Monthly Archives: February 2013

Goldencents, Biomechanics, and Oxygen Debt

APphoto_Sham Stakes Horse Racing
Goldencents is the 2013 Thoroedge Derby favorite, which can unfortunately be the kiss of death. There is no handicapping reason behind this choice, I just personally like the connections – especially jock Kevin Krigger, who I hope can be the next Mario Gutierrez.

Very cool articles this month from North American Trainer magazine on Goldencents and the biomechanics behind stride length and gait analysis. Right now you can read for free here:

This piece describes how the stride length number can be misleading; it’s also which style of gallop in use and how much the stance and flight phases contribute to the overall figure.

Lastly, you can read about the concept of oxygen debt – which is also touched on with respect to stride – as horses galloping can only breeze once per stride cycle, termed Locomotor-Respiratory Coupling.

For example, when the gallop pace becomes too fast for purely aerobic metabolism to fuel, anaerobic glycolysis kicks in and lactic acid is accumulating. After completion of exercise, the magnitude of this debt can be estimated by measuring heart rate recovery. The heart must be fast in order to ‘pay back’ the debt and:

-replenish ATP
-remove lactic acid
-replenish glycogen
-replenish the blood with oxygen

On a more practical side, the more work (pace) your horse can accomplish without going into significant oxygen debt – the better. Stakes quality horses can breeze 6F in 1:12 and exhibit recovery heart rates under 120bpm within 2min past the wire – while maiden claimers can only do 3F in :38 or thereabouts under the same recovery parameters.



Book Review: Todd Pletcher Talks Heart Rate!


When possible, Mr. Pletcher likes to let his horses have a strong gallop without the pony as they break out of the post parade. “I want to boost them up, I want their heart rate pumping. I want to make sure when they get to the gate they are fully loosened up and ready to roll.”

Neat book above from Karen Johnson that gives us an inside look at some of America’s top trainers. A smooth, quick read of less than 200 pages, I highly recommend it. Some other excerpts:


Great insight on Curlin’s victorious trip to Dubai, topped off with a win in the signature Dubai World Cup in 2008. Well Armed won the final World Cup on dirt in 2009. Actually 4 of the final 5 dirt World Cups were won by US-trained horses – but now Tapeta seems to have knocked us out of the running. Unlike the poor performing American contingent in 2012, Asmussen sent Curlin over a few months early, and even ran a tune up race in the desert prior to the big day. Likely, our US runners this year will not do the same.


“There are trainers out there who we think are complete clowns, so you’ve got to be interested in claiming off of them. I don’t want to name any names, but they know who they are – and so do we.” – Why does anyone not like this guy?

I’ve quoted Dutrow numerous times in the past; primarily his penchant for blowing out horses the day before, or the day of, big races. Here he also talks about his success on running back from very (3-4 days) short rest.


“There’s not just one way to train a horse, there are 6 or 7 different ways, especially since a horse is different from day to day. This has to be the biggest guessing game ever invented.”

On Juddmonte turf star Exbourne: ‘If I had him today, I probably couldn’t get him to the races because I was a little more aggressive back then, and when they were sore I went on with them. Nowadays I might have backed off a horse as sore as him. I remember that I felt guilty that I went on with him because he was sore, but if I didn’t go on with him, he never would have been the horse he was.”

“I like Rick (Dutrow), we’re friends – but keep your mouth shut, you know?”- RIP Mr. Frankel.


Another blog favorite, notes his day rate in 1962 was $16, but had risen to $100 in 2008.

Also a big fan of the pre-race blowout: “He picked this up from his days playing polo, when the ponies would be allowed to ‘go as fast as they could go’ for an eighty of a mile immediately before a match was to begin. Jerkens believes that the oft-cited opinion that such a work ‘takes too much out of a horse’ is wrong, and that such a sharp move puts a horse ‘on its toes’ – but he doesn’t do it with the unsound (of mind or body) ones.

Another old timer who didn’t necessarily stop when a horse’s appetite waned:

Sky Beauty went off her feed before the 1993 Alabama Stakes. “I used to give her a strong work 5-6 days before her races. I was thinking I shouldn’t do it. But I never won a big race in my life when I hedged. I sent her a mile in 1:39 and she started to eat again. Sometimes horses are better when you put the pressure on them.” – Doug O’Neill mentioned the same concept with I’ll Have Another during his 2012 Derby/Preakness triumphs.


On cooling out: No 30-45min of hotwalking, instead his horses have their legs rubbed down by grooms. Encourages circulation, flushes out waste – and establishes personal connection between groom and horse. Ah, the good old days…

Blog readers will also remember his love of the pre-race blowout, as both his Derby winners worked 4F the morning of the Kentucky Derby. A fact he had to hide from the media, less he get criticized by some second-hander. (Extra points if any commenter can cite the origin of that term!)


I wrote much about Mr. Pletcher during the saga of Uncle Mo (much of it critical), but I have always had the greatest of respect for him, and you will too after reading this book. The man is a hard working genius, plain and simple.

Pletcher also notes how he doesn’t really evaluate a horse until he works 5F. I concur as many horses can breeze 3F-4F well due to the fact that lactic acid buildup really doesn’t kick in for 30+ seconds or so, therefore you get no real idea of stamina/mental toughness until you approach the 60sec mark.

I really felt sympathy for Pletcher as he talks about how the ‘cheating’ rumors affect him. He wins at 20% year after year with the best horseflesh, doesn’t even use Clenbuterol, and some lazy ass trainer who doesn’t even watch his horses breeze in person claims nefarious practices. Or an idiot blog comment does the same. Like in most areas of life, the guys and gals who not only put in the physical hours – but also the intellectual efforts – reap the benefits of success. Consider me a new fan.

While he gets an A+ from me based on the quote leading this blog post, here is an example of how even a brilliant horseman can still benefit from technology and science:

The Green Monkey disaster has been well-documented. This colt flew in 9.8sec for the furlong down at Calder, earning a $16 million hammer price – and was turned over to Pletcher for training.

“I saw his work at Calder and it was brilliant, he galloped out really well” – Pletcher.

However, the pioneering work from the folks at EQB ( easily identified a fatal flaw from their high-speed video analysis of the work:

“…The Green Monkey, a Forestry colt recently purchased for $16-million at the Fasig-Tipton Calder sale of selected two-year-olds in training, had a fabulous 9.8-second workout, but high-speed film revealed that the entire work was done at a rotary gallop, a very quick gait that can produce fast times but costs more energy and is unlikely to be maintained over longer distances.”

There are some things that even the world’s best horsemen, and women, miss with the naked eye.

Episode 1 of “As the World Trains” featuring Mike de Kock


Trainer Mike de Kock recalled super mare Igugu’s run up to the 2012 J&B Met in South Africa , “She had a respiratory problem and an ongoing foot problem that left us behind in our preparation. We ended up having to work her twice a day to catch up. She worked on the track in the morning and on the treadmill in the afternoon.”

6 races on the card at Meydan yesterday, and de Kock runners won 3 of them, despite heavy favorite Shea Shea disappointing all bettors. Mr. de Kock remains the top lifetime non-Arabic conditioner in Dubai in posting an overall record of 4-1-3 from 27 starts thus far during the 2013 Dubai Carnival meet.

Many are not aware of the severe restrictions placed on South African shippers to this oasis in the desert. Due to an outbreak of African Horse Sickness, all of de Kock’s stable had to first endure 20 days quarantine in South Africa, followed by 90 days on the African island of Mauritius, and topped off by another 30 days in Newmarket, England before being allowed into Dubai. This being the case, one can perhaps excuse the first few weeks of the Dubai meet as his horses are likely to be a bit short compared to others not enduring nearly 5 months of quarantine and 13,000 miles of air travel – yes, you read that correctly – 13,000 air miles for Igugu and the others.

I know of zero significant trainers in the US who utilize high speed treadmills for conditioning purposes (rehab doesn’t count), and I doubt any of them would put a cheap horse on the machine, much less the 2012 Horse of the Year, as Igugu was anointed in SA. Even more striking is she trained TWICE A DAY prepping for such a huge race. This South African horseman isn’t afraid to utilize every tool in his arsenal.

He’s also been quoted: “When your horse may not have the bloodlines or ability of their opponent, fitness is the one area where you can beat them. Treadmills allow you to get that extra fitness and “the edge”. That is how important they are.”

Keep an eye on Igugu, as her first effort in Dubai is likely to come in mid-February, with an eye towards a multi-million dollar purse in late March. One of the winners yesterday in Dubai, The Apache, ran 6th to Igugu back in her homeland.

(Many international readers may not know that ‘As the World Turns’ is a long running soap opera here in the states. I’ve never seen it but it runs in the middle of a workday yet is somehow viewed by millions.)

As the World Trains is my first effort at a series of very brief blog posts detailing the various methods of racehorse conditioning around the world.

Episode 2 will feature Australian legend TJ Smith.
Episode 3 stars US Hall of Famer Carl Nafzger.

EDIT: 2/4/13 – Stricter quarantine rules for SA horse coming to the US for the BC, a treadmill in a stall?

Variety Club is a stallion some are saying is one of the best milers South Africa has seen, and at the behest of owners, trainer Joey Ramsden skipped the country’s most prestigious race on Sunday – the J&B Met, in order to take on the world.

The target isn’t until November – the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita – but in order to get there Variety Club will be forced into a 60-isolation period in New York – that’s after the aforementioned home leg of the quarantine. And when we say lock down, it’s exactly what we mean – no coming out of his box. No walking and no companions.

Ramsden is working on being able to have a treadmill installed in the box for the horse to build a vital fitness base for his planned preparation.