“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.
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.