“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:

https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/what-is-stamina-or-the-myth-of-the-2-minute-lick/

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:

https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2010/05/17/i-blame-trainers-for-lack-of-triple-crown-winners/

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:

http://cs.bloodhorse.com/blogs/horse-racing-steve-haskin/archive/2012/06/01/haskin-s-belmont-report-another-gallop-not-quite.aspx

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.

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About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on May 19, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.

  1. Excellent article and I agree 100%. Thank you for writing this and I do hope we see history made again.

    • Thanks for the comment. Of course the vast majority of G1 winners are trained less aggressively, heck the vast majority of horses period are trained less aggressively, but ZERO Triple Crown winners thrived on a diet of 2:15 gallop miles and 4F works.

  2. This is a great blog entry! You have an interesting point and the writing style rocks!

  3. Great blog! I love your writing style and you have a good point about the training style. Lol I guess we do a lot of things faster in California!

  4. Great article. I am a strength coach and work with young athletes and some general population folks. I couldn’t agree more with your opinions. There are many people in my industry that don’t understand proper training progressions or how to select workload. As a coach/trainer, you must know your athletes maximums to ensure the stimulus chosen(load/duration/intensity) will create the desired response(improvement). Any thoughts how this insight can be used better in handicapping? How many trainers in USA are following these protocols? I would believe they deserve some special attention on a racing form!

    • Sounds like we have similar backgrounds – I, too, was a strength and conditioning specialist for a number of years. Humans and horses are very different, but some principles certainly overlap. As I am sure you are aware, type A personality humans nearly always overtrain and do too much. No major US trainers use such a protocol, sad to say – but I am slowly changing that!-

  5. jim culpepper

    I spoke to Frank Mitchell, “Bloodstock in the Bluegrass,”. about a week prior to the derby and said that while I didn’t know if I’ll Have Another was the best colt, I favored him because he was staying sound with lots of hard work and had stretch runners all through his kin. I’ll credit your blog for my opinion

    • Nice Jim, I have met Frank a few times and he is an avid Thoroedge reader, a brilliant mind for pedigree and very willing to think outside of the box – plus he wears nice caps.

  6. Pressey gets blogging while intoxicated citation. I was wondering whether IHA was one of those went to the track Sat. morn?

    Interesting what they do with IHA from here! Can the legs deal with 2m gallops every day for 3 wks would be my Q.

    • Of course IHA is riding the knife edge between ultimate fitness and overtraining, but it sure beats the hell out of riding whatever fence that Gemologist, Went the Day Well, El Padrino, and a few dozen others were on.

      Bodemeister was the next horse of the 2 groups that had many furlongs of speedwork in his legs, he’s done quite well too.

      There is a way RR, to determine if you are indeed doing too much, but it requires some extra homework.

  7. While I am sympathetic to some of your claims, it is ridiculous to suggest that IHA is winning these races due to a different training style. There are countless counter-examples that could be similarly used, but would be similarly unconvincing.

    Top-class horses are by far the ones most likely to be able to overcome under-training (and other hurdles). So it would be more meaningful and compelling to focus on lesser runners, and/or those that had been trained one way and then another.

  8. Of course top-class horses daily overcome under-training, many trainers base their entire careers on this fact learned at D. Wayne Lukas’ knee.

    I’ll stand by my claims that every Triple Crown champion in history has 2 minute licked several miles weekly and clocked multiple 1 mile breezes early in his 3yo season. Years ago I wrote that we would not see another TC champ until someone upped the conditioning ante, and lo and behold here we are, although I thought Baffert would be the one.

    If IHA wins the TC with conditioning nearly equal to those in the history books, and is the only modern day horse to put in those miles – and you claim it a mere coincidence, that is your right.

    Admittedly, it’s much more complex than my conditioning angle, but that is my bias. The only thing more ridiculous would be to chalk up IHA’s success to pedigree – but that doesn’t stop dozens of turf writers from breathlessly doing so, and legions of commenters from fawning over them as if they were Justin Bieber.

    I’ve provided examples over the years of (lesser) conventionally trained horses being suddenly trained aggressively (Antrim County in the US and Times Ahead overseas) and yet that doesn’t seem to hold up to your standard of proof either.

  9. That claim isn’t meaningful either, given that there was far more diversity, stamina and soundness in the gene pool 40+ years ago. In other words, pointing to a single variable (e.g. training) doesn’t necessarily imply causal connection.

    I happen to agree that longer (often slower) breezes are generally preferable to shorter, faster works. But horses – like humans – are individuals, and they respond differently to various levels and styles of training. I’ve seen examples of horses turned out between races, given virtually no traditional training, yet succeed at a high (Group class level).

    Again, I’m not unsympathetic, but IHA is the best of the current crop beyond nine furlongs, and I rather doubt that the results would have been different had he not breezed over longer distances.

    • “I rather doubt that the results would have been different had he not breezed over longer distances.”

      So, your position is that if IHA galloped miles in 2:20 instead of 1:58, and breezed 5F every time instead of 6-9F, (just like every other horse in either field, save Bodemeister) that the results would have been exactly the same?

      Meaning, that the physiological structures underneath that support stamina would be identical in either case?

      I agree that deciding whether to walk the shedrow, jog, gallop, or breeze is often predicated on ‘horsemanship’ and the concept of individual differences, but once the mode of exercise is chosen, the rest is cookie cutter. Baffert, O’Neill and other CA trainers will breeze 6-8F and Pletcher, Mott, etc. will breeze 4-5F.

      I never claimed that all horses should 2min lick 4x a week, in fact I specified the exact opposite. But, if you expect to have or develop an animal capable of winning the TC – he or she would (perhaps only in retrospect) thrived under such a workload as the one undertaken by I’ll Have Another, if sound of course. When one considers intensity of aerobic effort, the 2min licks of IHA are metabolically equal to the 2:20 miles of a claimer, meaning if you have an animal of the ability of IHA and you cookie cutter gallop him at 2:20, you are under-working him on a daily basis and hoping that you won the genetic lottery.

      By your use of the term ‘gene pool’ I now realize you are a champion of genetics and that means we will never see eye to eye, as that science of probability isn’t my cup of tea. Genetics merely produces the outer limits of what is possible athletically (nature), conditioning/diet etc. (nurture) determines how close to those limits that one gets.

      Besides, once a foal is born – the role of genetics is over.
      Nurture then takes over for nature.

      Why has the field of genetics not given us a horse that can win the Derby in 1:57? Do you also claim that we are at the outer boundaries of thoroughbred performance and will never see another 2:24 Belmont? Did you feel the same regarding the 100m in track before Usain Bolt came along?

  10. I am not a “champion” of any particular variable; I am eclectic.

    Neither of us will ever know what IHA would have accomplished in the hands of a different trainer, or with a different morning regimen. My point is that his class, ability, and cardiovascular system have allowed him to reach a very elite category, a category that I argue he would have ascended to even with different training.

    He might well have benefitted from the type of training that you promote, but that is simply one variable.

    As you probably know, Allen Jerkens is one of the few remaining trainers to have been exposed to a wide variety of styles over many decades (and probably the best example). He has also had, until recently, good stock with which to work. If the (harder, longer, etc.) training variable is such a big advantage, and pedigrees so inconsequential, then why didn’t Jerkens enjoy greater success over the past 20 years? He (generally) used to work horses the way you promote regularly, in contrast to the 5f. breezes of most other NY-based trainers. And occasionally, as was the case with Devil His Due (to use just one example), he would find a horse that thrived under such conditions. But he never outperformed relative to any reasonable expectations based on his stock.

    Bill Mott has consistently won races over 10-12f. at the highest level in this country. Do you imagine that he would have had greater success working his runners over longer distances?

    With regard to outer boundaries, I neither explicitly nor implicitly suggested that we have yet seen the best. In fact, we are currently witnessing two of the greatest racehorses ever in Black Caviar and Frankel. And so serious observer requires a clock to identify them such.

    • All valid points, I am enjoying this debate.

      Bill Mott is the most conservative of all trainers, hence he rarely even enters the 3yo classics, last year’s Drosselmeyer triumph was his first such victory and he has no starters yet again this time around. Genius with older horses certainly, but will never compete on the TC stage with any regularity because of his methods. It’s tough to criticize any of these fellows, as they are genius horseman MUCH smarter than myself; but that doesn’t make them infallible to the science of exercise physiology.

      To keep things as simple as possible, I assumed that Baffert and Pletcher have access to the same quality of bloodstock and in the same numbers. We are both aware of their respective approaches to conditioning, and their performances at the highest levels of the game.

      You will never see Pletcher breeze a 3yo 6F+, and you will never see Baffert only send a 3yo through a series of 4F works. To me, that throws the ‘each trainer is astute enough to assess how much to work each individual’ out the window. They both train according to their own theories, and submit every individual horse to that program the vast majority of the time.

      Triple Crown performances:

      Baffert – 3 Derby, 5 Preakness, 1 Belmont
      Pletcher – 1 Derby, 0 Preakness, 1 Belmont

      I don’t have time to look up the number of starters for each but I’m that data would widen the gap even further as Pletcher has had nearly 40 Derby starters alone. Also, each of Baffert’s 3 Derby champs also won the Preakness.

      Earnings per start (as of Sept. 2011):

      Baffert – $27,815
      Pletcher – $17,785

      To me this confirms that among modern trainers, more aggressive conditioning leads to more wins on the biggest stages. Certainly not every horse can handle such a regimen, and there are ways to utilize modern science and technology to determine this, something neither Baffert or Pletcher take advantage of to my knowledge. So I guess my answer is yes, Bill Mott would do even better if he adopted the Baffert methods.

      Funny you bring up Black Caviar and Frankel, both of whom do much more than 1.5mile daily gallops at 2:20 pace with a 4F breeze thrown in every week. I was in England and collected this HR/GPS data from a top Euro filly who competes over the same circuits as Frankel:

      Most elite horses on the grounds at Newmarket shoot up these steep 4F hills in interval fashion at 14sec/f or faster, twice weekly, when race fit and in maintenance mode – MUCH more work than even I’ll Have Another.

      • In reverse order, I much prefer the style of training in England (and elsewhere) to that in the U.S. So again, we’re really not far apart in our perspectives.

        The Baffert/Pletcher comparison is an interesting one. Both of them have used drugs (and I don’t mean Lasix and Bute) to achieve a high level of success, and that complicates matters. Pletcher’s numbers (in particular ) in both the TC and BC races reflect this. In other words, due to more stringent security and/or testing, he has often been unable to “treat” his runners the same way in those races that he did/does on a regular basis elsewhere.

        I’m not convinced that training is the likely explanation for the disparity in the numbers you provide. I would need to review the horses that took part in those races, and other contextual factors, before making a judgment.

        I do believe that Baffert (and other CA trainers) have long tended to work horses harder/longer/faster than their eastern and midwestern counterparts, but perhaps not for the reason you imagine. The reason, in my view, is that the original CA dirt tracks were all very hard and fast, and therefore provide greater energy return than those found elsewhere (Monmouth and GP were exceptions). That energy return necessitated that trainers adapt and push their horses harder in order to reach a certain level of fitness. (The poly surfaces also lean in that direction.)

        When Mott and Clement shift from Payson to Belmont and Saratoga, they will work their horses an extra furlong and/or increase the gallop-out tempo for the same basic reason.

  11. oops – should have read “no serious observer…”

    • If I’m not mistaken, Elliot Burch won 3 Belmont Stakes races using the Met mile as a prep race 1 week before the Belmont. Arts and Letters is one of them. That would suggest there is something to bpressey’s argument.

      • Hi Mike –

        That was a very different time, and, as mentioned above, horses were intrinsically much more durable. Woody did the same with Conquistador Cielo, by the way.

      • Not everyone agrees with your assessment Tinky.

        From the Eclipse Award winning piece by Bill Finley, quoting Dr. Bailey equine geneticist at the University of Kentucky: “Many breeders believe that horses have become less durable…40-50 years is a very short time to manifest such an extensive change in such a large population of horses. The onset of the problem is fairly abrupt, and that is more consistent with changes in management.”

        Precisely, the ‘management’ change in question is this ‘less is more’ training philosophy.
        Now if you want to tell me the breed is weaker because of all the legal drug use, I am 100% on board with that.

        But if you want to tell me that genius breeders have been painstakingly planning matings for over 1 million instances in the past 5 decades to create faster offspring, yet are instead creating less durable horses who still are only as fast as those in 1950 – well, that is one thing that leads me to question the industry as a whole.

  12. Yes, we are closer than I realize Tinky. The synthetics are like trampolines compared to dirt as at CD. I chart HR/GPS on both, and the same horse breezing 4F at CD shows the same level of HR recovery after going 6F at KEE.

    I’d like to see more synthetic trainees breeze 7F+ for this reason, and I believe many of I’ll Have Another’s long works were over the all-weather at Hollywood. However, skipping from synthetic to dirt and back is dangerous – one would never due that with a turf runner.

  13. I’m quite sure that there are other contributing factors, including the promiscuous use of drugs and training styles. But with due respect to the ivory tower scientists, it’s hogwash to imagine that breeding hasn’t been a serious contributing factor.

    When I first started to pay close attention, there were runners by Buckpasser, Herbager, Grey Dawn, Big Spruce, etc. These were sires that were (in American terms) true stamina influences. Now, in 40-50 “short” years, the breed (again, in the U.S.) is dominated by sprinters and milers. And the result of that brief experiment speaks for itself. Only a very small percentage of American runners excel beyond nine furlongs.

    Now, the very same dynamic is at play with respect to soundness. Horses are retired after a few starts, and there is absurd inbreeding to unsound sires (e.g. Storm Cat and Unbridled’s Song), and our runners now average 10 career starts as opposed to 35 a few decades ago.

    Hello??

    Also, if it were primarily a management issue, then how do you account for similar declines (though not as radical) in places like the U.K.?

  14. I don’t know enough about breeding (especially overseas) to comment, but I do believe horses in France are conditioned like always (2/3x a week at speed) and the Arc de Triomphe winning times are 12sec faster than decades ago, even when averaging times for each decade to discount track extremes.

    Hell, the Longchamp strip was baked for the last Arc and a new record was set, yet the CD strip was similarly fast and the 2012 Derby time was still a pedestrian 2:01 and change.

    Tough to compare finishing times in EU where they all run that ridiculous ‘sit and sprint’ style, but I still believe that EU trained horses are on the improve with regards to stamina, and the US is not (in general).

    On durability, with the syndication money so huge to tempt the early retirements, it’s too hard to pin that to unsoundness.

    In a vastly simplified manner, here is my problem with relying on pedigree to gift you with 10F of stamina:

    One important aspect of stamina is the level of capillarization within the horse – that is, how much surface area is available between arteries and veins in which blood/oxygen can be transported to fuel movement.

    A genetic marvel may be born with 10 sq miles of such capillaries, while another may only be born with 5 sq miles. Both will improve upon this number as they get older and mature – but both can also improve upon this number thorough miles of aerobic exercise.

    Horse A with 10 sq miles only gallops at 2:20 for 1.5 miles daily, while Horse B gallops 1:56 miles for 1.5 daily. The end result may very well be that Horse B (now at 15 sq miles) surpasses Horse A (stuck at 12 sq miles) in capillarization levels and therefore, has developed more surface area for oxygen transport and resulting stamina.

    Once they are born, there is nothing a breeder can due to impart more capillarization, but the trainer can do so through his choice of conditioning methods.

    Back to the initial argument, regardless of what pedigree gifted to I’ll Have Another, his more aggressive conditioning protocol has allowed him to develop more capillarization within his muscles than his competitors – who could have possibly been born with a higher number.

    Again, a massive simplification of a many faceted concept such as stamina.

    Now, if you want to tell me that excessive fast training can’t improve peak speed in an animal of prey – I’d be likely to concur with you on that, perhaps. But not with stamina, that is trainable to a certain extent.

    • I’d need to see specific data, but I believe that the primary variable in the faster Arc runnings is that the ground has generally been much firmer of late than in previous decades.

      I would certainly alter training for horses that will be racing over longer distances, so our disagreements may be more a matter of the details.

      It’s too bad that drugs (primarily blood doping) has clouded the issue.

  15. jim culpepper

    I should know better than to offer even a peep when Tinky is standing his ground. The circular nature of training fast colts like a slow quarter horse, pedigrees with porcelain bones, and windless wonders who hit the wall at 9 furlongs perhaps obscures how both inheritance and environment impose an interactive performance plateau which cannot be surpassed unless one or both limiting factors are altered. The argentine Criollo racers are left in a common pasture for a month to insure uniform “conditoning,” prior to racing hundreds of miles in a few days, thus to identify superior “individual” genetics as opposed to mere pedigree. Even so, superior environment for the foals probably obscures the testing to earmark the superior individuals. Great comments today.

  16. Great discussion. I am more on Bill’s side in regard to the real changes in the breed — trust me, Dr. Bailey is not the only geneticist to question the “weakening of the breed” theory — but I like the intellectual approach taken by all (a rarity on public forums and comments sections, to be sure).

  17. This is a great discussion. My main focus as a horse racing fan / handicapper are the TC and BC races. On the surface, without delving into many of the spedifics identified in this blog, I would say Derek’s points have plenty of merit. Within the last decade, horses such as Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex, were trained in a somewhat similar manner as I’ll Have Another. Afleet Alex’ workload on a daily/weekly basis was literally miles ahead of his peers. I absolutley believe that the 2 min. licks, longer gallops, longer works (from 6F – 1M) paid off handsomely with conditioning the horse(s). I’d also be curious because behind the scenes, I believe Matz may condition his horses similarly, (Barbaro/Union Rags). That being said, it also seems obvious that to get a horse to win a TC race, the horse has to have a certain class, pedigree and genetic make-up. That you can’t take just any horse and apply these training methods and expect a TC winner. Keep having at it gentleman but I again know that Derek is onto something with his main points.

  18. Sorry. Should have said, agree with Bill’s points.

  19. oh man I so agree with the conditioning IHA may lose at Belmont but it won’t be from poor conditioning I would also kiss Mr O too after a couple drinks too And after reading Secretariat I believe it also mentions the long gallops put into him for stamina building

  20. Let me attempt to get at the “too short of a (genetic) time frame” issue from a slightly different angle.

    First, while any stallion is theoretically capable of siring anomalous runners, the best are prepotent, and tend to transmit identifiable traits to a high percentage of their offspring. That means that it is, for the most part, relatively easy to categorize stallions in terms of their influence on surface preferences, stamina, precocity (or lack thereof), and temperament. Traits can even be parsed out more finely (e.g. Storm Cat typically passed on offset knees, Relaunch got free-runners, etc.), but that isn’t directly relevant to this discussion.

    Now, I could use any of a number of examples to illuminate my point, but let’s look at Pulpit, and his influence. Pulpit is by A P Indy. I watched the latter train and race, and he had a stable temperament. Pulpit was atypical of his sire’s offspring both in terms of his speed and temperament. In fact, his career was cut short in large part due to his highly strung nature.

    As a stallion, Pulpit has notably (and unfortunately) passed on his fragile temperament to a high percentage of his offspring. Setting aside the profound stupidity of breeders who have compounded the problem by breeding mares from hot lines to him, the trait is still easily identifiable.

    Because Pulpit is also a successful sire, his influence can be further traced to his (even more) successful son Tapit. That one also tends to get highly-strung horses.

    While Seattle Slew, the sire of A P Indy, certainly got high-energy horses, some of which were highly strung, that trait was not predominant. So, Neither Pulpit’s sire nor his paternal grandsire passed on that trait in as pronounced a manner.

    What we see, then, is that a single stallion can have an impact on the breed in a very short period of time. And if such a stallion proves to be a successful sire of sires, the impact can be compounded.

    No one would argue that the stallions standing in the U.S. over the past 20-30 years aren’t capable of getting the odd (true) 10-12f. runner, or durable horse; of course they are. But relative to the stallions standing in the 1960s and ‘70s, they are, again as a group, passing on far less stamina and far more unsoundness. Why should this be a surprise to anyone, including geneticists? The typical stallion standing today was lightly raced, and used medications as crutches. Some had corrective surgery as foals (a profoundly stupid procedure), while others had throat surgeries. The same would be true of his sire and dam, and so forth.

    In the ‘60s and ‘70s many breeders were breeding to race, and therefore an emphasis on soundness of both limb and mind was essential. In recent decades, many breeders chose to take the commercial route, and those fundamental characteristics were essentially ignored.

    Sure, there are other factors, but it is incomprehensible to me how anyone could deny the important role of breeding in the sad degradation of the American Thoroughbred over the past 40 years.

    • This is probably a bit off-base but I am preparing for the inevitable after IHA wins the TC and everyone tries to tell me it is completely unrelated to his conditioning regimen – here we are on May 29th and he galloped a mile in 1:52 today, like he will almost daily for the next week plus.

      “Heritability values (h2) >0.4 indicate that 40% of the trait could be transmitted to offspring by mare and stallion. Forty percent represents a high percentage of genetic influence. Performance heritability estimates in racing and equestrian sports are: 0.15–0.55 for flat gallop racing, 0.17–0.26 for trot or pace racing, 0.05–0.28 for showjumping and 3-day eventing and 0.11 for dressage (Hintz 1980; Langlois 1980; Ricard et al. 2000).

      What the above states is that racing performance is anywhere from 15%-55% due to genetics in thoroughbred flat racing, and even less so for other disciplines. Let’s take the middle road and pronounce genetics having 35% of the role in I’ll Have Another’s performance, that leaves perhaps 15% due to luck/rider/trip/gate break and another 50% due to good old fashioned (sort of) conditioning.

      However, when conditioning is cookie cutter: i.e. everyone agrees to gallop 1.5 miles in 2:20 pace and breeze 4-5F every 7 days – genetics is king.

  21. jim culpepper

    I asked the previous equine geneticist at U Kentucky if most thoroughbred breeders wouldn’t do as well by drawing the names of stallions out of a hat and he said “yes, that’s about the size of it.” Your comment should probably be the first article in Bloodhorse, & Thoroughbred times etc. for the next decade.

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