Can I Sue Dr. Fager for Malpractice?


I wasn’t let down by the book, as it was very insightful with extremely interesting anecdotes, but more by the conditioning commentary throughout. Like all the other greats of yesteryear, I expected to find confirmation of my theories on conditioning, but instead found the opposite, to my disappointment.

Also, I am in complete agreement with author Steve Haskin, Dr. Fager’s career was not as profound as was that of Damascus, yet nearly everyone ranks Fager as superior. But we’ll analyze that later.

First, the BloodHorse Legends series has been on sale lately: I paid $0.99 for my Fager book, and ordered others at a mere $2.50ea (regular price is $14.99 or higher). Here’s the link:

Like always, I need to read 150 pages of a book simply to uncover roughly 15 words on conditioning, but it’s well worth the insight provided. Perhaps the key quote is on page 42, when trainer John Nerud sought advice from the legendary Ben Jones on conditioning:

“Now son, listen to me,” Jones said. “You ain’t got enough sense to train these horses, so I’m gonna tell you what to do. You keep ‘em fat, work ‘em a half-mile, and they’ll win in spite of you.”

Ergo, the trainer of Dr. Fager earned the nickname: ‘half mile sonofabitch’ from the clockers in New York. As in: ‘How are Nerud’s horses doing? How the hell do I know, that ‘half mile sonofabitch’ – you can’t learn anything from him!” Today? All these ‘half mile sonofabitches’ are hailed as geniuses and clockers claim to accurately grade the 8F prowess of stakes horses going 4F in the mornings. What a load of crap.

Nerud himself already preferred slow, and relatively short, works – so this advice must have sounded heaven-sent. But are we really to believe that Jones trained 6 Derby winners and 2 Triple Crown winners (including Whirlaway) with that philosophy? I remained crestfallen for the rest of the book, only afterwards realizing the key part of that ‘advice’ from Jones: “you ain’t got enough sense” – likely Jones was merely giving Nerud a simple prescription for ‘one size fits all’ conditioning, rather than imparting his own personal methods, which he learned through a lifetime on the backside.

Nevertheless, throughout the book we still see 5-6F works in blazing times, some of which were of the public variety in the afternoons between races.  We also see pre-race blowouts. Neither practice is common these days. I seem to remember watching Curlin in a public workout at Churchill Downs a few years back – and I know both Carl Nafzger and Rick Dutrow blew out their 3 Derby winners within 12-36 hours of post time.

We also see mentioned that Fager worked essentially every 5 days. Nothing like Preston Burch and the others going every 2-3, but a bit quicker turnaround than today’s customary 6-7. Remember, the Maryland Bucked Shin Study done by Nunamaker and Fisher pinned bone remodeling to take place every 2-3 days, concluding if someone waited 5 days or longer to stress bone again, overall cumulative development of density would suffer. And, if bone takes under 5 days – everything else goes quicker; ligaments, tendons, lungs, etc.

The book spends quite a bit of time on the Dr. Fager vs Damascus rivalry, and the story is truly amazing. Fager seems to represent our modern conditioning/racing style: weekly works at 5F or less, and well spaced out races. Damascus is old-school in his approach under Frank Whiteley. My Damascus book from the Bloodhorse Thoroughbred Legends series has not yet arrived, but everyone knows he raced 16 times at age 3, versus just 9 for Fager (still more than today’s ‘greats’).

Funny, before one of these matchups Nerud sent Fager through another public workout: 5F in :56.8.
So much for going slow!

Dr. Fager vs Damascus was a draw, each winning twice. Whiteley’s entry of a rabbit muddies the picture, as does the various weights carried to post. Both greats often carried 130+ in these matchups. Fager himself carried 134 in setting a long-standing mile record in 1:32.2.

Later on at 4, Fager had one of the greatest years of all time in 1968. His regular exercise rider tipped the scales at 150 and weather was no hindrance to workouts, as is often the case today. During a deluge at Saratoga, the good Doctor went 5 panels in :59, under no pressure whatsoever. Today’s conditioners merely move the work back – 6,7,8 days since last breeze, who cares, right?

As I hinted at above, Mr. Haskin also prefers Damascus, even though he was commissioned to author the book on Dr. Fager’s magnificent career. Great post from him in the Bloodhorse here, from 2009:

Damascus and Dr. Fager rarely lost, and those they lost to were Hall of Famers in their own right – as well as several of their conquests: names such as Buckpasser and In Reality. Compare the Past Performances of these 2 vs. our modern day heroes, such as Zenyatta. Blame, her lone conqueror, will be a mere footnote to history, and no one can remember who she beat now, much less in 50 years.

At stud, both had quite notable careers, but yet again Damascus outshone Fager through his offspring.

Lastly, Fager seemed to be willing to rate early in his career, but later on was known as a wildman on the lead.  Surely all those brief 4-5F works contributed? I think too often that trainers fail to separate the two: TRAINING for behavioral factors, versus CONDITIONING for physiological fitness. Longer, slightly slower, works of a mile can teach horses to relax on the bit moreso than dozens of quick 5F sprints. Will we see that from Damascus under Frank Whiteley?

Up Next: review of Damascus title from the Bloodhorse Thoroughbred Legends line, currently priced at $2.50 – but I must warn you it seems to take 7-10 days to arrive, even when shipping here to Louisville.


About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on February 10, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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