My Kingdom for an Appropriate Pre-Race Warmup

Animal Kingdom’s recent loss at Royal Ascot highlighted many of the vast differences between thoroughbred racing in the UK versus the US. Many are well known such as pace and turf topography, but a few only appear if you catch a certain glimpse of TV footage or are lucky enough to attend a UK race in person. Even better, if you can ‘spy’ on a training session over the hills at Newmarket!

First off, the 2 video clips above. The top one shows the pre-race activities of #13 Elusive Kate, who would go on to finish 4th. This is the only warmup I caught other than that of Animal Kingdom, the ‘star’ of video two. Note how she blasts out of pretty much a walk and powers down the turf at a very decent clip. In my experience, the vast majority of UK based runners warm up in such a manner – whether the race be a 5F or 10F affair.

Contrast with the pre-race jog of Animal Kingdom, with pony accompaniment in the second video clip. Which do you feel is a more appropriate warmup for racing a mile on an uphill turf course?

I’ve talked about this before; even in Japan over dirt the warm-ups are quite extensive; also where no Lasix is used to combat EIPH over a hard dirt surface:

(in hindsight, ‘proof’ was not the correct word to use in this post, perhaps ‘evidence’ would have been more accurate)

Next, thanks to some data compiled from a Group 1 winner training at Newmarket a few years back, we also know what a typical ‘speedwork’ day looks like across the pond:


That’s 2 steep uphill climbs in 15-16sec/furlong fractions totaling nearly 8F, separated by a 12-15 minute walk down one hill and over to the next. I am told Newmarket-based trainees do this TWICE weekly when in a maintenance phase during a racing campaign. This is Equine Interval Training done right.

US-based horses such as Animal Kingdom don’t condition in such a manner, even at Fair Hill in Maryland. After a stirring 10F win in Dubai and several thousand travel miles, did Graham Motion take his foot off the gas a bit? Don’t get me wrong, I know AK had some stiff uphill gallops in his race prep, but to this extent, and twice a week? Doubtful – I expect the once weekly 4F effort was the prescription.

You simply can’t go to a UK course and beat a bunch of closers at their own game, not without similar physiological preparations. The only hope Animal Kingdom had was squashed as Velasquez restrained an eager soon-to-be-stud from taking the early lead. Quite possibly he could have set an aggressive pace that would have sapped the closing kick of the others who rarely witness such a strategy. Alas, we’ll never know.

Like Zenyatta, Animal Kingdom now heads to stud off of a disappointing loss. A loss that quite possibly could have been avoided with a more aggressive preparation in the minutes and weeks leading up to their respective final dances:


About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on June 20, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I agree that his warmup was very poor, however, he has been in the U.K. for quite some time training on the gallops. Also Graham Motion is a U.K. trainer and is famlliar with British racing.

    • Graham Motion is indeed quite familiar with the UK racing scene. But, he did not emulate the UK style of aggressive ‘pony less’ warmups, so I have my doubts if he decided to copy the 2x weekly UK breezes, when all his other horses in the US breeze once weekly.

      Don’t misunderstand – Mr. Motion is a genius horseman, and much smarter than yours truly, but I feel there are some physiological aspects to equine performance that he (and other trainers) overlook, due primarily to an intense focus on the psychological aspects. But again, I have a hard time blaming them for this when observation of the psychological feedback is all they traditionally utilize.

    • He was born in England but moved to the US when he was still at school, 15 or 16 I think. He did some work in France for a short period, but his experience is all US. An American trainer really with a very well spoken English tongue

  2. raises the Q again–after reading ur Z entry that i’d missed–what are they thinking? and, watching that AK warm up, what would the owner be thinking.

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