in 1:56 and 2 and Pompoon in 1:57. In the Preakness, War Admiral again proved faster, but it was a much closer deal. Battling the length of the stretch, the Admiral outfinished Pompoon by a head, with third-place Flying Scot eight lengths astern. The time was 1:58 2/5over a track labeled “good,” just one-fifth of a second off High Quest’s stakes record.

War Admiral’s margin of victory was more decisive than it looked, as jockey Charley Kurtsinger never touched his mount with the whip during the drive. Next up was the June 5 Belmont Stakes – the colt’s fifth start in 52 days. That was not considered a particularly grueling campaign at the time, so just to be sure that the Admiral was ready for the 1 and 1/2-mile trip, Conway worked him not once but three times over the Belmont distance during the three weeks between the Preakness and the Belmont. He won the Test of Champions in a record tying time of 2:28 and 3/5, again leading wire to wire despite slicing a quarter off his right heel breaking from the starting gate.

-The above courtesy of Earl Ola, who adds:

“I have personally watched Australia’s TJ Smith, the worlds most successful trainer ever, anywhere. In the 14 months I worked for him; he took moderately performing USA imports from leading USA stables, improved them over 10 racing lengths and got them sounder by breezing them 3 times a week, plus they became contented, easy to handle and ride racehorses for the first time in their racing lives.

TJ Smith developed the basis for his training methods watching (then improving) on the methods of USA trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons.  Our modern day horses are not weak, what is weak is our modern so-called training methods and legal drugs that weaken our horses.”

My comment: the absurdity of today’s environment is highlighted when New York bans I’ll Have Another from wearing the FLAIR nasal strip, yet allows the diuretic Lasix and pain killer Bute to course through his veins on raceday. If I remember correctly, it was about this time 3 years ago when NY also outlawed any hyperbaric oxygen therapy within a week  of post for NY racers as well.

In perhaps the most pigheaded statement of our times: “If a horse needs hyperbaric oxygen therapy to get from the starting gate to the finish line, it shouldn’t be in the race,” NYSRWB chairman John Sabini said in a statement. “Purified oxygen does not exist naturally in a horse.”

But Lasix and Bute do exist naturally in all horses, right Mr. Sabini?


Belmont MSW First Time Winner, No Lasix – Old Methods

That is (an old pic of) James Jerkens, son of the great Allen Jerkens, who currently is based in New York and recently sent Resonating to post without the crutch of Lasix. Now there are several horses running without Lasix on any given day, but few at the top levels such as Belmont, few who win first time out, and few who significantly alter their conditioning to improve their chances without the diuretic. So, I thought the circa 1990? pic of Mr. Jerkens was appropriate due to his old-school methods.

Just the Facts:

Resonating – 3yo filly
5/4/12 – Belmont Park – MSW $70k – 6F over a muddy track
Comes home a winner by 4.75 lengths, gearing down over the final 70 yards


Track                  Date                 Course               Distance   Time        Note          Rank
Belmont Park  5/24/2012  Dirt training     7F               1:28.27   Breezing  1/1
Belmont Park  5/1/2012     Dirt training     4F               50.10       Breezing  1/3
Belmont Park  4/26/2012  Dirt training     6F               1:15.23    Breezing  1/1
Belmont Park  4/20/2012  Dirt                      4F               48.46       Breezing  5/25
Belmont Park  4/13/2012   Dirt                      5F               1:02.16   Breezing  5/6
Belmont Park  4/1/2012      Dirt training     5F              1:00.13   Breezing 1/21

1. Breezes the full race distance, 6F, prior to his debut

2. Blows out the filly with a 4F effort 3 days prior to post

3. Comes out so soundly that the first post-race work is 7F – probably going to stretch her out next time

Add this one to your watch list folks, it feels like 1950 again!


Romans and Dullahan Crank it Up a Notch: Too Little, Too Late?

Dale Romans said he recently received advice on how to prepare Dullahan for the Belmont’s 1 ½-mile distance from an 80-year-old retired groom who used to work for his father, Jerry Romans.

“He told me, ‘Just remember, nature will take a horse a mile and an eighth, but you have teach one to go a mile and a half,’” Romans shared. “We’ve been changing the small things. Like instead of a mile-and-half, we go on two-and-a-half-mile gallops with him and galloping him before we breeze, just little things to try to teach him to go a little further, mentally and physically.”


Or, Mr. Romans you could have read this blog for the past 4 years and implemented this strategy months ago, perhaps even with Paddy O’Prado and Shakleford. Although I applaud the upgrade in conditioning, I question such a drastic increase a little more than 2 weeks out from the third jewel of the Triple Crown. Playing catch-up, I suppose.

What is the rationale? Galloping 1.5 miles daily is enough to ‘learn’ to race 1 and a quarter, but 2.5 miles is the ideal to prepare for running 440 yards further? Regardless, if these are typical 2:15-2:30 paced miles, the effect will be minor compared to I’ll Have Another’s well publicized 2 minute miles (or faster).

Still, these comments seem to me to indicate mostly concern about the mental aspects of racing further, which pale in comparison to the physiological ones. I can count on one hand the number of thoroughbred trainers around the world who have gone online to Google ‘thoroughbred physiology’ or ‘science of horseracing’ and gotten in touch with me – and 2 of those gentlemen are among the world’s leaders in purses won on a yearly basis, small wonder.

I will now certainly pull for Dullahan to complete the exacta in the hopes I can continue to draw attention to these matters. Is anyone else paying attention? Matz/Union Rags?

UPDATE: Saturday, May 26th:

Per the DRF: With Tammy Fox aboard, Dullahan went through splits of 26 seconds, 38.60, 51.40, 1:04.60, and 1:17.40 when passing under the wire a second time in 1:43, according to Churchill clocker John Nichols. His out time for 1 1/8 miles was 1:57.

I am sure this is the first work for Dullahan over 6F in his young career, and I would wager it’s an extreme rarity for Mr. Romans – will they be rewarded in 14 days?

“I’ll Have Another” 2 Minute Lick, Please

I feel like kissing Doug O’Neill right on the mouth (after downing a six pack of Kentucky Bourbon Ale). It’s roughly one hour post Preakness 2012 and I’ve calmed down enough to put my thoughts on paper, shortly after witnessing I’ll Have Another run down Bodemeister at Pimlico and validate many of my thoughts on preparing a 3yo horse to run the 31+ lengths in 5 weeks required to claim a Triple Crown.

He still may lose, he may turn up injured, but this $11k (and later $35k) purchase was MADE into a champion by the conditioning of O’Neill over the past 90 days. Make no mistake about it, this race was won over the past weeks of early morning workouts (pictured above), Saturday at 6:15pm was simply a formality.

-How many that competed in the 2012 editions of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes ever recorded a work of 7F? One – I’ll Have Another (and he did it twice).

-How many clocked an 8F effort? One – I’ll Have Another.

-How many completed roughly 10 miles of 2 minute licks (or slightly faster) over the past 3 weeks? By now you know the answer to that. Once upon a time this blogger wrote about how a true Triple Crown prospect needed to gallop at a 2min lick, or slightly faster, every day in order to build maximum stamina:

Of course like many horses working on the Derby trail over the past few months he also galloped out strong quarter miles past the wire, so I’ll Have Another actually worked 9F+ 3 times over the past 90 days, 3 times more than anyone else in either field. Probably just a coincidence, right?

Over the past several months this blog has detailed how much further the works are for West Coast based horses compared to those out East, and even predicted a California Superfecta for the Derby. Didn’t happen as CA based horses finished 1-2-5-6, but we were blessed with a California Trifecta for the 2nd jewel of the Triple Crown.

So that’s I’ll Have Another, Bodemeister, and Creative Cause filling out slots 1-2-5 and 1-2-3 in the past 14 days of racing, with 3rd place Derby finisher Dullahan skipping today’s race and 4th place Derby finisher Went the Day (not too) Well coming in a never threatening 10th.

How many times did Dullahan or Went the Day Well work 7F or further? Zero combined.

Now a famous trainer once told me that if a horse paints his tail green and wins the Triple Crown, everyone would head to Home Depot for gallons of green paint. Let me warn you right now, if you start 2 minute licking your horse 4x a week you are going to ruin him, unless he is secretly a graded stakes athlete.

It’s all a matter of intensity of effort; when I’ll Have Another gallops a mile in 1:52 or so, his heart rate never gets above 200bpm, yet his max is near 230bpm. Your colt or filly likely has a 230bpm max value as well, but he’ll need every bit of that to do the same mile in 1:52. Put another way, I’ll Have Another 2 min licks mile at only 80% aerobic effort or so, while $25k claimers are maxed out, aerobically speaking. It’s all relative. You don’t need any recovery time for the former, but you sure do for the latter.

Many are more familiar with lactic acid than heart rate, so I’ll put this another way. When blood lacate levels get above 4 mmol/liter, metabolic fatigue is imminent. I’ll Have Another gallops a bit faster than 2:00 to the mile with blood lactate numbers around 3; allowance horses around 7-10, and claimers near 10+. That is what winning a horse race is all about – doing more work (speed+distance) per unit of effort (heartbeat).

Everyone gets so damned worked up about works, no one pays attention to the gallops. A typical racehorse gallops 8 days for every day he breezes, and aerobic stamina is built at sub-maximal exercise intensities.

I also wrote a few years back how we’d never see another Triple Crown champion until modern trainers started to condition their horses like the old timers:

In that piece, picked up by the Bloodhorse, I detailed the conditioning 1946 Triple Crown winner Assault, and O’Neill himself mentioned that in an interview before the Derby. What the hell I’m drunk to want to kiss the guy, so I’ll claim credit for his upgraded conditioning program in this space.

Also of note, I’ll Have Another got to Pimlico within a few days of his Derby triumph, and TVG just announced he has plans to leave for Belmont tomorrow – where I believe we’ll see a recorded work or two, along with several more miles of the invaluable 2 minute licks over a deep, sandy, heretofore unfamiliar surface.

It’s oh so nice to actually root for a horse to win these big races, as last year’s debacle with Comma to the Top and Animal Kingdom was devastating to this blogger.

On to New York and a place in the history books!-

EDIT: Wed, May 23rd-

Dullahan, who is trained by Romans for Donegal Racing, will not have to make up much ground in order to defeat I’ll Have Another as he finished third, beaten 1 ¾ lengths, in the Kentucky Derby.

Romans said he recently received advice on how to prepare Dullahan for the Belmont’s 1 ½-mile distance from an 80-year-old retired groom who used to work for his father, Jerry Romans.

He told me, ‘Just remember, nature will take a horse a mile and an eighth, but you have teach one to go a mile and a half,’” Romans shared. “We’ve been changing the small things. Like instead of a mile-and-half, we go on two-and-a-half-mile gallops with him and galloping him before we breeze, just little things to try to teach him to go a little further, mentally and physically.”

Well, well – Mr. Romans finally begins to crank it up a notch, will it be too little too late?

EDIT: Tuesday, May 29th:

On Tuesday, reunited with exercise rider Jonny Garcia – who resolved some visa issues that prevented him from getting licensed in New York until Monday – I’ll Have Another completed the final three furlongs of his gallop in 38.26 seconds, according to Daily Racing Form . By comparison, three of the 10 timed workouts going three furlongs on Tuesday were slower than I’ll Have Another’s time.

“If you watch our horse gallop, he’s almost like breezing every day,” O’Neill said. “I don’t think fitness will be an issue.”

Also Mr. O’Neill consulted with Billy Turner, the only living trainer to win a Triple Crown, he did so with the legendary Seattle Slew. Mr. Turner confirmed the importance of getting over the Belmont strip as often as possible in the mornings before the Big Day.

Amen, fellas!

UPDATE: Friday, June 1st: Great take on a typical pre-Belmont gallop for I’ll Have Another (with video) from Steve Haskin at the Bloodhorse:

Suffice it to say, IHA is clocking off 1:52 miles in the mornings at Belmont and will have roughly 12 miles worth under him by post time OVER THE RACE SURFACE, meanwhile Union Rags is still at Fair Hill and will remain there until forced to ship to BEL on next WED.

Read through the comments, it’s amusing to hear all the ‘experts’ talk about how special IHA is and how marvelous these gallops look – yet they looked the same in April and no one said a damn thing about it then.

Derby Champion Trainer: A Tale of Milkshakes and 2 Minute Licks

First of all, every trainer (save Graham Motion) in the 2012 Derby has multiple medication violations on his record – so let’s not condemn Doug O’Neill for his pending milkshake/TCO2 incident.

In a 25 year training career, the recent TCO2 charge in California is only the 4th such violation on O’Neill’s record. The legal threshold of TCO2 in the blood is 37 mmol/liter, O’Neill’s runner Argenta tested at just 39.4 mmol/liter.

This case sounds exactly like the numerous medication positives for other substances that mar every trainer’s record, other than Motion and Jonathan Sheppard. Withdrawal times can vary between individuals, and if you try to play it too close to the razor, sometimes you get cut. Lasix further complicates matters, which will be part of O’Neill’s defense. In fact, there used to be a different threshold of TCO2 allowed under Lasix versus runners running without – no need for that differentiation nowadays of course.

Slightly off topic, but don’t get me started on steroids in horseracing. If testosterone/steroids were so effective, why are Triple Crown winning times, when averaged by decade to cancel out extreme track conditions, less than 2 seconds faster than 70 years ago? Every damn sport that has a performance enhancing drug problem actually sees ENHANCED performance, but not horseracing:

Faster 100m times in track? Check.
More home runs in baseball? Check.
Kentucky Derbies won in 1:58? Nope.

Steroids were outlawed a few years back in the wake of the Big Brown fiasco, yet performances have remained constant, unlike in baseball where no longer are second basemen hitting 50+ home runs.

Think about the horse in nature. If testosterone and other hormones were so important to physical performance, every female would soon perish. As a pride of lions chase a herd of horses, only the slowest ones get eaten – if those are always females, the species would soon be extinct as reproduction would cease.

Horseracing is the only sport in the world where females can outperform males on an equal basis. Everyday a mare or filly beats a group of boys somewhere in the world. Here in the US our last 2 great athletes have been Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra. Currently the best turf sprinter in the world is Black Caviar. Geldings also successfully win at the highest levels of the game. Predominantly male hormones like testosterone just can’t be that performance enhancing to animals of prey, only the predators that chase them.

On to more sunny days, as I’ll Have Another continues his march to the Preakness by steadily knocking out mile after mile of 2 minute licks, with a fast 2F coming down the lane. Normally I would hate the absence of recorded works for a horse prior to the Derby or Preakness, but after personally watching O’Neill’s gallops from the backside the week before the Derby, I feel good about I’ll Have Another’s chances.

I wrote about 2 minute licks and thoroughbred stamina many months ago:

Perhaps the world’s greatest thoroughbred trainer says it better, as Coolmore’s Aidan O’Brien was recently paraphrased:

-He talked about putting heart rate monitors on his horses in the morning and learning how little effort the really good ones made during gallops at 15sec/furlong paces.

-In particular, what enabled his champions to win big races consistently was their confidence that near all-out exertion wouldn’t hurt them. How do they get this confidence? Training faster in the mornings, just below the level of fatigue.

Put into other words; a true stakes-level 3yo colt travels at a 2:00 min/mile pace just as an allowance horse does at 2:20. Both gallops are of equal intensity of effort to the individual, and therefore require similar recovery time, i.e. not much. He actually calls this practice; ‘letting them put their feet down where they want to’ or not artificially rating the horse in the morning gallops sessions.

O’Neill has figured this out, and I hope he is soon rewarded with a Triple Crown champion.

EDIT: “On Wednesday morning, I’ll Have Another had another strong training session here (Pimlico). He galloped nearly two miles, including a spirited quarter-mile through the stretch the second and final time. He was clocked by Daily Racing Form going from the eighth pole to the seven-eighths pole in 28.11 seconds, faster than a two-minute clip.”

P.S. If you don’t wish to read my commercial about an amino-acid based ‘Super Milkshake’ – stop right here. Otherwise continue on to:

for some recently updated statistics on Thoroedge clients at Woodbine and Monmouth Park.
10 starts, 7 in the money finishes – including 3 at odds between 15-1 and 19-1.

Virtual Training of a Horse at Royal Ascot, from Australia

PAUL Messara has swapped his binoculars and stopwatch for hi-tech computer analysis and video downloads to prepare Ortensia for Royal Ascot next month – all from 17,000km away. Welcome to racehorse training 2012-style.

Please read the rest of this article here:

Quite often readers of this blog hear me opine about the topic of scientific training of thoroughbred racehorses, but this piece from Down Under gives the appropriate viewpoint of the trainer himself.

Best of luck to Ortensia and Mr. Messara!-

California Dreamin’ at the 2012 Kentucky Derby

After the Arkansas Derby this blog predicted a west coast superfecta at the 2012 Kentucky Derby, as 4 California entrants, each with more aggressive conditioning regimens behind them, faced off against 16 others relying mainly on 4-5F works. Didn’t happen, but all west coasters ran well, finishing 1-2-5-6.

The pic above is courtesy of Brookdale Farm, who raised 2012 Derby champ I’ll Have Another, and the old guy is my dad, who raised this blogger on trips to Fairmount Park in the early 1980’s. Just an hour before this snapshot was taken, one of these two just won the biggest race on the US calendar on the other one’s 69th birthday.

I live 10 miles from Churchill Downs, and it has been 70+ degrees here since early February – so even with 2 instances of 1” of rain in the 24 hours before the big race, the CD strip more closely resembled the Santa Anita track than anytime since the 2001 Monarchos/Point Given showdown. Groupie Doll, Shackleford, and Successful Dan all set track records on Saturday, while Bodemeister nearly pulled off the greatest wire-to-wire effort in history during the headliner.

But it’s not just the track conditions that led to the west coast dominance Saturday evening. I’ve been singing the praises of the numerous 6F+ works practiced regularly in California for a few years now, most recently after Bob Baffert’s recent success at Oaklawn Park:

For some astounding data to illustrate the differences in west coast vs. east coast conditioning, see here:

I was firmly behind Bodemeister as last week wore on, especially when Baffert didn’t sit on his star colt after arriving at Churchill Downs following a scintillating Arkansas Derby performance just 2 weeks earlier. He breezed Bode TWICE in 5 days, a pair of 5F efforts with strong gallop outs, one over a sloppy track on the morning of the 29th.

We all know that Bodemeister did not race at age 2, but did you know he breezed 26 times before his first race? Thanks to Andrew Beyer and the DRF:

26 breezes at age 2 before ever racing, that sounds very familiar to me as I wrote about the ideal conditioning program for a young horse’s skeletal development years ago:

No one is saying you have to race a psychologically fragile youngster at age 2, but you have to take advantage of this physiological window to build racing bone and strong connective tissues. By the time you get to a chronological age of 3, this window of development is 80% closed.

Mr. Beyer also mentions something here that I have thought of for several months; by and large Baffert’s horses don’t bounce. With such aggressive conditioning Bode was able to back up a huge OP effort with another sterling CD performance 3 weeks later. A necessary skill in a 3yo colt facing 2 more Triple Crown races between now and mid- June. Please read Beyer’s fantastic take on this concept in the link above, noting that Baffert’s Derby winners went on to Preakness glory, while the same cannot be said for the architects of the ‘less is more’ theory: Lukas, Frankel, and Pletcher.

Even better than this year’s Derby backing up my theories on conditioning, was an interview given by winning trainer Doug O’Neill the week leading up to the race where he mentions a few things that lead me to believe he is a valued Thoroedge blog reader-

(Full Bloodhorse interview with 2012 Kentucky Derby winning trainer Doug O’Neill, BEFORE winning the biggest race of his life found here:

Or if you prefer, a quick synopsis of the parts pertaining to the conditioning regimen behind the success of O’Neill and his star colt:

4:37: Mr. O’Neill shows up donning a University of Louisville ballcap, and he’s already on my good side.

4:40-4:50: We see soon-to-be Derby champ I’ll Have Another 2 minute licking around the turn at CD, something he did nearly every day of the week, including on Friday. A decade ago Monarchos did the same.

4:50: O’Neill is asked what he is doing different nowadays with respect to conditioning. Answer: In two previous Derby appearances Doug was just happy to be here, and let up on his horses (‘wrapped them up in bubble wrap’) leading to a couple of poor efforts on raceday. “We are taking a more aggressive and consistent approach” this time around. So far, so good.

5:40: Mr. Haskin notes the 8 week gap between the Lewis and the Santa Anita Derby. O’Neill and his team were afraid of a bounce after such a big effort off a 5 month layoff in the Lewis. But, note these works during those 8 weeks of ‘rest’:

2/4/2012: Big Lewis (G2) win at 43-1.
2/23/2012: 4F/:48
3/03/2012: 6F/1:10
3/12/2012: 8F/1:42.6
3/21/2012: 7F/1:26.2
3/30/2012: 7F/1:26
4/7/2012: SA Derby (G1) wins by a nose over Creative Cause
4/19/2012: 6F/1:13.6
4/27/2012: 6F/1:13.8

*Many of these works came over the all-weather surface at Hollywood Park, and few were blazing fast.

6:00: Note the FLAIR nasal strip worn by I’ll Have Another during his SA Derby win.

8:15: Haskin notes many of these works also had another quarter mile gallop out afterwards, and here is where things get interesting…

8:45: Mr. O’Neill mentions the Triple Crown campaign of Assault and how he worked every 5 days, or more, during his remarkable 1946 campaign. To my knowledge there are only 3 places he could have read about this feat:

  1. My blog entry from 2010:
  2. My fellow blogger, who pointed me to this interview, found at:
  3. Or the actual source of the info, Training Thoroughbred Horses by Preston Burch. This Hall of Fame trainer wrote about Assault back in 1953, and I actually reviewed the book here:

I’d like to think that bringing the attention of Assault’s campaign to the public through the words of Preston Burch, who closely observed trainer Max Hirsch throughout, had something to do with O’Neill’s change of pace with respect to conditioning a 3yo expected to cover 10F in 2:02 or thereabouts on the First Saturday in May. Perhaps not, but a guy can dream right?

As a matter of fact, it was noted in this space previously that West Coast based trainers as a group seem to be working their horses 50% further than the East Coasters these days. Couple that with the weather giving us a CD strip over which several track records were set, and it’s not a surprise that California based horses finished 1-2-5-6 in a field of 20.

Look, this isn’t PETA – the objective isn’t to bring a sound horse to the Derby who runs 16th – it’s to bring an otherworldly fit colt to the gate in an effort to make history, and in the process of doing that some are going to get hurt. We condition our claimers who race a mile in 1:40 with weekly 4-5F works, why do the same with a horse you need to run a mile in 1:36 and still have a quarter left to finish?

The 2012 Breeder’s Cup at Santa Anita could very well be a bloodbath for east coast entries and may very well lead to some trainers forgoing the powderpuff 4-5F works in favor of longer moves for stakes quality stock.

But if this finally happens and dozens of east coast conditioners change their stripes, what the hell will I write about?