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?


About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on May 29, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. As a new racehorse owner, I have learned a great deal from your blog/website about the science behind the path to success in our industry. As an owner who has great concern for the well being of the horses that allow us to share in the majesty of their competition, your research has proven what I had always believed to be true – proper conditioning and good genes make a true champion and that performance enhancing drugs have no place in the “Sport of Kings”. Your articles and research are valuable contributions to the industry and support the welfare of horses involved. I look forward to each new article and each is forwarded to my horse’s Trainer. Thank you Bill.

    • Thanks for the kind words.

      I believe we will see (somewhat) of a return to 1930’s style conditioning over the next few years, with the success of I’ll Have Another being a prime influence. Only permissive medications such as bute and Lasix allow a trainer to short-change a horse on the conditioning end and still get away with it by winning big races.

      I’m sure War Admiral was on a host of drugs back in the day, but they were drugs (like steroids) to enhance the tough conditioning methods employed, not drugs (lasix) to AVOID race-specific conditioning altogether.

      If a trainer was to condition his son to run a 400m race at his local junior high like he conditions his beloved horses to race 8-10F, he would be locked up for child abuse. Likewise, I wouldn’t go to my cardiologist for advice on how to ready my son for a 400m, so why rely on a vet to do so with a horse?

  2. did you say he breeze three times at the belmont distance three weeks leading to belmont.he would get ruled off today

    • He certainly would! – Fascinating to see Romans breeze Dullahan a mile at CD last week, AND suddenly lenghten his daily gallops from 1.5 to 2.5 miles. Of course, this program with War Admiral would cripple 99.9% of horses, today or yesteryear, but he was certainly eased into it. I doubt at age 2 he was accomplishing such a workload.

  3. i wonder sometimes how some of the people that run tracks know what there doing.

  4. I love this site. I have been saying for years that racehorses are not weaker – only lacking conditioning. The story about War Admiral is a great example, and I will pass on. I have a huge advantage over many owner/trainers, in that I can ride my own horses. Unless you gallop TB’s you really have little idea of how easy galloping is for them. Two and half miles of gallop – even at a 2 minute lick – is as nothing. My horse, who I galloped easily at the farm, and decided to try galloping myself at the training center, didn’t exactly run off, but he did resist slowing below a 2-minute lick for 4 laps of the 5/8 mile track. During the last quarter of the 4th lap my horse spotted another horse about an eighth of a mile ahead of us, He lowered his head and started to speed up! Far from exhausted, he wanted to catch up! Luckily, I did manage to get him to slow down, as my legs were like rubber by then.

    • Doug O’Neill says it best with regards to slowing a horse down during a gallop; ‘why not let him put his feet down where he wants to?’ = doing otherwise is a prescription for an injury.

  5. Most important the owners have to be patient an let the trainer do his job,don’t rush all that gets is bad results.

  6. Patrick Mangan

    Excellent post Bill! John Sabini said “Purified oxygen does not exist naturally in a horse.” All oxygen is pure oxygen in the body! It’s only the amount % wise that is different By NY’s outlawing any hyperbaric oxygen therapy within a week of post is detrimental to the health and wellbeing of the equine athletes. Mammals cannot store oxygen in the body any oxygen in metabolic transit is used up in seconds; the major contribution of hyperbaric oxygen is healing. Cell repair is significantly speeded up in proportion to % of O2 available. So I think Mr. Sabini is saying it’s better to mask cell damage with Bute and the anti-inflammatory Lasix than to heal the problem to begin with.

  7. Upon Shackleford’s win at the Met. Mile, Mr. Romans said he was too soft on him the beginning of the year so they worked him harder and he greatly improved. Also that the horse just loves it. The more he does the better he gets. That’s a paraphrase of his comment. I love that horse, always gives all he’s got and has stayed sound.

    BTW I think your picture at the end of your article says it all! That was an inspired moment when you added that to the blog.

  8. Here is what Mr George Conway exactly did with War Admiral between the Preakness and the Belmont: ”Between the Preakness and the June 5 Belmont Stakes, trainer George Conway poured it to the little Admiral. Working at three-day intervals, War Admiral breezed 11 furlongs in 2:22, 12 furlongs in 2:35.40, 12 furlongs in 2:34.60, and 12 furlongs again in 2:34.60, the last move coming just three days before the Belmont.”

  9. Bart Hermans

    Maybe not totally relevant, but a very interesting story about raceday drugs is to be found here http://therail.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/25/alkalinization-lasix-and-milkshaking-a-veterinarians-view/

  10. Louisa Gilder

    In the context of War Admiral’s 11f & 12f works every three days before the Belmont, Michael Matz’s comment about Union Rags’ recent 59-second 5 furlongs seemed extra ironic:

    “After getting his bath, Union Rags reared up twice as his groom led him back towards the barn. Shaking his head, Matz said, ‘Maybe we ought to do that again.’”–DRF, 6/3/12

    • I have been very disappointed in Michael Matz. For some reason I felt that coming from out of the track environment, he would bring a better level of horsemanship. I know from my own experience in training one of my runners for dressage, that it took a full twenty minutes of solid trot work to really just warm him up (5 year old stallion). Five furlongs, even fast, is not much exercise for a horse. Clearly not even enough to take the edge off! Why is that knowledge so lacking?

  11. Mr. Matz is an extremely nice fellow and brilliant horseman, but still has to ‘play the game’ lest he lose owners and horses. Any other bozo trainer sees Matz gallop 2 miles and/or breeze 6F and god forbid anything goes wrong and that is ammunition to use to poach some racing stock. I do have a tentative appt at Fair Hill this summer and I hope to connect with him and Mr. Motion.

    • From what I’ve seen Michael Matz does indeed seem to be a very nice person,

      I am surprised to hear from you that anyone needs to ‘play the game’. How can racing improve if everyone is playing the game in order to be like everyone else and not lose clients? That is the real problem with racing. So many are afraid to do or say what is right.

  12. Doug O’Neill isn’t playing it, but he is able to be more aggressive out West, because Baffert is king and does it that way also. As a public trainer, Matz has to somewhat conform to the East Coast norm if he wants quality racing stock – sad, but true.

    Hopefully with the pending Triple Crown the new ‘norm’ will become more race-specific conditioning programs – I think we saw the first of that potential trend when Dullahan breezed a mile at CD last week.

    • I know what you say is true, unfortunately.

      I realize you are an exercise physiologist, but have you ever considered getting a horse and training it yourself, to prove your point? I am attempting to do it, unfortunately my situation is not ideal. I have a training track in a large field, but it’s not large or safe enough to do speed work – for that I’ll have to haul to Churchill. As fate would have it, my income has been reduced by half due to the economy and that will be a challenge, as it’s over an hour away.

  13. Oh no, trainers must work too hard! – I do consult with several on a daily basis around the world – and things generally turn out quite well on raceday. One of these days I’ll get a TC contender, hopefully. I certainly wish you the best of luck with your project.

    I figured out a long time ago that by helping others to adapt my practices, I can be involved with hundreds of potential racers – whereas a small time trainer only gets his/her hands on a few dozen at best.

    Plus I know nothing of traditional horsemanship; feeling legs, changing equipment, etc. – and I have no desire to spend 20 years learning that craft.

    Put another way: the best basketball coach of modern times is Phil Jackson with the Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers. He taught came strategy to Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, but other experts (who share my credentials) kept those two guys running fast and jumping high.

  14. Many have the fantastic option of using private training centers, and private farms with full size training tracks. One is famous enough that no one would ever pull their horses from him.

    Now, these guys aren’t ALL galloping 2+ miles a day and breezing 6F, but we are taking baby steps. A few outside of the US make liberal use of a high speed treadmill.

    Still others are young folks just staring out, like this vet student in Belgium:


    I believe that some of the youngsters I work with will be the Todd Pletchers of 2020!

  1. Pingback: War Admiral – great article on his training regimen for the Triple Crown | Maureen's Blog

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