Long, Slow Works are Better than Races for this One


That’s a HR/GPS chart from a 4F work in 48 flat yesterday at a major East Coast racetrack. Note the low jog HR in the first few minutes, around 100bpm. Speed peaked at 37.8mph and held steady at 37mph – precisely 12sec/furlongs. 2min after the work ends, after a decent gallop out, HR is 120bpm and 3min later is dropping under 100bpm. And this horse hasn’t raced in 2014 yet.

Now we go back to December and check out one of several 4F works for the same horse, between his 2 unsuccessful starts for a big-name trainer with several Grade 1 wins to his credit:


This is 4F in 51. The jog HR is a very high 140bpm and the post breeze 2min recovery is 150pm. Terrible for a horse who has several works and a race under his belt. Unsurprisingly, to me at least, a week later he ran a well-beaten 7th. Amazingly, the trainer in question felt good about his chances! And this guy has won millions in purses over the past few decades.

So, why does this 3yo colt look great today after a miserable showing 4 months back? A major reason is he posted 2 slow 6F works with strong gallop outs before attempting the fast 4F move last week:

4/27 – 4F in 48
4/19 – 6F in 1:18
4/5 – 6F in 1:19

The old horseman’s adage, ‘One race is as good as two works’ only applies if the horse in question is reasonably fit for the task. Based on that first 4F HR/GPS chart, this one should have never been in the starting gate – as he was nowhere near ready, and even a respected horseman couldn’t see it with his own two eyes.

Now this young trainer with a different approach has him prepared to run well off a big layoff, and likely at huge odds to boot. Some owners and trainers allow me to blog about what they are doing in real time, but this team sees the HR/GPS as a competitive advantage, so I must protect their privacy.

But the take home lesson is good for all:

Don’t run a horse who recovers so poorly off a 4F work, it’s hopeless. He can’t win at 6F+, and he is at increased risk of injury. A better way is to slow him down in the mornings, stretch him out a few panels, then come back to the speed. And when you have the HR/GPS charts there is no guesswork – both owner and trainer (and myself) can go into the next race secure in the knowledge that he’s going to run well.

Now we aren’t out of the woods just yet, many horses can go a good 4F but the wheels come off during an extra furlong at speed. But if this same horse goes 5F next week and has similar recovery numbers, I’d bet the house on him when he next attempts to break his maiden. Regardless, he’s now prepared to improve off a race or two, which was definitively not the case last year.

EDIT: May 25, 2014: He ran 2nd, beaten a half length after trouble in the stretch, to a Pletcher/Repole $250k purchase. Race taken off turf and down to a 4 horse field, yet ours still went to post at 14-1. Even Hall of Fame trainers eyeballs plus decades of experience lack in accuracy compared to a HR/GPS chart when estimating equine fitness/ability. That is a fact.

PS. Kentucky Derby horses?
That kind of graded stakes ability is displayed by doing 6F+ works in 12’s with a similar, or better, recovery. Even though many posted works this week are of the 4-5F variety – nearly all include reasonably aggressive gallop outs of 1-2F. I’d give my right arm to know the HR behavior as they wind down on the CD backstretch. Half of the field likely has no business being in this race and the HR numbers would identify that bunch.

On the gallop side?
If California Chrome is galloping 2 miles every morning in 4:00-4:20 total time with a HR under 185bpm – he may just be unbeatable on Saturday as most others cap daily exercise at 1-1.25 miles.


About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on April 28, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Highly informative post…thank you very much. Also, I completely agree with your comment re California Chrome. videos of his 1/2 mile works in 48.1 appear absolutely effortless. Of course, that doesn’t get him 1 1/4 miles especially if he’s contesting a heated pace, but I anticipate a potentially huge race from him. Whether that translates to victory, well, it’s the Derby, isn’t it, so luck plays such a big part in the outcome of the race (too much with these 20 horse fields, but that’s another story). Hope you can continue to update us on this “anonymous” horse and how these works translate into performance. Thanks again. Murray

    • Thanks for reading, and commenting – I will certainly update with race results, good or bad. Also look out for the previously mentioned Light Weight – first time winner at AQU last week in again at BEL this week.

  2. Phillip Haycock

    Hi Bill
    Its great to be able to see the facts.
    Id be looking at this horses recovery immediately post speed.
    What I call the lag, the time in seconds that it takes the heart rate to begin to decline from it’s max constant rate.
    In the first and improved graph it appears to be about 30 secs and level, while in the earlier graph possibly 45-50 seconds of increasing HR post speed.
    Id bet that in the earlier workout the stressed and sore horse started to pull at the 3:45 point.
    Anxiously anticipating the gallop probably for all the wrong reasons.
    There may be some room for further improvement in the current lag times.

    • I do look at that recovery too Phillip, but sometimes the gallop out can confuse things. I have seen sub 10sec recoveries after 4F quite often, but only after a few races are under the belt. Similarly HR recovery at 5min gets below 80bpm after a few runs if they remain sound.

      Good point in the excessive pre-exercise HR due to anticipation in an ‘off’ horse. None of that in this one today!

    • The pic in that link, from my FB page, shows almost immediate HR drop after cessation of speed.

  3. Phillip Haycock

    Yes, 4-6 seconds is as good as I see.
    Typically, high walking HRs have indicated to me that a horse has gone off.
    Then it can be staggering what a spell can do.

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