Monthly Archives: March 2014

Coast to Coast: Laserman Owns Southern California and My Donna Jean Exposes the Bounce B.S. at Aqueduct


Well, I had expected to be away from the blog for a bit but 2 of my favorite fellows in the racing game recently had some great accomplishments that cannot go unnoticed.

First off, Steve ‘Laserman’ Bourmas (pictured above) has been featured here before, and recently wrapped up his first entire season working strictly for Jerry Hollendorfer in Southern California, both at Santa Anita and the now-defunct Hollywood Park. Mr. Hollendorfer had his best year ever in the state outside of Golden Gate and broken a long-held stakes record by the legendary Charlie Whittingham in the process:

Congrats Steve, one of the hardest working men in the business that I have had the good fortune to meet. Another one is Aqueduct based trainer Ed Barker – conditioner of My Donna Jean.

Track Date Race Type Finish
Aqueduct 3/13/2014 Starter Allowance 1
Aqueduct 3/6/2014 Starter Allowance 1
Aqueduct 2/28/2014 Starter Allowance 5
Aqueduct 2/9/2014 Claiming 1
Aqueduct 1/23/2014 Claiming 2
Aqueduct 1/9/2014 Claiming 2

To summarize: 1/23 lifetime from 2011-13, and 2 wins in 7 days last week. This $20k claim has earned in excess of $94k thus far in 2014, putting her right in the Top 100 earners nationwide – and with 6 starts, undoubtedly the most busy.

Some backstory:

-She would own 3 wins in 14 days’ time were it not for losing her normal rider and running 5th on the last day of February.

-She posted her lifetime best Ragozin figure with her win on 3/6, and was likely christened the Bounce Candidate of the Century prior to her win 7 days later.

-Do you mean to convince me that every single one of Bafferts and Pletchers horses run best off 5 weeks rest, but Mr. Barker’s mare here thrives on 7-14 days?

-Let’s just say I got an inside view at what it takes for a trainer to enter a horse to run twice in a week in today’s environment. Anyone willing to buck the Bounce Boys and run a horse like we used to EVERY DAY back in the 70’s deserves good things to happen to him.

Here are a few old time claimers my family ran at Fairmount Park back in the early 80’s:

King Bam: 80 lifetime starts
Divine Decadence: 66 lifetime starts

There are dozens more, but I need to pull out an old photo album of winner’s circle pictures to freshen my memory. No Lasix either, unless you were a confirmed bleeder per the vet.

Lastly, don’t let anyone tell you that all nutritional supplements are bunk:

Hay, oats, and water are not enough. What we are asking horses to do is unnatural to them: train and race progressively faster while developing strength, stamina, and power – with little to no protein in their vegetarian diets. They need help, just not of the pharmaceutical kind. Anything a drug can do, proper nutrition and conditioning can also accomplish.


How to Shut Up PETA Forever

This is the heart rate/GPS chart of a 6F work at Churchill Downs: from the gate in 1:15. The horse in question won 10 races that year, from 15 starts.

More on him here:

But that’s besides the point. Imagine every horse in every race across the USA generating such data in real-time. US thoroughbred racing would become the ONLY sport in the world providing real-time physiological data on its athletes, made available for public analysis. I have already done so privately, but the rest of the world will soon develop and witness data proving that HR behavior before/during/after exercise is the earliest sign of a problem. Doesn’t tell you what the problem is, but certainly dictates undue stress earlier than any human’s eyeball.

Think of it as a stopwatch for heat. Every horseman prides himself on detecting heat in the legs of his charges. Where do you think that heat comes from? It comes from blood. The heart drives that increased blood flow by beating faster than normal. There is nowhere else for that blood to come from. There is no room for politics, no room for guesswork, no room for your eyes playing tricks on you. It’s science and math, plain and simple.

And, its been done before.

Many years ago equine endurance events experienced a rash of dead horses. The Cardiac Recovery Index was developed to objectively determine, DURING THE EVENT, if a horse was fit to continue. At regular intervals the horse enters a checkpoint, where a vet administers a simple test of recovery heart rate. Pass and continue. Fail and you are disqualified, doesn’t matter if your owner is the King of All Oil or a Utah rancher. More here:

We can do the same, literally overnight. Certainly the raceday drug issues needs to be addressed, that can’t happen overnight, but this can. With the snap of a finger we can show the NY Times that appropriate steps were taken not only to catch up to the rest of the civilized world of sport, but to surpass even the highest standards currently set. And think of the boon to handicappers. Admittedly few of these men and women, the lifeblood of the sport (like it or not), have a clue what heart rate vs GPS data means, but when it becomes available they will learn quickly to gain an edge at the mutuel window.

Granted the dishrag Times and PETA will simply find something else to attack, as that is their raison d’etre, but at the very least we can inject some new blood into the racing game: using each individual horse’s own vital signs to avoid another Nehro, while providing betting whales with the first advance in handicapping information in decades: a quantitative measure of fitness.

I’ll have to guess since no US racing jurisdictions allows for onboard HR/GPS monitoring, but here’s what it will look like approximately:

-If after a race your horse doesn’t meet the following criteria, he shall undergo intensive veterinary analysis before the next race. I’m not talking watching him jog, I mean bloodwork, bone scans, MRI, etc. All at the cost of the owner. Don’t want to pay? Retire him because these rules are in effect in every jurisdiction.

-Say the race was a 6F effort on dirt. HR must settle to 170bpm within 2min past the wire, while still at a jog (no walking). HR must further settle to 100bpm after saddle removed during walk back to backside, within 10min time from end of race.

Oh yeah, the horse in question must also complete 2 breezes before allowed to enter another race, one at least 6F, while wearing onboard HR/GPS gear and meeting the scores set forth in the Thoroughbred Racing Recovery Index.

For comparison’s sake, refer back to the HR/GPS chart at the start of this post. Time is along the X-axis. At roughly 9:45 this gelding enters the starting gate. He stands quietly, HR sinking to roughly 60bpm, which is very, very good. Around time 10:45 he blasts from the gate to begin his work. Peak speed is reached at just under 1:30 min/mile (44mph) for a few strides just before the wire. Within 2min his HR is down under 120bpm, and down to 97bpm just 5min later.

He is ultra-fit and shows zero signs of any problems anywhere. Imagine every horse in a 6F race providing this data, country-wide. Think of all the help this can give handicappers. Hell, the trainers should feel like they were handed the keys to the kingdom. No more guessing: Is he short? Did I work him enough? Too much? Is he sound? Did I hear a cough last week? Should he rest another week? Can I move him up in class?

If I die with the following on my tombstone, I will have made a mark on this world:

‘He saved thousands of horses by developing the Thoroughbred Racing Recovery Index.’

At the very least, it would give me great pleasure to put an end to crap like this:


My Very Own Longshot in Kentucky


Just a quick update: blog may be quiet for a spell, perhaps up until late April as I prepare both a few interesting posts and attempt to renovate the house above in an effort to regain it’s former glory seen below:


We bought it at a foreclosure auction last week, and plan to move in early April – despite a massive amount of work to do on the inside. Lots of cool history to the place as well; was built in 1851 and played a key role in some Civil War activities as well as a hideout for the famous outlaw Jesse James and his brother, Frank.

With my limited construction skills, I can only paint – and poorly at that, so the odds are likely 50-1 of me completing the project with my sanity intact. 50-1 is also the title of the new movie about the Kentucky Derby win of Mine that Bird:

The subject of longshots also dovetails nicely into a major piece of work I am turning over in my mind. Both of the longest-shot Derby winners in modern history: Mine that Bird and Canonero II, came from fairly high altitudes in the weeks leading up to The First Saturday in May. If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend the new book on the first, and likely only, Venezuelan Derby winner:

That cannot be a coincidence. Training and racing at middle, not high altitudes, must have a significant effect on equine endurance. Can you bring a Venezuelan horse over every year and win the Derby? Of course not. But with modern technology you can approximate that method of conditioning here in the Bluegrass State.

Why do you think the Olympic Training Center for human athletes in the US was built in Colorado Springs, CO at an elevation of 6,035 feet above sea level?

EDIT: Forgot to mention I have some recent experience with NM altitudes and longshot Breeder’s Cup triumphs, video included:

The Decline of Horsemanship


Everyone is looking for something, actually one of two things. Either you are looking for opportunities, or you are looking for excuses. That’s it. No matter your worldview or your political leanings, you fall into one of these camps. Those looking for excuses have it easy; you can find what you are looking for in mere seconds and go on about your life with no further investigation.

One can look at the above chart and exclaim: “It’s the breeders fault, we are breeding for early performance.” Or “It’s a numbers game, there are so many more foals/starters these days that it’s nearly impossible to have the same horse be voted the best 2 years in a row.” Or “Sometimes horses just don’t develop at age 3, having spent themselves at age 2.”

Or one can search for opportunity in this data, realizing that of the 3 ‘repeaters’ in the past 22 years – 2 came from the barn of Bob Baffert and the other from Richard Mandella (Beholder, Lookin at Lucky, and Silverbulletday). Those west coast-based trainers drill them longer and faster, similar to what went on with ALL trainers pre-1980 in this country.

Here’s another way to represent the data:


This tweak allows us to lessen the impact of decade to decade variations and also permits me to count the most recent repeater in the current decade not represented on the earlier chart: Beholder, who by coincidence worked last week in a blazing 3F/34.8, her second posted work of 2014.

Therefore, we averaged over 6 repeaters per decade in the first group, exactly 5 in the second group, just over 5 in the third, and a woeful 1.2 per decade between 1980-2013.  Yet, another disturbing downward trend for the sport.

So, horsemanship. Anyone can look into a feed bucket, anyone can learn over many years to feel heat in legs, read the condition book, manage employees, etc. But conditioning a 3yo horse to the top of his/her class after a hugely successful 2yo season? That skill seems to have left us, at least from the records of our trainers east of the Mississippi.

Why? My admittedly biased opinion looks at the decade of the 1980’s as the turning point, where the ability of a top 2yo to hold that form over to age 3 seemingly stopped in its tracks. Two things became prevalent at roughly the same time, and they both start with the letter L – Lasix and Lukas.

Lasix has been done to death….here and elsewhere. So has my position on D. Wayne Lukas, but here’s a bit more detail.

As of this writing, Mr. Lukas has had 27,636 starters in his illustrious career with one repeater on our list; the filly Open Mind in 1988-1989 and she lost her last 5 races, 2 of them at age 3. Lukas disciple Todd Pletcher is 0 for 15,251 and counting despite having some flat-out amazing precocious 2yo stars such as Shanghai Bobby, Uncle Mo and Eskendereya most recently. On the flip side Baffert and Mandella have each accomplished the ‘repeater’ feat with each having 11,000+ career starts, respectively.

And just who the hell is James Rowe? 8 repeaters on our list, 4 of each sex, all between 1907-1921. Astounding any way you look at it. More detail on this fellow follows the data below.




Lookin at Lucky Bob Baffert



Spectacular Bid Bud Delp



Affirmed Laz Barrera



Seattle Slew Billy Turner



Secretariat Lucien Lauren



Buckpasser Eddie Neloy



Needles Hugh Fontaine



Nashua James Fitzsimmons



Native Dancer William Winfrey



Hill Prince Casey Hayes



Citation Ben Jones



Count Fleet Don Cameron



Alsab Sarge Swenke



Whirlaway Ben Jones



Bimelech William Hurley



Cavalcade Robert Smith



Reigh Count Bert Mitchell



Man O’ War Louis Feustel



Sweep James Rowe



Colin James Rowe



Burgomaster John Rogers


Sysonby James Rowe



Hamburg William Lakeland



Requital James Rowe


Domino William Lakeland



Potomac Hardy Campbell


Emperor of Norfolk Robert Thomas





Beholder Richard Mandella            12


Silverbulletday Bob Baffert



Go For Wand William Badgett Jr.



Open Mind D. Wayne Lukas



Ruffian Frank Whiteley, Jr.            11


Gallant Bloom William J. Hirsch



Tosmah Joseph Mergler



Cicada Casey Hayes



Bowl of Flowers Elliott Burch



Idun Sherill Ward



Doubledogdare Moody Jolley



Busher George Odom



Twilight Tear Ben Jones



Mata Hari Clyde Van Dusen



Top Flight Thomas Healey



Alcibiades Walter Taylor



Prudery James Rowe


Regret James Rowe



Ocean Bound French Brooks


Maskette James Rowe


Stamina A. Jack Joyner


Court Dress James Rowe


Artful John Rogers



Tanya John Rogers



Eugenia Burch Jim McLaughlin


Blue Girl John Rogers



Cleophus Hardy Campbell


The Butterflies John Hyland


Yorkville Belle Matthew Allen


La Tosca John Huggins


Los Angeles Robert Campbell


More on Mr. James Rowe , the undisputed king of my repeater list from Wikipedia:,_Sr.

The high points:
He won the Belmont twice as a jockey and eight times as a trainer, holy cow.

In 1879, Rowe joined the Dwyer Brothers Stable. On May 17, 1881, with the future Hall of Fame horse Hindoo, he became the youngest trainer to win the Kentucky Derby. Hindoo won eighteen straight races that year.

Rowe was the leading money winner in horse racing in 1908, 1913, and 1915, the year the Whitney stables’ Regret became the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby. Regret was named 1915’s Horse of the Year. She was later elected to the Racing Hall of Fame. Rowe had four second-place finishes with horses in the Preakness Stakes and won it with Broomspun in 1921.

One of those Belmont victories came in 1908 with a horse named Colin, who went unbeaten during his fifteen-race career. Rowe considered Colin to be the greatest horse he had ever trained. He once said that for his epitaph, he wanted only these words: “He trained Colin.”


Mr. Lowe with Regret, filly of the year in 1914-15 and the first female winner of the Kentucky Derby.


Who Worked 21F in 4 Breezes over Just 15 Days?


Some claimer down at Calder? A millionaire miler in Dubai?  A few dozen random trainees in Europe or Australia? Well, probably – but let’s stick to the US.





















Ladies and gentlemen, your 2014 Santa Anita Handicap winner, Game on Dude! (not pictured above in silhouette)

Small wonder this training feat was undertaken by Bob Baffert, as he continues to do more with less than any east coast based supertrainer. Did you know that we have had but 3 horses repeat as 3yo Horse of the Year (male or female) in the past 22 years – and 2 of them were trained by Baffert?

Everyone had written off Game on Dude after his last performance, a poor effort in the G2 San Antonio over his home strip at Santa Anita just 28 days ago. And perhaps rightfully so, given his previous Santa Anita effort in the Breeder’s Cup Classic last November, an uncharacteristically dull 9th place effort.

I used to peruse the workout data prior to these big races, but gave up after several months of seeing the same patterns. Only minutes before the Big Cap last night, did jockey Mike Smith mention that Baffert had ‘cranked up the training’ on Dude in preparation for his title defense. After the race I hit Equibase to see if that would be reflected in the worktab, and lo and behold it was.

Hmm, where have I read about the importance of frequency as it relates to speedwork? Namely the reasoning behind the 5 days or less intervals between fast furlongs? Oh yeah, here:

A few cite the 41 longer feet traveled by Will Take Charge on his way to finishing second by 1+ lengths as evidence of a superior effort, but the Lukas trainee was a full second behind the front-running Game on Dude through a half mile and also benefitted from some drafting.

Game on Dude has excelled in the early spring racing in southern California the past 2 seasons, only to come up woefully short in the late fall Breeders Cup races.  He’s getting nothing but older (7) by the calendar – will Baffert continue this work schedule in an effort to resurrect the Dude’s last season chances in 2014?

Trainer Alert aka ‘The Russians are Coming!’


A tip of the cap to TimeformUS for alerting me to this 2nd year trainer working exclusively (I believe) for the Russian ownership group Glockenburg LLC. Check out this worktab for a recent debut winner (rode by a Russian jock for a Russian trainer) through a 5 wide trip at Fairgrounds:

pavel(click to enlarge)

No Lasix either, in addition to 3 workouts in 8 days before his debut at 7.5F, two of those sessions back-to-back. Notice he came out of that debut win and worked his fastest 3F ever at 37.2, only to top it 12 days later with a 36.2 over the deep FG strip. In direct contrast to all this good news, he ran a poor 6th in his second outing last week, the future will be interesting with this one.

How about one running tomorrow at FG? I give you Doll Dreams, making her 2014 debut off of 2 fast works at 3F and 5F in the past week alone. She’s in the 6th race tomorrow.

He’s got yet another entry in 2 days (March 9th, 2014) also at FG named Sonorous Voice with a similar workout history:





























Thus far Mr. Vashchenko seems to have mainly lower-end claimers, but is still winning at a decent clip utilizing his unique conditioning regimen. Also had some stalls at Arlington Park last year if I recall.

Perhaps another more well-known all-Russian team is trainer Gennadi Dorochenko, working for ownership group Raut, LLC and utilizing jockey brothers (I assume) Magomet and Myrzabek Kappushev down at Calder. His name will ring a few more bells considering his 2012 Louisiana Derby triumph with 109-1 shot Hero of Order.

Although it doesn’t show in the official worktab, I am told by one of his stable employees that Mr. Dorochenko puts a few furlongs of speed into his horses 2x weekly also, sneaking them in at the end of slower gallops.

хорошая работа !!
(“good work” in Russian) according to Google Translate
EDIT: March 10th, 2014: Doll Dreams ran second by one length at 10-1 and Sonorous Voice won by 5.

Samraat and Richard Violette, Jr.


A ray of sunshine brought into my life here in snowy Kentucky, courtesy of an east coast based trainer on the Derby trail!

I’ve been sleeping through the Derby prep season apparently as this dynamic duo escaped my attention until this weekend. Even after winning the Gotham Stakes at AQU to run his undefeated record to 5, Samraat had just been another name to me, yet another Triple Crown hopeful soon to disappoint. Similarly, although trainer Violette was a name known to me, I had never dug much deeper, until now.

Although a New York bred, Samraat resides in FL at the Palm Meadows Training Center, where the colt has worked a mile THREE TIMES in the past 6 weeks:








Palm Meadows Training Center





Palm Meadows Training Center





Palm Meadows Training Center





Palm Meadows Training Center





Palm Meadows Training Center





With Mr. Violette only making a few hundred starts per year, one would expect him to be ultra cautious with a Derby prospect. I look at things differently; if he had been ultra cautious with this colt, he wouldn’t have a Derby prospect on his hands. Also running in the Gotham entry was Financial Mogul, who has the following worktab:

Track                                       Date                Course             Distance   Time
Fair Hill                                   2/22/2014        All Weather     5F        1:00.60
Fair Hill                                   2/15/2014        All Weather     1M       1:42.00
Fair Hill                                   2/7/2014          All Weather     5F        1:00.00
Palm Meadows Training Center           1/17/2014        Dirt                  1M       1:43.00
Palm Meadows Training Center           1/12/2014        Dirt                  5F        1:00.75
Palm Meadows Training Center           1/8/2014          Dirt                  6F        1:19.80
Palm Meadows Training Center           1/2/2014          Dirt                  4F        48.20

Good heavens, another mile worker, even at Fair Hill. I also see he has a nice filly named Effie Trinket who has yet to make her 2014 debut, does he take it easy on the fairer sex?








Palm Meadows Training Center





Palm Meadows Training Center





Palm Meadows Training Center






Palm Meadows Training Center





Palm Meadows Training Center





Palm Meadows Training Center





Palm Meadows Training Center





Nope. Please note the 4-5 day frequencies of these shorter works, even as she is just getting back to the worktab. 3F slowly, back a few days later and a few ticks faster. Same at 4F. And again at 6F. I’d watch out for this one.

Are there any other East coast based trainers of big time horses working this far, other than Violette and Gyarmati? If so, please give me a heads up. Also, does anyone know how to research past workout schedules for Violette entries in years’ past? Is this his standard operating procedure, or a new norm?

In the years past I’ve posted my negative thoughts towards many fan favorites such as Zenyatta, Uncle Mo, Animal Kingdom, etc. hoping for them to lose races. I’ve also had a few that I was unabashedly in favor of, like Comma to the Top, who performed dismally in the Derby. It certainly feels better to be on the side of a well-deserved favorite, at least on my scale.

What happens next will be interesting. Will he back off Samraat in the weeks leading to the Wood Memorial? Early quotes indicate Samraat came out of the race well, albeit tired. Also, Violette mentioned he was vanning back to Palm Meadows with a different mindset; moreso to graze than train. Doug O’Neill mentioned a few times during his trek with I’ll Have Another that he eased off his 2 prior Derby starters as the big day approached, and later regretted it as they came up way short.

I hope not, and I hope that Richard Violette, Jr. and Samraat win the Triple Crown and bring back old-fashioned work schedules to this game.

EDIT: I’m told by someone in the know that a few years back Violette was not working slow miles in any of his stock, for what it’s worth.

P.S. Extra credit for anyone who can tell me where the image leading this post came from.
Hint: some cover versions of a long ago published book. (You are on the honor system; no Google Image Search!)

In The News: Bloodhorse and Magazine

Gt sport_ 032

Great piece from Steve Haskin called ‘Bend in the Trail’ in the print version of the BloodHorse on Feb. 1st, 2014. Lots of good info about the changing nature of the Derby trail, but these few gems caught my eye.

Calumet Farm and their trainers, Ben and Jimmy Jones, dominated the Derby scene in the 1940’s and 50’s using the Derby Trial Stakes as their main prep. That’s right the one mile race run on the Tuesday just before The First Saturday in May served as their main prep. AND, Mr. Haskin notes, Calumet runners also breeze a half mile on Thursday: 2 days after the mile prep, and 2 days prior to the Big One. With runners such as Whirlaway, Citation, Hill Gail, and Tim Tam – I’d say they did alright. Others copied this strategy as Derby winners Middleground, Determine, and Dark Star used the Trial as their prep on the way to a winning Derby. Carl Nafzger also breezed his 2 Derby winners a half right before the race; as I detailed here:

That above quote concerns Unbridled, but he did the same with Street Sense, who, as Haskin points out, was the only Derby winner to prep in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. 30 others made the attempt, but only Nafzger could pull it off.

Today’s dominating trainer Todd Pletcher is quoted: ‘Five weeks I think is optimal’ spacing for a final prep before the Kentucky Derby. Interestingly enough his only winner, Super Saver, came off but a 3 week layoff after running 2nd in the Arkansas Derby.

I could go on and on, but a lot of good reading is to be had. Not sure you can find the whole article online, I think it’s a print special.

Check out this unique read on genetics testing in thoroughbred racing;–acquisitions/can-science-breed-the-next-secretariat

I was interviewed via phone for the piece, but my portion is to run with a 10 minute video presentation on the topic; who knows if I will ever be able to post it – but the read is even better.

Irish trainer Jim Bolger is a convert to genetic science and the racing game, which should come as no surprise because he also was one of the first to adopt HR/GPS technology in his yard.

I’d like to summarize the piece for you in this space, but I should probably leave it up to the experts.

Dear Grayson-Jockey Club: It’s the Horse, not the Track


The Grayson-Jockey Club recently doled out $1 million for 19 research projects in 2014. One is entitled:

Susan Stover, University of California-Davis -First Year (2 Year Grant) 

Here are a few statements from the study summary and my ‘expert’ commentary.

“Evidence indicates that race surfaces affect the likelihood for injuries in racehorses.”

Sure, I’ll buy that. The latest breakdown stats per 1,000 starters are something like 2.1 on dirt, 1.75 on turf, and 1.5 on synthetics. That is likely statistically significant, but it’s not as simple as the first glance would indicate. Dirt races are run differently than the other 2 surfaces with respect to opening fractions. It seems reasonable that a horse on dirt going through a 22sec first quarter and rubber-legging it home in 25+sec is at increased risk for disaster, roughly 30% more at risk as it turns out.

Keep in mind that I’ve seen turf breakdown data from Australia, home of the world’s best turf sprinters, that comes in at 0.6 breakdowns per 1,000 starts. Hmm. I think that is a far more useful topic needing research dollars: Do US horses on turf breakdown 300% more often than any other racing jurisdiction in the world?

More here:

But I digress, back to the proposed study once again:

“We hypothesize that fetlock hyperextension, and thus related injuries, can be prevented by developing race surfaces that change the way the limb interacts with the surface. Our objective is to determine the characteristics that a race surface should have to prevent fetlock injuries.”

Ok, you lost me. For every 1,000 starters in the US on dirt, 998 of them survive, yet the ‘problem’ is the track? We add more-forgiving synthetics to the mix, along with their slower turf-like opening fractions, and the number or survivors jumps to just 998.5?

I pause to remember Afleet Alex and his infamous stumble coming out of the final turn in the 2005 Preakness:

In real time you can jump to 1:49 in the clip and see Alex clip heels coming out of the final turn. Slow motion replays after the race commence at time 3:14 for those interested. Not only did Alex regain his balance and win this race, but he continued on to win the Belmont Stakes 3 weeks later with the fastest closing quarter mile in 40 years!

Alex was so well-conditioned by Tim Ritchey that he had enough neuromuscular endurance to not only refrain from getting injured, but to get back on the correct lead and storm home. Many readers will recall that Alex experienced his own unique form of interval training: often galloping a few miles in the early a.m, coming back to walk the shedrow, then going back to the track a few hours later to breeze. Surely, just a coincidence.

Watching that replay and the stumble leaving the final turn of a race, is where bad things can, and do, often happen. A while back Aqueduct raceway in NY had a rash of breakdowns (twice as many as normal) that were summarized by location on this handy diagram:


The analysis went on to state: “When the location of each injury were superimposed on a diagram of the inner track, the distribution is consistent with that seen at other North American racetracks and does not indicate any anomaly of the inner track.”

So, it can be said this pattern of breakdowns is prevalent throughout the US. Boy, that’s a lot of injuries in the final 3F of a race. 15/21 to be exact, with 8 in the final quarter alone. Just when most horses are exhausted. Does anyone mean to tell me the condition of the track is different here? No, the level of exhaustion in the horse is what’s different here. Accidents and ‘bad steps’ certainly happen – but only make up less than half of the incidents, in my opinion.

Know what is buried in this 200+ page summary of the Aqueduct breakdowns? ZERO horses broke down in training on this inner track during the 3.5 month time frame.

$%&* ZERO!

Again, the track is the damn same for everyone, and while several hundred trainees never breezing more than 4-5F are just fine ‘skeletally speaking’, 21 are killed going further on raceday for your gambling enjoyment. Perhaps one should investigate why so many more horses suffer catastrophic injuries in the final furlongs of a race, if the true culprit is the racing surface itself?

A main catalyst for the formation of the Equine Welfare and Safety Committee? The untimely death of Eight Belles after her courageous effort in the 2008 Kentucky Derby. Where did it happen? During the 11th furlong of a 10 furlong race – steps after she ran the fastest/furthest of her young life. Not a ‘bad step’, not a track malfunction – intense physiological fatigue and the accompanying loss of neuromuscular coordination. R.I.P. brave filly, but how is ‘certifying’ a gate crew going to prevent this from happening again?

So my point is? Physiologically exhausted horses break down, regardless of the race surface. It happens in endurance, and it happens in the cross country portion of eventing. That is the common denominator, not the racetrack surface.

Here’s a great quote noted by the immortal Steve Haskin from Bloodhorse:

The day before the 130th Preakness Stakes (gr. I), jockey Jeremy Rose said of Afleet Alex, “This horse will run over broken glass if I ask him to.” Damn right.

So what to do? Merely watching a horse jog is pointless, that only catches the obvious cripples. Pre-race veterinary checks will never catch a horse who’s wheels are set to fall off after 6F in 1:12, with 4F left to run, using the Kentucky Derby as an example. But my method will:


There exists a precedent for using a heart rate monitor in conjunction with equine racing. Many endurance races of 30 miles and over require the checking of an exercising horse’s heart rate during several checkpoints throughout the course. Should the heart rate fall outside of the normal ranges, the horse is disqualified from the competition and immediately examined by trained personnel.

Through the use of a heart rate monitor/GPS unit, one can outfit a horse in under 30 seconds with the equipment required to measure and record equine heart rate, speed, and distance during any gallop, breeze, or race.

The resulting info serves much as an exercise stress test does in a human, observing and quantifying the horse’s heart rate response before, during, and after an exercise bout will indicate the presence of abnormalities. The equine heart is the best vital sign of lameness, illness, or injury – often weeks before any visual cues are apparent to the trainer.

For the Kentucky Derby length of 10 furlongs, I would recommend the following:

-Test to encompass 12s/furlong pace at 60-70% of race distance for these elite horses
-1.25 mile race requires 6 furlongs breeze in 1min12sec
-Taken and passed, no less than 3 days before race, no more than 10 – ideal would be 7 days out.
-Recovery heart rate must fall to 120bpm within 2 minutes, and 80bpm within 10 minutes of peak work speed. (2min period reflective of horse being cooled down properly and possessing structural soundness, 10min period reflects fitness level/conditioning of horse).

In my opinion we must strive to prove that a horse is conditioned appropriately for a 6 furlong effort the week before being asked to race 10 furlongs. I would prefer a mile ‘test’, but no way modern day trainers will go for that, even though the old-timers sure would. Horses that have undiagnosed problems with bone remodeling, tendon or ligament stability, or systemic illness or infection will not pass such a test, but they will pass a simple vet-administered jog, or even gallop, ‘test’ with flying colors. They may also ‘pass’ a radiograph examination. It’s not so much what is wrong with a horse at rest, but what is wrong at the 3F pole heading for home. The only way to assess that is by on-board physiological monitoring. Think of a HR monitor as a stopwatch: only instead of measuring work done, it measures the metabolic cost of that work. It measures heat generated by blood pumping from the heart, in effect. Too much heat after 6F in 1:12 is a cause for alarm with 4F still to run.

-taken from letter sent to appropriate Jockey Club authorities in March 2008 by yours truly.

It’ll never happen. My solution entails veterinary, trainer, and owner cooperation – some of which have something to hide. It’s much easier for the Jockey Club to send money to a desk jockey who will merely analyze race statistics in front of a computer, than to change the behavior of the stake-holders, even for the betterment of the horse. I respectfully suggest the Jockey Club needs to spend this money, and wield their influence, in the real-life laboratory found on the backstretch and on the racetrack.

What if we monitored HR/GPS/blood lactate in hundreds of breezing horses at Aqueduct?

What if 10 of those horses broke down in a 3 month period? (about average)

What if those 10 displayed a statistically significant variation in their gallop lactate values, or their post breeze HR recoveries?

Wouldn’t that be more valuable than yet another study on track surfaces aiming to improve survival rates per 1,000 starters from 998 to 998.5?