Monthly Archives: December 2012

Kenny McPeek on Racehorse Balance


Sports are inherently damaging to athlete’s bodies. That is a fact. All sports involve repetitive movements resulting from maximum muscular contractions, which also cause dangerous imbalances from front to back, or left to right. It’s particularly dangerous for horses, as Kentucky based trainer Kenny McPeek alludes to in this fantastic interview:

When asked what was the best thing a racetrack could do to help with keeping horses sound, McPeek mentioned the seemingly simple change to allow training the ‘wrong way’, or here in America – clockwise. He understands that going around only left-hand turns at high speeds for mile after mile is a bad thing – and greatly contributes to injury. Humans are allowed to address the muscular imbalances of their particular sports in the training process. For instance, most do weight room exercises for what is called the ‘posterior chain’: essentially all the muscles, ligaments, and tendons that are located on the back of the body. Sports involving repeated all out sprinting and jumping radically overly develop the frontal muscles of the body, so athletes are taught to condition the antagonistic muscles in between competitions.

Years ago I saw a study that I will attempt to paraphrase. When strength and/or flexibility differs on one side of the body from another by more than 10%, the chances of injury rise something like 600%. It really is that drastic. By training 3 days a week in one direction, and 3 days a week in the other you can greatly alleviate this problem. It’s NOT the same to jog the opposite direction of the track prior to completing the days’ gallop work, as many horsemen believe. One has to go at speed in both directions equally.

Magdalena Farm, his off track training facility in Lexington, also offers European style uphill turf gallops, which many horses will thrive over – even jump starting their careers after being broken down (physically and mentally) from hard dirt surfaces. Hard Buck(BRZ) was cited as one such example by McPeek.

A few other interview nuggets:

-Curlin is best example of his ‘budget’ buys – $57k purchase at the yearling auction, turned into $10 million in earnings.

-HorseRaces NOW app developed in order to bring more fans in to the game.

-Drugs: has had one violation in 27 years, sees raceday pharmaceuticals OK for claimers, but not for stakes winning future breeding stock

Finally, two last things – one which we differ immensely, and one which we hold in common. Kenny is a UK fan and I am a Louisville guy. In roughly 24 hours from now we play each other in the yearly basketball matchup. Also, Mr. McPeek was taught to be a voracious reader by his late mother, and I too have read at least 2 books per month for the past several years: typically one each of fictional and non-fictional works.

My most recent read was called The Slight Edge, by Jeff Olson.
I hope to utilize these principles before my 43rd birthday on March 14th in order to finally finish writing my book, titled Internal Horsemanship.

Wishing all readers an amazing 2013!

Attempting to work with Kenny McPeek is one of my New Year’s Resolutions. We traded emails and voicemails in the past, but I am going to kick it up a notch come January.


Rash of Aqueduct Breakdowns Should be Called ‘Belmont to Aqueduct’ Breakdowns


Talked to a NY based trainer this morning who shed some light on this subject for me; I sat mostly silent when this was in the media earlier this year – but something he told me today warranted a quick look at the report/analysis/recommendations. Here it is in its entirety:

To recap: there were 21 fatalities over the AQU inner track from NOV 2011 thru MAR 2012. The resulting 209 page report can be summed up in 9 words:

18 of the 21 fatalities were shippers from Belmont.

I haven’t researched the true number, but I would estimate that 3 breakdowns in 4 months of horses that train/race at Aqueduct is probably about average. It’s the other 18 instances that jump out off the page. Also of note, NONE of these fatalities took place in the morning training time, all were in races. Look at the graphic above; only 4 of the 21 injuries took place before fatigue starts to set in – the rest were in the turn, down the stretch, or around the wire. No way you are going to get that cumulative fatigue effect breezing 4F in :50 in the mornings.

And yet, here is the official ‘red flag’ list:

-Horse hasn’t started in last 15-30 days
-Horse in its first racing season
-Horse made its first start at age 3 or older
-Horse making numerous starts in last 1-6 months
-Horse racing further than 7F
-Horse running for a $25k claiming tag or less

And what, pray tell, did the esteemed commission recommend to avoid this rash of injuries in the future?

Increase window of time before a race where therapeutic drugs cannot be detected, and make sure purses for claiming races don’t exceed the tag by more than 50%. Makes perfect sense, as that should solve everything. What a crock. And of course the agenda-driven NYT published several pieces excoriating vets and greedy owners.

The training surface had certainly been set up to withstand the cold NY winter, and the weather did end up being unusually warm – but the AQU based horses handled those conditions just fine – whereas the BEL trained/housed horses did not.

Reminds me of an instance from Australia:

A client of mine uses the HR/GPS gear daily. His filly trained at home over the dirt surface and typically galloped a mile in 2:30 with a heart rate of 191bpm. He then takes her to the city and the sandy training surface. He takes a notch out and she goes that mile in 2:45, but her HR shows over 200bpm throughout. She was not accustomed to the changed footing, and therefore should have been brought along even more slowly. It was taking her significantly more effort to complete a lesser workload as just a week earlier.

Horses all around the world must train and race on different footings, that is part of the game. Weather alone can drastically alter the makeup of any turf course, for instance. But here in the US we run our races in a very demanding fashion: even claimers go out that first quarter in :22-:23 and everyone struggles home in :26. Therefore, when making such a radical change in surface for raceday – injuries will be more common and not always for any nefarious reason.

Here is the timeline of the 21 fatalities: DEC – 2, JAN – 5, FEB – 6, and just the first half of MAR – 8.

Using the 18/21 statistic above, it’s quite likely that ALL of the catastrophic injuries in DEC-FEB could have been traced to the BEL-AQU angle – and those shippers could have then been excluded from racing in MAR, saving 8 horses from disaster. Sure it sucks for the owners/trainers involved, but who could argue with that data?

My point is that so-called ‘investigators’ need to look at factors outside of the condition book and the syringe when attempting to protect our horse’s health and well-being. In doing so, real-time decisions can then be enacted to mitigate the problems.

Thoroedge Claimer of the Year: Gentleman Jackson


I love claimers, my family has owned several dozen over the past 30 years and they are the backbone of the US racing industry, comprising I think of about 70% of our races. Of the horses I work with on a yearly basis, probably a like percentage are also of claiming stock, and today I have decided to blog about the best of that bunch. I am not alone in this recognition, as the DRF beat me to the punch in publishing a nice article about Gentleman Jackson (photo above by Norm Files) and his connections yesterday – while I was working on this piece:

Neat to see that trainer Marty Drexler has had a few big claiming successes in his career, including a G3 winner a few years back – bought for $40k and a $200k earner. Amazing how these guys consistently pick up these diamonds in the rough. Coincidentally, as last weekend saw Gentleman Jackson’s 3rd consecutive ALW win at Woodbine, we also had the Claiming Crown races down at Gulfstream Park. Years ago Thoroedge also provided some insight into the conditioning of Antrim County – who I believe is the only claiming crown winner to successfully defend his title:

So I thought I would take some cumulative data from the 7 winners  in 2012 and see how Gentleman Jackson fits in as a claiming value play:

The average claiming price was $18,857 that produced average 2012 earnings of $151,609 for a rough Return on Investment multiple of 8.04, before associated carrying costs. The average winner of the claiming crown races at GP made 11 starts this year: with 5 wins, 2 places, and 1 show.

How does our gelding stand up? Pretty well with his $12,500 price tag leading to $181,676 in winnings and a 14.53 ROI multiple. He made 10 starts this year: going 5-1-2, all at Woodbine, which currently makes him the leading performer in terms of wins at the 2012 WO meet:


In his last race, he led wire to wire at 8-1, beating a deep field which included 4-time winners Jomelo, Run to the Bank, Consolidator Joe, and Seething. Here are his PPs leading up to that big race:

gjackpps(click to enlarge above)

Important to note that conditioner Drexler has taken 4 horses from Ft. Erie and Assiniboia Downs up to the big circuit at Woodbine and posted impressive wins. For those of you outside of the US – that is a very large jump in class, nearly as big a leap as possible.

So again, much deserved congratulations to all involved in the successful 2012 campaign of Gentleman Jackson, don’t we wish they could all be like him!-

EDIT: 1/24/13: After being claimed away from Drexler on the last day of the Woodbine meet for $62,500, Gentleman Jackson went to the barn of top trainer Mark Casse, moved to Gulfstream, got off STORM – and ran a dull 7th in his first effort.