ThoroEdge in ESPN The Magazine: Is I’ll Have Another Born or Made?

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.

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About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

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

  1. I love your analyses.

  2. I’ve found it rather difficult to get a handle on exactly how much O’Neill is doing with I’ll Have Another since arriving at Belmont. I thought he was very clever to bring him immediately to Big Sandy to familiarize him with the track. On most days, however, I get the impressin that his total mileage is only 11/2 miles max, with 1/2 mile or more of that jogging with Lava Man beside him, then breaking off alone for a 3/4 to 1 mile gallop, the last 1/4 to 3/8ths at a clip of around 14 second per eighth. Is this also your impression or has IHA been doing more than this? If my impression is correct (and it may not be) I question whether this is enough to allow him to hold his stanmina over a 3 week period while asking him to stretch out an additional 1/4 mile in the Belmont. I would suspect some decline in his conditioning with such a regime. Now, conversely, if he is putting in more mileage (ie 2-21/2 mile) every 3-4 days, interspersed with 3/4 -1 mile gallops at around a 14 second pace every 4 days or so, I can see that. It does concern me, however, when he has not been reported to have never galloped more than 1 mile on any occasion since the Preakness, that he may come up a short horse when the real gut check occurs in mid stretch. Hope I’m wrong, but can even a very fit horse hold his conditioning for 21 days with such a program (again, if my impression is correct), never mind be prepared to stretch out a further 1/4 miles?

    I recall being at an interview with D. W. Lukas after Big Brown’s Belmont attempt. Lukas, ever the entertainer, was enjoying the attention of a rather large gathering in the Belmont stable area after the race. A lot of what Lukas says must be “considered carefully” and not necessarly taken at face value, but he said a couple of things which struck a cord with me and which I believe today; He said, and I paraphrase: “I haven’t always sent the best horse to the Belmont, but I have always attempted to send the FITTEST horse; you rest your horse AFTER the Belmont, NOT BETWEEN the Preakness and the Belmont.” This all raises the question for me, “has O’Neill beeen doing enough with IHA to allow him to be in peak form for the 11/2 mile Belmont?”

    Your thoughts, if you don’t mind.

    Thanks for your time and input. I very much enjoy your well written blog.

    Murray

    • Hello Murray, thanks for reading, the compliments, and a very useful analysis above-

      I’m torn as well on this subject, but he’s still doing more than every other Preakness entrant, except perhaps Dullahan. I spoke with a Lukas disciple just last month at Keeneland, and he confirmed what I had always suspected, D Wayne liked to play possum when it came to training – his typical gallop days approached 2 min lick territory quite often.

      Getting to an unfamiliar surface literally the day after the Preakness is surely a move in the right direction, physiologically. Regardless of conformation, galloping in the neighborhood of EIGHTY furlongs over that sandy surface must give him an edge over a Union Rags who had to be forced to ship into BEL just days before the race. I understand the horseman’s concept of keeping them in familiar territory, but I believe that such a unique surface requires acclimation in order to excel.

      The main point of my blog over the years is that all of this guessing if IHA is fit enough is unnecessary in 2012. Using my tools, I would test the blood lactate of I’ll Have Another after each of his gallops, and would have done so since January. Let’s assume each gallop is precisely 1 mile in 2:00 flat, or 8 consecutive 15sec furlongs. Prior to the Derby, he probably could achieve this with a minimum of lactate buildup – I would guess around 3mmol. Certainly he then wins the Derby and all is wonderful. We have an individual metabolic blueprint of sorts to know when he is ‘Derby fit’. Ideally, he’d improve over the next few weeks and through the Preakness.

      Now fast forward to this week and more of the same gallops. Is his blood lactate level still at 3?
      Or is it 2.3?
      Or 4.7?

      At 4mmol most horses start to accumulate lactate quite quickly as they lean on anaerobic metabolism, and fatigue is imminent. These differences are much too subtle for even the most skilled horsemen to gauge. If you learn early enough that things are awry – you can adjust with more (or less) work as deemed necessary.

      Thus far the O’Neill team has guessed correctly near 100% of the time, but guessing will always get you in trouble, eventually.

  3. For the record, IHA is only training at speed (i.e. out of a walk/jog) around a mile since arriving at Belmont. He is also NOT getting the mile at an average of 15sec/furlong. His first couple of furlongs are at an ordinary pace, and he is then open galloping (14/14c) through the stretch.

    I don’t question his fitness, but Dulluhan has been doing more, and, in my view, has been better prepared for the race. If it comes down to a test of stamina in the final furlong, as is likely, I expect that Romans’ horse may well prevail.

  4. I am still looking for your book! I thought i looked everywhere but maybe I missed something…I really want a copy as soon as I can get it.
    Thanks

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