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.


About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on May 14, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Bill, what were the training protocols when the horses were running poorly by comparison to the recent good runs? Have their training regimes changed or is it your belief that the increased performances are solely down to Storm?

    • No change in training whatsoever Colm, my role with these is strictly in providing STORM. A few may have benefited from a surface change and/or class drop – but the vast majority both worked and raced much better than in the past since beginning supplementation. Same owners, same trainers, same tracks, etc. Several were also making their first run of the year, and seem to be several weeks ahead of where they should be. Will be interesting to see as the year progresses what happens…

      Another dozen horses began the program in May.

      • Interesting results then Bill.

        If your trials keep proving positive, it would be interesting to combine it with a glycogen loading protocol for longer distance races. I know we have differing beliefs on glycogen loading 🙂

      • I’d be happy to combine the two concepts. Do you weigh your horses pre and post glycogen load? If they were to stuff their muscles full of fuel and not gain 30lbs of water in the process, I suppose I have nothing to worry about!

        If you don’t mind, could you specify a bit about what your protocol entails with regards to the timing of feed and exercise?

      • On another note Colm; have you done any trials with an ATP regeneration formula? Additionally, any luck with getting your horses to absorb and utilize creatine?

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