More Jockey Club, ‘Old School’ Wood Memorial, and Darley Arabian Awards


Sorry for the grab bag of topics today, and the only briefest of sparkling commentary, but things are kind of hectic around here these days with the Kentucky Derby fast approaching.

The Jockey Club released their updated injury statistics here:

Essentially the injury rate has remained stagnant for the past 5 years, currently standing at the following numbers of fatalities per 1,000 starters:

ALL – 1.91
TURF – 1.63
DIRT – 2.08

Figures are also broken down by distance and by age of horse. Interesting indeed but I have a couple of points to make.

1. Why not compare these figures to the rest of the world?

Are those figures out of the EU, AU, Dubai, and HKJC not available – or not so pretty for the US to examine? I wager the latter, although I am having trouble accessing current data, the good ‘ol standby Wikipedia has some info gathered a few decades ago:

The Jockey Club seems to have a fanatical focus on surface type with respect to catastrophic injuries. There is one MAJOR problem with that I will address next, but first I thought it would be useful to eliminate surface from the equation and look at simply turf fatality rates:

Country                Fatal Injury Rate               Fatal Injuries     Starts
AU                          0.44                                        316                         719,695
USA                       1.74                                        134                         77,003

As I suspected, ugly comparison best kept off the front pages of the DRF and the Paulick Report. Plus the Aussie turfers are faster than ours to boot. I wrote more about this years ago:

Simply put, the Aussies condition their horses more appropriately and don’t rely on raceday medications to get runners to the starting gate. The US is not likely to give up the syringe on raceday anytime soon, as Lasix aficionado/trainer Dale Romans was recently elected to the board of the HBPA – who only seem to care about the ‘horsemen’ rather than the horses. Perhaps we should unionize the horses, too?

2. No improvement in 5 years despite all the efforts?

That’s because the solution is in the conditioning and in the legal drug use, not the surface.

3. Controlling for surface is essential when comparing injury rates from one country to another because a key factor in injuries is race tactics.

US races on dirt are run with positive splits, meaning the first fractions of a race are faster than the last. Conversely, turf and synthetic races are generally run with negative splits – where horses storm home faster than they leave the gate.

For example:

10F 2014 Dubai World cup:           25.78/49.94/1:14.15/1:38.01/2:01.61
10F 2013 Kentucky Derby:            22.57/45.33/1:09.80/1:36.16/2:02.89

Looking at surface type and ignoring race fractions when discussing injuries is INSANE. Orb won the Derby rubber legging it home in 51.02 for the final half mile while Dubai winner African Story came home in just 47.18  after going out in a leisurely 49.94.

Try it yourself: sprint all out for 100m alongside a friend who cruises at 95% effort over the same interval. You may build a lead, but you will spit the bit around 150m as lactic acid fries your muscles (and your brain) while your buddy catches up and likely passes you before the wire. He will also have a smaller chance of injury and recover more quickly due to the physiologically friendlier ‘negative split’ strategy.

Now of course Keeneland goes back to dirt from Polytrack and the injury rates will also rise, and I am braced for legions of comments about how barbaric the change to dirt is on horses’ health. Nonsense. The pacing of dirt races is the primary culprit. But I prefer the US style, rather than the one dimensional ‘sit and sprint’ found in Dubai and other circuits worldwide.

—-2014 Wood Memorial—-

Yes! Finally a Derby prep where the horses are somewhat appropriately conditioned for the effort. Check out all the mile workers going to post this weekend at AQU:

-WICKED STRONG: 7F in 1:27 at PM on 3/26 (I’ll count the gallop out on this one because I love the Jerkens clan. Plus he just added a 3F blowout 3 days before posttime.

-NOBLE MOON: 1m in 1:45 at BEL on 3/29
(more on Gyarmati:

-KRISTO: no 8F works but several at 6F in SA for John Sadler

-SAMRAAT: 1m each of the last 2 weeks at PM answering the question posed here:

-EFFINEX: 1m in 1:42 at AQU on 3/15, who is trainer David Smith? Anyone?

Would be nice to box the first four on this last and cash a giant ticket while the supertrainers finish up the track.

We also have Social Inclusion who occasionally posts shorter works spaced just a few days apart. Interesting, but with no longer posted works I would suspect this freak has already ‘freaked’ at GP and will slide back to his mortal self – especially due to the fact his last huge effort also carries a ‘first time Lasix’ asterisk.

Long works before a long race doesn’t seem to happen much these days. Handicapper and pace expert Derek Simon recently ran a statistical analysis on how the final work longer than 6F before a route race affects performance:



Simply put, statistically speaking over a large dataset, those who work 6F or greater in the final breeze before a race over 8F run well considering their odds at post time. Much, much moreso than the legions of 4F workers put forth by Mott, Pletcher, and the like.

So if long works help horses win long races, it really hits home how much of an advantage Samraat has given himself over the past several months:

28Mar Pmm 1mf ft 1:44 B 1/1
22Mar Pmm 1mf ft 1:45 B 1/1
15Mar Pmm 4f ft :50© B 55/67
22Feb Pmm 1mf ft 1:45 B 1/1
15Feb Pmm 4f ft :49¨ B 41/84
24Jan Pmm 1mf ft 1:46ª B 1/1
17Jan Pmm 1mf ft 1:41« B 1/2
09Jan Pmm 4f ft :48 B 2/22
31Dec’13 Pmm 4f ft :50 B 37/52
11Dec’13 Aqu  7f ft 1:33 B 1/1
06Nov’13 Aqu 1mf ft 1:47 B 1/1 ×
12Oct’13 Aqu 5f ft 1:01ª B 1/7

For those keeping score at home (like me) that is 6 full mile workouts. Each time at PMM or AQU he is the only one going that far, except on one day where another Violette trainee does the same. When he makes the starting gate at the Derby this conditioning is going to give him a large fitness advantage. I don’t expect any Social Inclusion-like freakshow efforts, but rather a consistently solid effort and minimal chance of injury. The way it is supposed to be.

Lastly, but not leastly, Thoroedge favorite and Breeder’s Cup Arabian winner So Big is Better is up for the Darley Awards in Hollywood this weekend – gunning to become the Arabian Horse of the Year! Best wishes and a great time to relive one of my favorite racing moments from last season:

Best of luck to the connections!

EDIT: Wicked Strong and Samraat ran 1-2 and Thoroedge clients trainer Scott Powell, owner Mark Powell, and Breeders Cup champ So Big is Better swept the Darley Awards!-


About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on April 3, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Hey Bill, here are some UK numbers too be found, but these fatality numbers are so low, 0.06% of flat racing starts, that they might not represent the whole picture.


  2. Hey Bart & Bill

    You will find that fatalities are much less, but I do expect that loss of use may be higher due to serious tendon or suspensory injuries due to running on the softer or based on recent years heavy ground conditions. In one sense the turf surfaces and conditions are generally more forgiving for the catastrophic breaks which may hide inadequate preparation, but the flip side is that the surfaces in themselves when soft or heavy in the longer distance races when tiredness sets in can cause the other career ending injuries. I think that the racing fatalities are .6% for flat and all weather racing on average rather than .06% per thousand runners.


    I know you refer to the earlier out of the gate speed of the US horses over the first two furlongs and compare it to the European style of the more steady pace throughout a race culminating in the faster finishes. Tom Ivers believed that in the initial burst from the gates that the muscles would first use ATP and then a combination of ATP & CP, none of which produced lactic acid. Based on your posts, am I right to assume that you disagree with his views? Do you believe that the glycogen burning kicks in straight away leading to the lactic acid production?


    • Oh no I agree: the first few dozen seconds of a race are primarily fueled by ATP/CP, which doesn’t produce lactate build up. For a human this only serves as a the primary energy source for roughly 10sec, could be twice as long for a horse. If you stopped both a US horse after a quarter in 21 and an EU horse after a quarter in 27 – lactate may be roughly the same.

      However, if you jump ahead to the half mile: US in 44 and EU in 52 – the US horse will have more lactate accumulation at this point, in my opinion. Glycogen burning will kick in for both of course, but much earlier for the faster athlete. That difference only gets wider as the race progresses. Take another look at the Dubai vs KY Derby comparison:

      10F 2014 Dubai World cup: 25.78/49.94/1:14.15/1:38.01/2:01.61
      10F 2013 Kentucky Derby: 22.57/45.33/1:09.80/1:36.16/2:02.89

      If we use these fractions for two hypothetical runners and also utilize the common 1sec = 5 lengths measurement, the picture is quite clear. The Derby horse is 15 lengths clear at the 2F mark, and 22 lengths ahead at the half mile mark. That lead shrink by a few lengths when they get to 6F and is down to less than 10 lengths after a mile. Move ahead just another 2F to the finish line, and the Dubai horse WINS by 7 lengths. This is a crystal clear example of what I believe is going on.

      Out of the laboratory and in real life it’s pretty muddled. At any part of a horse race, all 3 energy systems are active to varying degrees: ATP-CP, aerobic, and anaerobic.

      • Ok Bill, I understand your point of view.

        Personally I just wonder are they running out of fuel rather than just the side effect of burning the fuel? A bit like having the same amount of petrol/gas in a cars fuel tank, if you rev the engine higher (at the limit) you will burn more fuel than driving in a more economical way. US racing revs up higher through the first part of the race while the European model will pace more steadily.

        When your US 2 year old sprinter Strike the Tiger for Wesley Ward visited Royal Ascot a few years back, he tore from the gates and couldn’t be caught in Group 2 5f sprint. I remember watching that race and really being impressed. I wondered whether the US style was more appropriate for the 5 or 6 furlong sprints. Over longer distances and in particular classis distances, I feel the ‘European’ style is not only much better, but much more of a spectator sport, where tactics some into play and horses accelerate over the last few furlongs rather than bouncing on the spot.


      • I do not share Ivers’ belief about running out of fuel/glycogen. Horse races, in the US at least, last a maximum of 120 seconds at high speeds. I know Ivers did some glycogen loading with great success over in the desert with endurance horses, but I just can’t see it for US thoroughbreds.

        Look at humans: no humans carb load for a mile race or shorter, but ALL of them do for 10k races and up, especially marathons.

    • We also find that here Colm. While catastrophic injuries due to skeletal failure are lower on synthetics, the anecdotal evidence on the backside finds a corresponding rise in soft tissue injuries due to the mechanics of the artificial surface. But that serves no political ends, so it’s summarily ignored.

      • Ivers did loading with thoroughbreds also and referenced his experience with his first loaded horse called Acey Mack in a number of articles and documented the post race lactate levels without a loading protocal and with one. While I read his book {probably 20 times over & I cannot wait to purchases yours btw 🙂 } my view is also my own.

        When I loaded, my horses were different. They never faded and were always better the next day after a race than without it, especially if they got a good post race shot of carbs too. I will say that none of my horses raced under 1m4f, so they were classic flat distances and also National Hunt distances of between 2m and 3m.

        I used my own product and under my four day protocol, towards raceday my older horses started to think that they were two year olds. A trainer used my regime on a couple of horses and he experienced the exact same thing in terms of demeanor. They were happy, full of life even playful when it came to catching them.


      • Thanks for the info Colm, I’m no dummy – if Ivers loaded a horse and tested lactate afterwards and found a significant difference (along with your experience) – I’ll gladly change my opinion!

        I just found some online info on Acey Mack that I will post tomorrow….

    • If these numbers are indeed true this would mean only 1 breakdown in every 1300+ starts. If a horse has an average of 25 career starts, only 1 in 52+ horses break down during their career while racing. Would someone please tell PETA? I bet more then 1 in 52 horses are dying in their natural habitat, over the course of 3 to 5 years, while making stupid and crazy moves over rough terrain. Maybe we should prohibit free roaming horses…

      • This would be their retort to your statement Bart: ‘animals dying for human amusement is different than them dying in the wild. we must act to protect those who cannot protect themselves.’

        And again I have no problem with that, what I have a problem with is the hypocrisy. While PETA has no official position on abortion (cowards), many members and fund raisers simply LOVE to abort humans, who I would think can easily qualify as ‘those who cannot protect themselves.’

        Find a damn single molecule on Mars and every news story would read ‘Other Life in the Universe!’; but find a couple billion cells inside a human being on earth and it’s ‘no life until passing through a birth canal.’ It’s all politics and money here in the US. Ask Al Gore.

  3. Wicked Strong really did well in the wood memorial, along with samraat. California Chrome also dominated the santa anita derby, I hope Sherman puts some good works into him before the derby.

  4. I have some comments I dug up about Sherman and Chrome. A paucity of official works, but some really strong, unreported, gallops.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: