Monthly Archives: July 2012

2012 Haskell: Round 4 of East Coast vs West Coast Conditioning

If this was a boxing match, the other side would have already thrown in the towel. Thus far the West Coasters are up 7-2 after the Derby, Preakness, Belmont runnings. Only Union Rags stemmed the tide, and he injured himself in doing so.

On Sunday 3 California-based horses make the journey to the Jersey Shore to take on 3 East Coast heavyweights at a somewhat neutral setting. While CA horses train mainly over synthetics at DelMar and Hollywood, Eastern based horses have been making the dirt rounds in the mornings at Churchill and Saratoga, respectively.

Seemingly a perfect setup for West Coast/East Coast rivalry. Thus far the edge may belong East with 2 Derby entries vs 0 for the West, but the 2nd place Belmont finisher Paynter is the likely favorite that will even out the score. Repeatedly during this TC season on my blog, after the fact I boasted of West Coast supremacy during the 3 big classics.

Although the East had many more runners, West Coast conditioned animals took home 7 of 9 placings in the 3 jewels of the Triple Crown.

The 2012 Haskell lineup seems to be a perfect mix of contenders from both coasts:

In the corner for the West….

Nonios, Jerry Hollendorfer: DMR/HP, 6Fx2 over synthetic
Paynter, Bob Baffert: DMR/SA, 7Fx1 at Belmont, 6Fx3 over dirt and synthetics
Handsome Mike, Doug O’Neill: HP, 6Fx4 over synthetic

And the challengers from out East….

Dullahan, Dale Romans: CD, 5F repeatedly over dirt – remember the panicked 1m before the Belmont?
Gemologist, Todd Pletcher: all 5F at Saratoga over dirt
Stealcase, Mark Casse: 5F at Saratoga

My Haskell picks in order:




Handsome Mike



Of course, now that I have pre-emptively pounded my chest for aggressive conditioning, it’s likely the West Coast dominance will come to an end. But we still have the upcoming bloodbath at the 2012 Breeders Cup over the Santa Anita dirt that will entail these East Coast pieces of fine china finally having to ship 3,000 miles and run on someone else’s home turf.

EDIT: (15min after the race…)




Handsome Mike



I am floored to see the stat that Baffert has now shipped and won the last 6 Haskells he has attempted. How much better do you have to be than your fellow trainers to travel 3,000 miles and beat everyone six times in a row? And in this case with his second stringer – Paynter.


On Beer, Bourbon, Union Rags, Oscar Pistorius, and Strong Bones

Oh, I needed a drink after an exchange on the Paulick Report this weekend.

First: I live 15min from the Bourbon Capital of the World – a town named Bardstown, KY – yet I just can’t seem to acquire the taste. Additionally, I love cheap watered down American beers and have never enjoyed any type of dark ale. Then the concoction pictured above entered my world a few years back at a pub in Midway, KY after a meeting with one of the area’s major thoroughbred farms. Fast forward 2 years (and a move back to Louisville) and my icebox is never without Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. It’s costly as a 4-pack runs $11, but well worth it as nothing is more enjoyable than watching a race involving a Thoroedge client and knocking back a beer that has been aged in a bourbon barrel – trust me, give it a taste.

But I digress. This weekend there was a post on the Paulick Repot dealing with the retirement of Union Rags due to a tendon injury:

As is typically the case, the pedigree plaudits of the world chimed in the comment section about inbreeding and several other genetic factors leading to the typical unsound American thoroughbred. That is less than half the picture. Sure we breed for speed and fast horses may often possess (and pass on to offspring) lighter lower legs that aid in stride turnover. But the bone density, or lack thereof, that a foal is born with is only the starting point – conditioning at speed can, and does, strengthen these bones to withstand the rigors of racing.

So, it’s quite likely that modern US thoroughbreds do indeed emerge as foals with genetically lighter lower leg bones that are easier for the horse to swing through the stride cycle, but are also pre-destined to become injured. A current bone (no pun intended) of contention during this 2012 Olympic season is the case of amputee 400m runner Oscar Pistorius:

Some postulate, correctly, that the lighter weight of his lower leg appliance allows for a quicker stride turnover during his races. It surely does. But being handicapped also makes pretty much every other physical achievement more difficult. Please note that the brilliant Mr. Pistorius is by far the slowest out of the starting blocks, just one area that he must overcome due to his predicament.

Back to horses.

I’ll concede the fact that selectively bred horses today start their lives with fragile bones. But a commenter on the Paulick Report thread who purports to be a NY-based owner made a remark that drove me to drink Saturday afternoon: ‘bone density is improved with daily work over time, not speed work’. THIS IS CATEGORICALLY WRONG ON EVERY LEVEL.

Click above to enlarge: Group A is a cross-section slice of cannon bone from one apparently trained by Mr. NY Owner above. Note the extra bone growth to the outside of the shin. That is the spongy bone growth from legging up/daily galloping that led to this subject bucking his shins. Now look at the Group D slide. This one breezed at speed 2x weekly, and the new strong dense bone laid down to the inside of the shin is ideal for racing.

The layman’s explanation is that when you gallop daily at 2:30 min/mile paces the cannon bones hit the ground at an angle, but when you breeze at 13sec/f or faster, the cannon bones strike the ground perpendicularly. Each exposes the bones to different types of shearing forces, and each exercise stimulates different bone growth. Likewise, when bones are stressed so are the associated tendons and ligaments. Simply put, gallops develop gallop bone – breezes develop racing bone.

The attitudes and misconceptions of ‘horsemen’ such as this guy on the PR are as damaging to our wonderful horses as anything. Get a clue. When a Union Rags has his breeze work capped at 5F every 7 days, his ability to maximize his bone density and soft tissue strength is also capped. Genetics has very little do to with it at this juncture and loss of calcium due to use of raceday Lasix certainly doesn’t help matters.

Here are a few horses my family owned/race back in the 80’s before Lasix was widespread:

Great Jason:

  • Starts: 113
  • Firsts: 23
  • Seconds: 16
  • Thirds: 20
  • Earnings: $123,169

Divine Decadence:

  • Starts: 66
  • Firsts: 9
  • Seconds: 10
  • Thirds: 7
  • Earnings: $27,281

King Bam:

  • Starts: 80
  • Firsts: 6
  • Seconds: 5
  • Thirds: 7
  • Earnings: $18,324

Lots of works, lots of racing on the dirt at Fairmount Park, no Lasix, and no early retirements due to injury.

P.S. Holy cow sometimes I am reminded of just how inferior my writing and research skills are; this is a brilliant analysis of the question above (with amazing video):


‘Rocket To The Sky’: Anatomy of an 82-1 Shot Hitting the Board

I would imagine a few times a day somewhere in the US a 50-1+ longshot comes home in either the 1-2-3 slot, but I just happen to be peripherally involved with an instance down at Evangeline in Lafayette, Louisiana this past Thursday, July 12th that readers may find interesting. (click to enlarge above)

The last ‘bomb’ I witnessed in person (where I possessed some inside knowledge) was back at Keeneland last October 28th when 61-1 shot Highlight romped home a winner by 6+ lengths in a Maiden Claiming contest.

My father, as part owner of Highlight, cashed his largest ticket ever in a 50+ year betting career, $3000, that day and hasn’t stopped talking about it since. Highlight went on to run poorly at CD later that winter before another nice winning effort at Oaklawn in early January 2012 – today I got word that he’ll be back here at the track somewhere in the Midwest later this summer, so stay tuned.

As an aside, here is the same lucky blogger’s father with I’ll Have Another mere minutes after his 2012 Kentucky Derby win – some guys are just always in the right place at the right time!-

Back to Evangeline last week; let’s observe some of the similarities between the heroic efforts of Rocket to the Sky and Highlight.

First off, horses go to post at 50-1+ for many good reasons – as both Rocket (EVD) and Highlight (KEE) were making their first starts off nearly identical 10 month layoffs, where most every other horse in the field was in the midst of an active campaign. Both raced against large fields, 13 for Rocket and 10 for Highlight. While Rocket ran a valiant 2nd to a big favorite who he was fighting for the lead throughout, Highlight won going away over the bettor’s choice after a powerful closing move.

Let’s also look at the respective trainers records that the public perused while deciding on who to bet in these 2 races:

Trainer of Rocket To The Sky:          38 starts: 1 win, 2 places, 2 shows

Trainer of Highlight:                             21 starts: 3 wins, 1 place, 5 shows

I don’t know a ton about Evangeline, but when at Keeneland you are entered against names like Greg Foley, Mike Maker, Helen Pitts, and Jeff Thornbury – 21 starts over 11 months doesn’t spur a ton of confidence. I suppose neither does a 3% winning percentage beg for action at any track, now that I see it and black and white.

And for the info you don’t get in the DRF-

I don’t have the published works in front of me for Highlight, but I recall they were few as he was mainly trained off-track in the rolling pastures of a private facility outside Lexington. I was often asked to come by and watch a typical gallop, but never made the trip – to my later dismay. But I have other clients who successfully condition in such a manner, and local rumor has it that recent Keeneland record-setter Wise Dan was prepped via this method by local conditioner Charlie Lopresti. Coming off a 5 month layoff he won the Ben Ali Stakes (G3) by 10+ lengths in a track record 1:46.63 over 9F this spring.

Many months ago I provided detailed HR/GPS charts on a world champion filly training over the undulating turf at Newmarket, and enumerated the advantages of this regimen over a typical flat track-trained US racer:

That was Highlight’s (and possibly Wise Dan’s) edge. But you must be an insider to know the score and cash the big tickets. Similarly, down in Louisiana last week – other than the connections, no one knew that Rocket To The Sky had been fed my STORM racing supplement since early May. More details here:

I’ve had success with Arabians, Harness horses, and many thoroughbreds at top tracks such as Woodbine and Monmouth, but this was my first real test at a smaller circuit with a $5k claimer coming off such a large break. Once again my congratulations go out to the connections, who saw fit to invest valuable time/money into a new way of doing things.

When I got that phone call this week telling me about the positive goings on down in Lafayette – well, let’s just say it made my day. Update: here is the PP showing yet another lifetime high Beyer on STORM (click to enlarge):

Update, August 3, 2012: Rocket made his next start on STORM a good one, running 2nd again at 9-1 – losing by 1.5 lengths again at EVD:


Our Culture of Victimization: Lasix is Welfare for Horses

“Oh these poor horses, their lungs bleed when we race ‘em, so let’s give them a drug to make that go away.”

“Oh these poor people, they are so unfortunate that we should give them food stamps, subsidized rent, and a free cell phone to help them out.”

It’s going to be impossible for me to stick with this analogy without letting my political beliefs seep into the post. Screw it, the mainstream media can’t write a story without their biases shining through, why should a lowly blogger be any different? I love seeing the Paulick Report complain about biased NYT/MSNBC reporting on drugs in horseracing – where is all that outrage when these same outlets lie and falsify information while attacking all other issues that don’t jibe with your liberal agendas?

Now the Ray Paulicks and Jennie Rees’ of the world know how the other half of the country feels reading/watching this primetime propaganda on a daily basis. Welcome to the club. Fun, isn’t it? You hypocrites are supposed to merely report the news, not opine on it like a salesman of a product. Now, take your medicine as you are exposed to the drivel that fills the network airwaves.

Back to the topic. Lasix and welfare are both well meaning ideas that have proven to weaken, not strengthen, the recipients well-being. Watch an episode of ‘Intervention’ some day, when you have a person who is making poor decisions in his life with drugs or alcohol, the last thing to do is further enable that addict by rewarding that behavior. Human welfare creates a culture of victimization where the ‘beneficiaries’ of the aid develop ‘woe is me’ victimization complexes that make succeeding in life even more difficult. I’ve been a 30+ year old who has had to ask his parents for money, it doesn’t do much good for the old self esteem, let me tell you that.

Same with horses; when you address a weakness with an artificial pharmaceutical solution – you only create a culture of treating these horses like pieces of fine china, racing them less, working them less, etc. The result? Horses with brittle bones and swiss cheese like ligaments/tendons that run a big race or two in their careers and then are off to the breeding shed, or more likely the retirement farm. Just yesterday I had a breeder tell me how you have to go easy on today’s horses because we have bred weaker bones into their lower legs in an effort to find ‘speed’. That is only half the picture, the other half is that bones are alive and exercising them at speed makes them stronger:

Just 15% of horses bleed enough in the lungs to be a problem, and probably a like number of humans are truly victims of circumstance and also deserve our help. Sadly, 95% of horses get the diuretic Lasix and hundreds of thousands of Americans swell the welfare doles who are perfectly capable of earning a living. Chaos eventually ensues, as neither is a sustainable system.

The Law of Unintended Consequences is at play in both cases. Human suffering and thoroughbred performance are inherently complex systems, and when a simple-minded intervention is introduced to solve a single issue (Lasix for horses, welfare for humans), well… the rest of the system gets all screwed up. What started out as a noble action has turned into a destructive one. Now, through the most recent Senate intervention into our wonderful sport – the floodgates to government involvement have been opened – I can just see the 2016 headlines now:

“The IRS today hired 1,600 new agents to administer the Uniform Drug Rules for Horseracing Act. (This is not a tax)”

Standardbreds Are a Much Better Investment than Thoroughbreds

Sometimes a ‘win’ isn’t always a win. Video above from our first pacing client shows 8yo gelding Bigtime Ball (#1) finishing a respectable 4th place in the $100k event at Mohawk Raceway (sporting odds of 56-1). He also has a 2nd place finish at 21-1 and a third place effort at 12-1. Twice he lost to superstar Betterthancheddar who recently matched a world record mile over a 5F track in winning 10 of 11 starts.

Like the Arabians, I’ve not much experience with trotters and pacers, but am beginning to enjoy the sport. I grew up near Fairmount Park in St. Louis and began going to the thoroughbred races in 1976 at age 6 where my dad owned several claimers, but never attended the harness events for some unknown reason.

Previously I had researched the conditioning methods of harness horses in comparison to thoroughbreds here:

Once I also worked with a former harness conditioner in the thoroughbred arena here in Louisville and observed his great success developing the 2008 Claimer of the Year:

So, last month I started to wonder about the financial aspects of harness racing in comparison to those of the thoroughbred game and came across these facts from Eclipse Award winning writer Bill Finley in 2008, who answered the question – What happened with the 24 most expensive yearlings purchased?

Standardbreds cost a cumulative $5,617,000 and earned $4,034,493 for a ROI of 71.8%
Thoroughbreds cost a cumulative $31,200,000 but earned $579,621 for a ROI of 1.9%.

How about the overall marketplace?

In 2010:
Standardbred foals numbering 12,200 in North America ran for purses totalling $613 million while thoroughbreds contested over $1.2 billion in monies, albeit competing with a foal crop of 36,100 babies. Therefore, available purses per foal computes to $50,284 per standardbred vs. $33,333 per thoroughbred youngster.

More: Standardbreds avg 17 starts per year, while thoroughbreds avg but 6.

Look at our example in the video above, Bigtime Ball began racing in May 2012 and has made 5 starts over the past 8 weeks – with 1 win, 1 place, and 2 shows. Purses total over $44,000. Lifetime earnings are near $1.5 million with 37 wins – that’s a lot of excitement!

John Carver has it figured out, in spades. He owns near 200 harness racers, along with an interest in many top thoroughbreds conditioned by Jerry Hollendorfer, such as Breeder’s Cup Dirt Mile Champion Dakota Phone and wonder filly Blind Luck – earner of $3 million plus as a $11k yearling purchase.

(Here’s a behind the scenes video of Blind Luck getting a cold laser massage courtesy of Laserman Steve Bourmas at Del Mar – )

Following the model set by Mr. Carver, Thoroedge is going to target an increasing number of Arabian and harness racers to balance out the thoroughbred portfolio – with a goal of having 10 races per week to enjoy at involving client’s entries.