Turf Miler Conditioning: AU vs USA – Pierro vs Animal Kingdom

Pierro prepares for the Group One Caulfield Guineas over 1600m by going his final eighth in 10.38 seconds, FOUR DAYS before the big race. Video here:


Occasionally the stars align and we have the opportunity to compare apples to apples around the world in terms of racehorse conditioning, and it provides quite a contrast in styles. Have you ever seen a US turfer prepare for a Grade 1 by breezing a final furlong in sub 11sec the week of the big event? Yet it happens Down Under all of the time, and here is why it’s a good thing:


Of course, Animal Kingdom is still 3 weeks out from his BC Turf Mile, but we know what we’ll see from him based on past efforts. And when it comes to the frequency of racing, Pierro is no outlier – here are the past performances for today’s race in Australia (jump ahead to Race 7):


10/14/2012 – G1 over 8F
9/28/2012 – win at 8F
9/1/2012 – win at  6F
4/28/2012 – win at 8F
4/14/2012 – win at 7F
4/7/2012 – win at 6F

Today will be his 3rd race in 6 weeks, and earlier in the spring he ran 3 times in a span of just 21 days.
Meanwhile Animal Kingdom again races off a huge layoff – details in earlier post:


So, Australian turf sprinters train faster and closer to their races, and they race more frequently, but US horses racing over turf breakdown 3x more often:


And yet the focus here in the US is on anything other than equine conditioning as the latest headlines attest:


These initial rule changes – allowing voiding of claims of horses that are vanned off the track after a race, requiring disclosure of corticosteroid administrations and treatments to stewards and claimants, expanding the Racing and Wagering Board’s out-of-competition drug testing program, implementing stricter and lengthier timeframes for the administration of corticosteroids and Clenbuterol before a race –  will apply to all Thoroughbred racing in New York state, including Saratoga Race Course, Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Finger Lakes Race Track.

More here: http://www.paulickreport.com/news/the-biz/ny-officials-adopt-new-safety-recommendations/

Of course, Australia doesn’t have strict drug laws to ‘protect’ their equine stars – as there is no need because nothing is allowed on raceday. Pretty simple solution.

We need more damn race-appropriate exercise, the numbers don’t lie.

But no, only our 2yo breeze up sales stock goes as fast as Pierro – and they are nowhere near ready to do so in many cases.

UPDATE: Pierro suffers his first loss, as he’s run down by All Too Hard in the last 50m. After a slow start from the 7th position and a 4 wide trip uphill through the first turn, the formerly undefeated colt had a bit of his closing kick sapped. The next big race for him is at Moonee Valley, in just 2 weeks time.

Do you think Animal Kingdom will ever run again after early November, win or lose?


About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on October 13, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 28 Comments.

  1. What do you think of this performance? 🙂 This is Velká pardubická Steeplechase, which was run earlier today, won by Orphee des Blins, a 5yo mare:

    By 16 lengths, they say!

  2. Phillip Haycock

    Thats a very nice horse,
    Here are some stats for that sprint to the post (taken from the video)
    Stride rate 2.5 strides per second average
    Stride length = 7.7- 8m (25-26ft) at peak speed of 70- 72 kmhr (1:23+ mile pace) @ 2.5 strides per second.

  3. what do you use for that analysis? some kind of video capture software like Dartfish?

  4. Phillip Haycock

    I use a simple digital camera filming at 30 frames per second. I convert the video to .wmv and open it in Windows movie maker which most versions of windows have.
    Then its just a matter of counting frames required to complete one stride and dividing 30 by that number for stride rate.
    Stride length is simply meters per second divided by strides per second etc.
    The meters per second is worked out from the section time which gives an average speed.
    In this case Ive offered a range of stride lengths on the basis that the horse may have had a burst of finishing speed higher than the average of the sectional and this speed may have been provided by increased stride length rather than stride rate.
    The opposite may be the case but whichever the case the numbers are similar and spectacular.

    I havent as yet filmed a horse with a stride rate higher than 2.5. and I certainly haven’t seen a stride length like Pierro’s.
    This system is fail safe for live filming however there could be small errors when filming a film depending on the quality of the origional film. But the variations will be small.

    • Hi Phillip,

      In terms of stride length, do you have a recording of Black Caviar from the Diamond Jubilee? She ran poorly in that race, but I am fairly certain I have read somewhere that she has one of the longest strides ever.

      • I am interested in stride turnover; you mention that 2.5 strides/sec is the top you have seen – how big is the range of values? Do you see improvement in this number with training/experience/fitness?

      • As far as black Caviar is concerned, I recorded her stride rate at Royal Ascot at 2.3 for the first 5 furlongs and it dropped to 2 at the post.
        The horse that came up the inside on the rail I measured at 2.5.
        Personally I thought 2.3 was low for that distance but my interest was in the fact that her stride rate dropped by 13% if my math’s is correct.
        This suggested to me at once that she was injured and of course the way the jockey nursed her across the line gave a clue also.
        I couldn’t measure her stride as I didn’t have any sectionals and as I said I wasn’t happy with the stride rate numbers being accurate but was satisfied that her rate did drop 13% whatever the actual rates were.
        She may have such a massive stride that she can do 45mph at 2.3 strides /sec but these numbers would give her a stride of 8.7m.???

  5. Stride turnover/rate is something that I’ve only done so far to compare various individual horses and so far I haven’t used it to measure an individual horse’s progress.
    The horses I’ve filmed range from 2.3 to 2.5 at full gallop at around 40mph.
    I’m not sure if training or fitness has any effect on max stride rate but I have had a look at some of my own horses videos on the treadmill ( which does distort stride rates and stride length) and I’ve seen a vast improvement in both over an 18 month period from 2 1/2 yrs to 4 yr old. This horse did extreme amounts of work in this period but it’s possible that the horse was a very late developer and the improvement may have been due to maturity.
    Having said that, I suspect that treadmill work on an incline may modify a horse’s hind action.

  6. Phillip Haycock

    I’ve just got home from the races and I filmed a few seconds of the finish of a 2200m race. (1,3/8mile) It was a rating 75 HCP Min wgt 54kg( 119lb)
    The race time was 2:19.42 average speed 946m/min or 1:42 pace.
    The winner past the post with a stride rate of 2.3s/sec the second placed horse finished strongly with a stride rate closer to 2.5. There was a obviously long striding horse in the first 5 horses with a stride rate of 2.22.
    These numbers give the winners average stride length of 6.8m or 22ft 4 inches
    That is 2200m / 139.42 sec = 15.77 m/sec ave speed, divided by 2.3str rate = 6.86m average stride.

  7. Just one more note on this before I start to bore you, If you know or measure the distance between the vertical posts that support the running rail on the home straight or anywhere on the course for that matter (typically it may be 4m) then you can count the frames that a horse uses to pass between these posts therein giving very accurate sectionals. Once you have these sectionals you have speed and combined with the stride rate you have stride length.
    Once you have these 3 things you start looking at race horses in a new light and it becomes clear which horses in your dreams you may want to own or train and those you wouldn’t.
    To me the most unfortunate horse is the big stayer that could run the race twice over at 2.2 stride/sec as compared to a nice average type of athletic horse with a good action that can sprint home with a stride rate of 2.5 but cruise on the pace at 2.3.

  8. Are you able to tell me stride rate of pierro . any help would be great. thanks

  9. I like that Philip, too often horsemen look for extremes: huge heart, big stride, etc. when quite often its the horse that is above avg, but not excellent, at nearly all factors that runs the best.

  10. Phillip Haycock

    Ill have a look at Pierro today.
    Id incourage horse people who grew up before this cheap computer and camera stuff was around to get their children or other younsters to show them how to do it. It really is simple.

  11. Phillip Haycock

    I’ve just realized I’ve done this horse already. But it was good to have another look.
    The video I used is one that I filmed from the clip that Bill has posted.
    The numbers I quote will be dependent on the quality of that clip in regard to replay speed.
    Over 4 strides Pierro used 48 frames which is 12 frames per stride at 30 frames per second camera speed.
    30 divided by 12 = 2.5 strides per second which is what I got the first time.
    Then I took some guesses and came up with some extra data.
    I estimated that the rail posts where 4 meters apart and his time between each is six frames.
    That’s six 30ths of a second per 4 meters, or (30 divided by 6) x4m = 20 meters per second ( 1;20.45mile pace)
    20 divided by 2.5 = 8m stride length (26 ft)
    These stride and speed numbers are based on those posts being 4m apart so if they are closer Pierro’s numbers will be lower and if the posts are further apart his numbers for speed and stride length will be higher.

  12. Good thing Polar HR monitors come with stride sensors 😉 I’ve never put mine on a horse. Bill, have you?

    • I have not KH, but I’ve heard of others who have done so. The new version of the Etrakka comes with stride length calculations where they have worked out the avg racehorse has a stride of 6.2 meters when travelling 50kmh. In US non-metric terms that is roughly 20 feet at a 2min/mile pace. Now they certainly stride longer when going faster, and also turnover increases markedly with speed. What I hope to identify is that one of these two factors – either stride length or foot turnover, improves more than the other with conditioning.

  13. Phillip Haycock

    Very interesting point about conditioning and these variables Bill.
    I’ve just yesterday experienced a surprising event.
    I put 2000km of treadmill work into a horse now 4yrs old. During this time she was ridden occasionally.
    Once finished the mill work she spelled for 3 months in light work and then went into faster work under saddle.
    On the mill her max stride rate at 1;28 pace was 2.4 to 2.45 which works out to a stride length of 7.5 m (treadmill only).
    Under saddle at 2:00 pace her stride rate was 2.3, with a stride of 6m carrying 209lb up a slight incline.
    Then after 4 separate daily workouts at 2:00 pace her whole way of going started to change and she put in a 1:34 dash with a stride rate of 2.7 (11 frames at 30 frames/sec. The camera has 3 shutter speeds ,30,20,10frames/sec) and a stride of only 6.3m.
    Now I know she has a very large stride capacity but in this workout she didn’t use it.
    Her stride angle is approx 100 deg
    Is this a learning process she’s going through or maybe it’s the weight she’s carrying (200lb) or a combination of the 1.4 deg grade combined with the weight.
    I tend to suspect that the horse is learning the stride that will suit her where she’s most balanced or the likes.???
    Has the treadmill work delayed her natural gallop learning and will she now slowly learn to gallop under saddle with a longer stride and lower stride rate.
    Is this likely to be to her benefit or detriment.
    The questions are endless.

    Her speed was measured with both stopwatch between posts and a camera.

    So the question is as you ask Bill, Which variables can be changed with conditioning or other manipulation.
    I certainly haven’t seen 2.7 stride rates before but maybe the racehorse settles into a stride rate of 2.3 to 2.5 because of its race training and this horse had never been race trained or even galloped hard carrying any weight.??
    One point I almost forgot, she’s barefoot.

    • Very cool data Phillip. I am reading about Lance Armstrong and his journey from cancer patient to champion. Obviously now the story is all about drugs, but he was a drug user and crappy cyclist before getting cancer. Like all other cyclists he pushed big gears at relatively low RPMs of 90. Jan Ullrich was the best of this bunch. That type of riding puts stresses on the muscle, moreso then the CV system.

      Lance began to experiment with RPMs of 120 at higher gears, which data showed gave him as much as (or more) power than the previous setting. This type of riding puts the stress on the CV system moreso than the muscles.

      Perhaps horses do the same unconsciously? That is, searching out the right balance of turnover (RPM) and stride length (gears) to make a piece of work as pleasant as possible. In my opinion, the high turnover is of greater value as it stresses the horses CV system and eases up on the muscles, thereby decreasing lactic acid buildup.

      Which do you think improves more, and quicker, from conditioning – turnover or stride length?

  14. Phillip Haycock

    .I’m not sure, This horse did huge treadmill miles that started out slow and steep then went to faster and steep, (6-7 deg) then faster and less incline, (4 deg incline) then very fast at 2 degrees incline.
    During the middle stage of 2:15-2:00 pace 4 deg incline work she was pushed to the very limit of her ability I called it the edge of the abyss.
    It was probably during this stage that I noticed that her stride on the treadmill was large compared to when she started. But she was only galloping at 75-80% of her top speed.
    Then at 1:28 pace I noticed her stride was huge but I was very surprised to see what happened under saddle, that is her stride at 2:00 pace was less than a foot shorter than her 1:34 pace stride.
    I have to say that I suspect she is manipulating her stride consciously.
    Thinking about it, If I had a load on my back equal to 20% of my body weight I probably run with short fast strides as well and as I got stronger Id speed up by lengthening my stride.
    It may be that as her stride lengthens her stride rate will be forced back by gearing.
    So to guess an answer to your question, it may be stride length that dictates stride rate and oxygen intake.
    I may have conditioned her stride to be short simply by being heavy on her back. The treadmill may have let her stride out because she wasn’t carrying any weight??
    One thing is for sure, Ill find out more in the weeks to come as I work her more. However Im going to back up on the speed a little.

  15. I’m a fan of your thoughts and beliefs and yes we have been training like this for generations. One of the key points missing In the breakdown equation though is track surfaces. I will often not gallop if the surface is not prepared properly of a morning. Wet = slippery= tendon, ligament, muscle. Hard = chips, jarring etc. USA predominantly dirt Australia the more forgiving and generally less slippery grass. You also need to incorporate breakdown rates in training sessions as well then you will see a much truer figure

    • Thanks for the note Troy. We capture breakdown (in races) data over here and show fatalities per 1,000 starts at about 2.1 for dirt vs 1.7 for turf. I’ve seen AU numbers on turf of just 0.6. So in comparing apples to apples as much as possible, the US and it’s ‘weekend warrior’ 1x per week speedwork lags behind AU.

      • Thanks for the prompt reply! i think i was getting at more the point of people do break a lot of horses down in Australia- training. battle of attrition.

      • Oh I see, I misunderstood. Yes, we’ll never get an accurate measure of training breakdowns, but there are many here in the US.

  16. Phillip Haycock

    On the subject of training injuries.
    On occasion I’ve made the comment that The Thoroughbred will return to the kings.
    To me the king is a person or entity that is involved with Thoroughbred horses for the love of the sport and the thrill and prestige that goes with owning and training the best horse.
    These people can afford to own and train a horse without succumbing to the temptation of racing the two year olds, they aren’t afraid to work the horse even if it has a very high value.
    These people manage and train their horses in a way that minimizes the need for drugs.
    Personally I feel that syndication has played a part in building an industry at the expense of the animal.
    The Thoroughbred horse has become a commodity that must return a dividend.
    The kings, while enjoying the wealth that comes with the proliferation of the Thoroughbred horse must also at times shake their heads.
    So to conclude, It is my opinion that most injuries are the result of the horses being asked to run at speed before they are ready, before they have had sufficient money invested in their base.
    Kings don’t make this mistake.

    • I think those are valid points but personally it is easier to train for a syndicate as the costs are less therefore patients doesn’t cost much. Secondly : so many other factors contribute to breakdowns such as genetics and how they were reared from a foal to the sale ring. Being “encouraged” to grow to quick for a yearling sale for example. What type of pastur/ terrain they have been on. New Zealanders lay hogs to their pasture producing 60+% of Australia’s G1 winners.
      Knowing your horse ,listening to them and their surroundings is the key. Knowing where and how they were reared before getting to you is an advantage. And studying their heritage to see what has worked and weighing up whether that applies to this horse.

  17. Bill I have seen a reduction of stride rate over time but my data is distorted due to my changing the speed section of the workout etc. I will collect more data over time.
    What has caught my attention is max heart rate.
    I read studies that typically start by stating that say six sound Thoroughbreds between the ages of 3 and 6 were tested on a High speed treadmill using an accepted protocol for achieving HRmax and then conditioned for say seven weeks on a high speed treadmill and then retested for HR max using the same protocol etc etc.
    In conclusion it was found that HRmax in individual horses was not affected by conditioning etc.
    This is a loose summery of a typical study.
    In my humble view it would be worth having a very good look at this assertion or more importantly the way it is applied to an individual horse.
    The claim is probably correct but the way it is interpreted by most horse people may well be fatally flawed.
    I say “fatally” because for some young horses the inability to reach HR230 may well be fatal when all the horse may need is a few yrs work to bring out its AUCTUAL HRmax.
    The irony may be that these types of horses may have huge potential.

  18. I know that when I start my marathon training, and I do a lot of speedwork, my max HR tops out at 170bpm or so. I am 42 years old. After several weeks of training I can hit 180bpm+. So my ability to hit a higher max definitely improves with conditioning.

    Horses, however, may very well be different. Their HRmax may be ‘hardwired’ and pretty constant regardless of conditioning, due to their elevated fight or flight response. That being said, I personally know of horses with earnings in the millions who have max HR values under 230bpm – one as low as 215bpm.

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