Monthly Archives: August 2012
‘What is the statistical probability of winning two stakes races 3 days apart?’
‘Will the NYRA conduct an inquiry?’
‘Bill Mott, Michael Matz, or Graham Motion would never race a horse on two days rest.’
This is just a sampling of the ignorant, asinine comments from the unwashed masses after Rick Dutrow’s Willy Beamin won the Grade 1 King’s Bishop at Saratoga on Saturday, 3 days after winning the Albany Stakes with his $25k claimer.
Where to begin?
First off, the entire world has horses win big races on such short turnarounds – and it’s never met with the slightest hint of suspicion. Consider Coolmore’s So You Think, the NZ bred worldwide superstar: in 2011 he ran 3rd in the Melbourne Cup a mere 3 days after a victory at 10F and twice previously in his career Down Under won two big races within a week for conditioner Bart Cummings – considered perhaps the top horseman in Australian history. Cummings has won 12 Melbourne Cups in his career, most times those winners also won another big race in the same week leading up to The Race That Stops a Nation.
Even here in the US, Churchill Downs has a race called the Kentucky Derby Trial that is historically contested on the Tuesday before the Kentucky Derby. Today’s race fans probably wonder why it’s not called the Preakness Trial, but in the past it was a stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby as Assault finished off the board in that race 3 days before winning the Triple Crown in 1946. And after winning the Triple Crown was it off to the breeding shed? Hardly, as the Club Footed Comet then won the Dwyer Stakes 2 weeks after his Belmont triumph. That’s FOUR Grade 1 triumphs in 42 days with multiple 8F breezes in between for a chronically unsound horse.
Of course, Cummings, O’Brien, and other top international trainers also gallop their horses further than 1.25 miles a day, and partake of speedwork more frequently than a 4F burst twice monthly, and don’t race on drugs, etc. Here’s what one top Australian trainer tells me:
“I do interval training 7 or 8 days out from the race, with 3 reps at 32kph on a 4 degree incline on my treadmill. Each rep is 2min in duration with a 2min rest between. Then a hard 800m gallop out (breeze) on a Tuesday before a racing Saturday.”
Secondly, perhaps all the criticism is because of Dutrow’s disgusting record of medication violations. Can only he win 2 big races in a week because he is the Frog Juice King of the Eastern Seaboard? Add to the fact that Willy Beamin was a $25k claim five short months ago, and the red flags are certainly flying. It’s well documented that supertrainers like Doug O’Neill with Lava Man and Todd Pletcher with Caixa Eletronica have won millions in purses with these former claimers, but even well respected trainers flying under the radar at other circuits have had great successes on a much smaller scale:
Look, certainly Dutrow is no saint – but to accomplish what he did with Willy Beamin this past week is not unheard of in this game. I think the most appalling aspect of the Willy Beamin saga is that it’s front page news when an American racehorse wins 2 races in 4 days – yet that feat doesn’t even register as a story in other racing jurisdictions around the world, and it didn’t used to be a big deal here in the US, either.
P.S. Quote from Dutrow: “There’s no way I could tell you the how or why of it,” Dutrow said. “So far, what we’ve done works. It makes no sense for me to try to figure it out.” –
This wasn’t the first quick turnaround met with success for the gelding, as he also won the Mike Lee Stakes on four days rest. Here’s why it works with some horses Mr. Dutrow, the concept is known as supercompensation:
Simply put, when an exercise session (or race) stimulates the athlete just right, not too much or too little, he comes back stronger in a relatively short window of time. Typically, a horse must be 110% sound to take advantage of this bounce, and I’m sure Dutrow has miscalculated in the past – but no other trainer even gives it a try.
Remember, just winning a G1 in a fast time isn’t a sure sign of fitness, doing so AND coming out of the effort stronger is what true thoroughbred fitness is all about.
American Aries Merritt won gold in the 110m hurdles this week, and immediately afterwards gave credit to an adjustment to his training program.
Throughout his career, Merritt entered the starting blocks as above; with his dominant (stronger) leg forward in an effort to explode when hearing the starter’s pistol. This practice led him to the first hurdle in 8 steps, but his race performances were inconsistent and the injury bug was always around. Rather than continue to fight the same battles, he changed this offseason to a 7 step approach – which forced him to start from the blocks with his weaker leg forward – a dramatic change in technique.
After some early struggles, he ran world-leading times of 12.93 three times in 2012 before this week’s triumph in London. Prior to the switch, his career best effort was 13.09 back in 2007. Now, what can the US thoroughbred industry learn from this seemingly unrelated sport?
Horses don’t start from blocks, obviously – but they do run around left hand turns exclusively in racing and in training here in America.
According to Florida-based racing consultant Earl Ola:
“America’s dirt racetracks are by necessity slanted down to the inside rail for drainage necessary to facilitate daily racing, plus our banked turns are slanted even more. Slow motion video clearly shows that the right legs of American trained Thoroughbred racehorses always hit the ground before their left legs. This situation is exacerbated by American Thoroughbred’s training and racing counter clockwise (left turn) only. Left turn only racing and training on slanted (one slant) racetracks is the primary cause of our far too high breakdown percentages. Their unbalanced action is further exacerbated by the fact that most American Jockeys and many exercise riders ride acey ducy placing their weight slightly off center on our racehorses back.”
To think of this practice in another manner, NASCAR racing does the same thing – constantly practicing and competing around counterclockwise loops at very high speeds. How do they adjust? THEY MAKE TIRES DIFFERENTLY FOR THE RIGHT AND LEFT SIDES! They also inflate and tilt tires differently on the right and left sides to improve cornering and lower the risk of blowouts.
Now, horses are different than racecars – their bones and ligaments/tendons are alive. When they only make left turns at speed those tissues remodel to support that action – which causes the imbalances that can contribute to injury. But, if not stabled trackside – you can train in alternating directions, like Kenny McPeek does at his Magdalena Farm:
“The course has two steady inclines designed to strengthen your horses’ heart, lungs and muscles. We have the option of training your horse either left or right-handed in order to change their routine. At Magdalena we have many more options, keeping your horse mentally and physically together for a longer period of time.” – http://www.mcpeekracing.com/magdalena.shtml
I believe, but am not sure, that the track is U-shaped instead of oval, which I imagine lessens the chances of someone heading in the wrong direction.
Immediately after winning his gold medal, Merritt credited his new methods for improving muscular power in his previously weaker leg – which gave him a greater balance, improved race times, and decreased injury. I would imagine those things would serve a racehorse just as well.
Coincidentally, this week Steve Haskin penned a neat piece about Medaglia d’Oro and his early work in the Arizona desert:
“He’d go two miles with rings on, then breeze three furlongs in :35 1/5,” Jensen recalled. “You just didn’t see young horses breeze in :35 1/5 after going two miles. It was nothing to him. He had an unbelievable stride. I trained him like I would a 3-year-old.” – http://cs.bloodhorse.com/blogs/horse-racing-steve-haskin/archive/2012/08/09/medaglia-magic.aspx
The article seems to insinuate that those long gallops took place in the desert. Not being confined to a farm/training center in the early stages of his prep served him well, I’d say – it wasn’t too long ago that Stonewall Farm sold their interest in the now-famous stallion of Rachel Alexandra to Darley for $40 million. At one point Stonewall stood both him and Leroidesanimaux, who sired Derby champ Animal Kingdom, a few blocks from where I lived in Versailles, KY. Even that breeding success was not enough to save the farm as it was foreclosed on a few years back and now sells for around $10 million.
I used to jump the fence and jog around that empty farm on Midway Rd., imagining all the world-class horseflesh that used to inhabit those grounds. There is an overgrown training track in the back that would be a perfect location to condition the equine equivalent of Aries Merritt – perfectly balanced, powerful, injury resistant, and a world champion.
Endorsement runs in the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga this weekend without the use of Lasix, vs a full field of those on the drug. Just what are owner Bill Casner and trainer Eoin Harty giving up by racing on just hay, oats, and water? First and foremost, weight – and lots of it.
An oft-cited South African study for proponents of raceday diuretic use gives us the following data:
‘Mean ± SE weight loss during the 4 hours prior to the start of the race was 12.7 ± 0.33 kg (27.9 ± 0.73 lb) when horses were given furosemide (n = 160) and 5.4 ± 0.28 kg (11.9 ± 0.62 lb) when horses were given saline solution.’ – http://www.rmtcnet.com/resources/Study-_JAVMA_Furosemide.pdf
In English: horses given the injection 4 hours to post lost, on average, 16lbs more weight via increased urination/perspiration before ever setting one foot on the track. Important to note that horses not receiving the drug still lost weight in this timeframe, but much less.
How is this possible? Try the following experiment: weigh yourself on your bathroom scale tonight before bed and write that number down. Immediately upon waking tomorrow morning, do it again and compare. You will lose somewhere in the vicinity of 2-4lbs even if you slept a solid 8 hours with no bathroom visit. That’s just your body giving off energy as heat, remember a typical body temperature is 98.6 degrees and your bedroom temps are probably around 70. Humans do it, and so do horses.
Back to the issue of weight loss in the 4 hours after Lasix administration but before heading over to the paddock at Saratoga this Saturday. 16 extra pounds of fluid is lost per 4 hours, or 4 lbs/hour, when using the drug and simply standing still in the stall. Not walking, not jogging, etc. Just standing there. So now we begin the walk to the saddling enclosure, likely 0.2-0.5 miles – tomorrow in upstate NY to be done in 95+ degree weather with high humidity according to local weather forecasts. If a Lasix horse loses 4 EXTRA pounds per hour while standing still, surely we can tack on an extra 4 lbs during the 15 min journey to the paddock.
Now we are at an even 20 lbs weight difference between Endorsement and the rest of the field.
After saddling, and probably some nervous behavior, we now head to the post parade before loading into the gate. No more standing in the stall, no more walking without tack or rider – now we are attached to a lead pony with 115 lbs on Endorsement’s back and begin the jog/canter/gallop phase of a typical warmup before breaking from the gate. I will be very generous here and estimate another 4 lbs of additional fluid loss for Lasix using horses.
As the bell sounds to begin the race, Endorsement is now 24 lbs heavier than he would be if he took that injection 4 hours earlier. The entire 2012 Whitney Handicap field is given weights ranging between 115-120lbs to carry, for reference’s sake. But we are nowhere close to being done as we have 9F to race. How much weight will Endorsement lose compared to the field during that first mile run in the neighborhood of 1:40? To keep the math simple I will assign an extra 6lbs, bringing our total sacrifice to an even 30lbs that Endorsement will cede to the field entering the final furlong.
30 lbs. Nearly 4 gallons. That is what Mr. Casner gives up to the field by racing ‘clean’ and attempting to win a share of the $750k purse. Remember, trainer Larry Jones goes nuts if his fillies are at a 2lb disadvantage. Bill Casner is not alone, here is the full list of owners pledging to run their 2yo this fall without Lasix:
Josephine Abercrombie, Antony Beck, Gary Biszantz, James Bryant, Robert Clay, Nelson Clemmens, Dennis Dale, Darley Stable, Shawn Davis, Adele Dilschneider, Karl and Andrea Donaghy, William S. Farish, John D. Gunther, Arthur Hancock, Seth Hancock, Barry Irwin, Gretchen and Roy Jackson, Stuart Janney III, Corey Johnsen, Juddmonte Farm, Jon and Sarah Kelly, William Koester, Magdalena Racing, Helen Masek, Reiley McDonald, Michael McMahon, Ro Parra, John W. Phillips, Ogden Mills Phipps, Dr. J. David Richardson, Fred Seitz, Shadwell Stable, Bill Shively, George Strawbridge Jr., Frank Stronach, Team Valor International, Waterfalls Stable, Peter Willmott, and Woodford Racing.
Each and every one of those horses will face a similar 30lb weight discrepancy forgoing the use of diuretics. Now, when the race is over and they’ve lost a cumulative 40lbs instead of 60+ – the advantage swings in their direction as logic dictates it’s much easier to recover after a big effort if you haven’t lost in excess of 5% of your bodyweight. Endorsement should be ready to run again sooner than the rest. But what does that matter if he runs dead last?
Interestingly enough, there is a movement out there aiming to saddle Lasix users with additional weight on their backs, but the penalties being discussed are a minor 3-5 lbs, which is insignificant in my opinion based on the above figures: http://www.bloodhorse.com/pdf/TheIdealBalance08042012.pdf
Suffice it to say that Endorsement will have to be 3-5% better than the rest of the field to cash a check tomorrow. He’s got 2 Grade 3 wins to his credit, one with and one without Lasix, but thus far has faltered at the Grade 2 level and the Whitney is a major step up in competition. However, he fired a big bullet 2 weeks ago in his first work at SAR :
That didn’t bode so well for Dullahan prior to the Belmont, but we’ll soon see how Endorsement fares in the capable hands of trainer Harty.
Endorsement also has a few longer works over the polytrack at Keeneland:
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Those long works sure have done the trick for I’ll Have Another, Paynter, and Bodemeister – but Endorsement is facing an uphill battle in the 2012 edition of the Whitney. This blogger would like to see someone prove it can be done on the largest stages of US racing without the crutch of Lasix, and wishes the connections nothing but the best.