Monthly Archives: June 2012
So Big is Better (A) jets to a 7+ length win at Delaware Park in 1:17.3, just 0.3 off the track record set by his sire, Burning Sand in 1990. Video here (he is the nearly white runner wearing bib 2B):
2 weeks earlier he had shipped out to Arapahoe Downs and won by 5+ over the same distance at the handicap level. You may remember him from the Preakness undercard where he ran 4th in the Grade 1 President of the UAE Cup after just 6 weeks of training (off a 6 month layoff) and 4 weeks of STORM.
Much congratulations to trainer Scott Powell, the first Arabian client of Thoroedge and STORM – but hopefully not the last!-
Arabians are of particular interest to me as genetically they are less prone to having high muscular carnosine levels, therefore beta-alanine supplementation stands to have an even greater effect, theoretically speaking.
DRUGS VS SUPPLEMENTS IN HORSE RACING
A lot has been made in the mainstream press lately about the ‘frog juice’ drug violations down in Louisiana. Much like cobra venom, frog juice is used to kill of any pain felt by a racing animal, as well as to interject a feeling of euphoria.
I think we can all agree that use of such substances is cheating and unkind to these wonderful animals. Easy.
Next we have the always boiling controversy about Lasix, a diuretic used to lessen the incidences of bleeding from the lungs in equine sports. Proponents of the drug call it a therapeutic method to make racing less rigorous on the vulnerable pulmonary system of the horse, opponents term in a performance enhancer. Not so easy to judge.
Lastly, we have purely nutritional interventions like STORM, an amino acid supplement to the daily ration that also includes some carbohydrates. Protein and carbs, staples of any human performance diet.
Here’s a convenient line to draw: any substance NOT typically found in the horse’s natural diet meant to OVERRIDE physiological warning signs (such as pain or bleeding) so that a horse can run faster and further is a drug, plain and simple. I don’t care how you justify it, legal or not, these are purely pharmaceutical interventions.
Or, how about this? Anything you treat a horse with 4 hours before post time is a drug meant to improve the upcoming performance. That seems to be a simple delineation. Even better, anything you treat a horse with that is evident in the urine or blood before/after the race is a drug. Who the hell can argue with that?
Now, onto food supplements.
The first step is making sure whatever supplement you use is actually getting absorbed by the equine gut. That is not the case with creatine according to 3 separate studies. Which is not too surprising because in nature creatine is found in meat, and….
Unlike humans, horses are vegetarians by nature. But, we are forcing them to be athletic – training and racing (often under the whip) to run increasingly further and faster. We expect them to emerge from breezes and races stronger, sounder, and possessing more endurance. One of the prime nutrients that a human ingests in order to be athletic is protein. The typical equine diet is very low in protein, as it should be, because horses are not carnivorous. However, this lack of protein is not good when you are attempting to develop an athletic horse. Humans who race increase the amount of protein in their diet in order to repair muscle damage in an effort to get stronger.
One of my major clients is a member of the ‘hay/oats/water’ crowd, yet runs all their horses on Lasix and Bute (and testosterone in the old days). The racing manager refuses to consider any type of nutritional supplementation – and in doing so, has guaranteed that his horses lack some of the nutritional building blocks necessary for athletic development. They still win races all over the world, but could be doing much better by their stock.
So, with the increasing effort to ban drugs like Lasix from the racing game, let’s take this opportunity to ADD supplements to the daily ration that support the unnatural demands we are putting in front of our animals.
In summary, drugs are short acting and meant to override physiological signals telling the horse to stop, yet correct nutritional supplementation takes place 2-3x daily (in the feed) over the long term to provide the raw materials that support the development of athletic horses.
Don’t take this post as any form of slight to the winner; Union Rags went under the wire first and is the rightful 2012 Belmont Stakes champion, accordingly all his connections deserve the accolades streaming in their direction.
Most of us can agree UR had a pretty nice trip around the Belmont oval – above is an image captured during the final turn; UR is near the rail in the yellow silks with a box around him, and my clumsy clipart arrow is added to indicate the principal direction of the wind resistance. Same below with I’ll Have Another in the box during the final turn at Pimlico 3 weeks earlier:
Once more, we see the primary direction of wind resistance in relation to the pack of horses coming around the final turn in the Preakness Stakes. It doesn’t take a PHD in physics to realize that both eventual winners had the benefits of running under cover throughout the final turn in each race, catching a much-needed breather before kicking for home.
Recently a study quantified some of the advantages for horses that draft behind others in a race. Much of the article was too simplistic in its approach, but a few statements shine a light onto the physiological benefits associated with such a practice:
“Contrary to popular perception, the final sprint in fact sees a slowdown, rather than an acceleration, for the horses are tiring. The horses that win are in fact those that slow down the least over the stretch run. Conserving energy prior to this point through drafting is what counts. By reducing aerodynamic drag by 13%, a horse can increase his average speed throughout the race by 2%, an effect that is worth an average of 3-4 finish positions.”
As you can imagine, drafting is common in many sports outside of horse racing. Auto racing, swimming, speedskating, and running utilize the method. The practice is perhaps most obvious during bicycle races, where it is called ‘slipstreaming’:
Drafting to lessen the effects of aerodynamic drag is such an advantage that many races, especially triathlons, forbid the practice during competition, penalizing those that race too close behind a competitor.
Back to the horses, when a horse is running there are 2 major impediments to motion that must be overcome – the friction of the running surface and the dragging forces of the air. Air drag increases as speed increases, and the larger the surface area of the item attempting to move through the air is also a major factor – perhaps one reason why jockeys crouch behind the necks of their horses.
However, humans and horses have many differences that affect the use of drafting. Some horses prefer to run out in front of the pack, and following too closely can result in clipped heels. In order to maximize energy conservation through drafting, a horse must be able to relax while following others for a large portion of the race.
The main disadvantage to drafting is that a horse will often get a ‘bad trip’ and kill any chances of a win due to traffic problems. Therefore most everything has to go right for a colt like Union Rags to make his final run – and that didn’t happen in the Kentucky and Florida Derbies so the jockey took the heat for each loss.
I concentrated on the turns in the 2 screen captures above because I was unable to find a head-on video during the backside. Looking at the final turn at Churchill during the Kentucky Derby, Bodemeister was quite far in front, and the others who eventually came running ended up spread out during the turn itself.
What has been mostly missed in the Triple Crown season is the fact that Bob Baffert trained horses finished second in each race, after leading the entire way. The opposite side of the drafting coin is what happens to the leader, who must cut through the air resistance without any help from others. If drafting behind horses decreases the effects of drag by 13%, leading the field increases the effects of drag by an equal number.
How does Baffert condition a horse to essentially serve as his own ‘rabbit’ in a race? 4-5F breezes?
Nope, Paynter’s last recorded work in the DRF:
7F in 1:25 on 6/3/12 over the Belmont surface
So, it’s safe to say that Bodemeister in the Preakness and Paynter last weekend spent over 90% of both races exerting quite a bit more physiological energy than the eventual winners. To my knowledge, none of the Beyer/Ragozin/Thorograph numbers gurus factor in drafting when computing their figures – instead much of the emphasis is put on distance covered and overall wind speed.
Paynter, in my opinion, in losing to Union Rags by less than a length AFTER leading nearly the entire race, should score better than the winner on these handicapping grade systems. Likewise, he earned the right to shut off the rail during the final furlong, alas pilot Mike Smith did not do so.
A bit of a different post, but somewhat appropriate as a public auction is scheduled for late June on the above property just outside of Borden, IN – roughly 30min from downtown Louisville. Previously being offered as one big package for $800k, now a days you can bid on what you want – a 6,000 sq ft main house with pond/pool/lots of acreage, or a par 3 golf course, or a 6F dirt training track/several barns/caretaker’s home/acreage.
More details from an earlier post:
Certified for workouts to be published at DRF/Equibase, Wheeler Training Center is now on the market for the first time in 20+ years, even as slots fueled Indiana purses near $35k for MSW.
Where to begin? Three quarter mile dirt/woodchip training track with starting gates, probably needs some work on top layer of surface. Caretakers home, equipment sheds, several barns, 40+ stalls, 200+ acres overall, par 3 golf course, currently operating bar/restaurant, and a 6000+ square foot home with private lake. For those of you familiar with the area, this land is about 10 miles up the road from Cook’s Training Center on Indiana Hwy. 60 towards Borden. Less than 2 hours ship time to Keeneland, Churchill, Indiana Downs, Hoosier Park, and Turfway.
Let me know if you are interested and I will put you in touch with the trainer that currently resides at the property. The owner is fielding offers from commercial interests that would bulldoze the thoroughbred operation, so this is a last ditch effort to get some horse people involved.
My email is email@example.com and I have roughly a dozen more detailed photos that I can send to interested parties.
Mainstream, baby! I was interviewed by Peter Keating for ESPN The Magazine just last week, and the issue hit the newsstands today in central Kentucky. Look to Page 10 for the article, where Mr. Keating helps me to address the cause of our potential Triple Crown champ’s success: nature or nurture? (Not a public piece, so you have to have the actual magazine to read the entire work, I can’t link to it.)
For not being a horseracing writer, Keating did a great job of illustrating several points that have been detailed in this blog over the past several years:
1. Speed is overvalued in the marketplace, stamina wins classic races.
2. Harness racing has improved their 1 mile race times by 12sec in the past 70 years, while thoroughbreds are only 2sec faster at the 1.25 mile Derby distance. Trotters and pacers train for stamina.
3. Doug O’Neill breezed I’ll Have Another 7F+ 3 times in the Spring, while no other TC contenders did it once. (Dullahan added a 8F work last week at CD, quite possibly the first that Dale Romans has ever ordered for a 3yo colt.)
4. I’ll Have Another has completed dozens of miles at 2:00 pace or a bit faster in the past 6 weeks, while all others continue to gallop at 2:15-2:30 paces.
Back to the nature vs nurture question, or breeding vs conditioning. You know my position, but let’s go to academia for some hard data:
‘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).’ – http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.2042-3306.2010.00299.x/pdf
Here the influence of nature/breeding is quantified: a range of 15-55% for US racing on the flat. Let’s split the difference for simplicity’s sake: only 35% of demonstrated athletic ability in US thoroughbred racing is due to genetic influence. The rest is nurture/conditioning/diet/equipment/etc.
So, when every single trainer sticks to 1.5 mile gallops at 2:15 pace and weekly 4/5F breezes – he/she puts limits on what can be achieved through conditioning – and genetics dictates who crosses the finish line first.
The I’ll Have Another team has bucked that trend this year – and should be rewarded handsomely as an$11,000 purchase is 12F away from being worth $13,000,000 (or more).
EDIT: Let me qualify my position somewhat. In an animal of prey such as a horse, peak ‘speed’ is likely quite inheritable and difficult to improve via conditioning, but ‘stamina’ is much more largely impacted by exercise decisions.