California Chrome is no Swaps


Above is the May 7th edition of the DRF, from the day Swaps won the Kentucky Derby. Click to enlarge.

Day before the Derby: light jog like Chrome?
Nope. 5 furlong work.

Leading up to the big race: a leisurely week of jogging and light galloping like Chrome?
Nope. 6F race 7 days prior to the First Saturday in May.

Before that race? Another light week of ‘freshening up’?
Nope. 4F blowout the day before AND a 5F breeze 3 days prior to that.

The final 10 days before the Derby summarized:
California Chrome – a single 4F work at Los Alamitos and perhaps 2 cumulative miles of galloping.
4 race speed furlongs total.
Swaps – a 6F race, 3 works totaling just shy of 2 miles, and undoubtedly 10+ miles of galloping.
20 race speed furlongs total, 6 of them in an actual race.

It’s well known that Chrome’s trainer Art Sherman was the exercise boy for Swaps during these times. I would love to ask him why he thinks trainer Mesh Tenney prepared Swaps in such a manner for a grueling Triple Crown season, and why today Mr. Sherman decides not to do the same?

Regardless of what happens over the next few weeks, California Chrome is no Swaps and horses today pale in comparison to those of yesteryear when looking at total volume of exercise. And when you limit exercise, you limit response to exercise – i.e. improving both durability and stamina. If you were to measure the bone density of both Swaps and Chrome during their respective 3yo campaigns you would see a marked difference.


If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I should feel pretty good about myself this morning. However, if the ‘imitator’ does such a better job of things, then perhaps he should get all the credit. Enter European racing analyst James Willoughby.

First here are a few posts I did years ago detailing the ever slowing times of our 10F Kentucky Derby and our 12F Belmont Stakes:

From 2010:

From 2013:

As you can see, my data analysis and presentation resembles a Joe Biden speech: frighteningly simplistic smatterings from an old man who seemingly rides the fenceline bordering illiteracy. Thank goodness for Mr. Willoughby who in April of 2014 put these trends into a much cleaner presentation:


Read it. Please.

Things seemed to have taken a turn for the worse in the 1980’s. Right about then is when Lasix became pervasive (and legal), while at the same time quarter horse cowboys invaded the thoroughbred game with their ‘less is more’ philosophy on conditioning and their ‘more is more’ view of stable size. Now those very studs are failing to impart stamina to their offspring – perhaps because their stamina was derived from pharmaceutical means rather than through genetic responses to intense conditioning practices. I’m told the concept of environment affecting genetic change is termed Epigenetics.

Regarding California Chrome: splendid raw times and Beyer figures in California up to 9F when well-rested. No argument there. More from the author:

I really have nothing to add. It’s apparent that at 10 and 12 furlongs the American thoroughbred is in decline. The more we rest them and the less we test them in training; the slower they become over longer distances.


About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on May 7, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. great post Bill. we know of course that TBs can do the Swaps based on long history. it would, however, be interesting to see the actual gallop schedules. I’d guess that Swaps did very little work outside of his breezes–although u speculated he also did a lot of galloping. I am doubting that. as you may know, my recent experience, and also about three months of race experience some years back with Preston Burch style training produced very fit, enthusiastic animals. However, almost zero galloping was done outside the speed work. Cannon bones need most of the 2 days between works to recover.

    We also have to keep in mind that Swaps likely had a 100 lbs exercise boy for a lot of this. Would be interesting to get Sherman’s point of view. I’d like to know what Chrome is doing in those 2 mile gallop–how fast, how often etc. Chrome is interesting. Condition horse so he can do a mile in near 1:36 and then still have the speed to spurt away. How do you get that?

    • HI RR, I was on the backside at CD all week and Chrome never had those strong 2 mile gallops we read about at Los Alamitos. Yesterday he jogged around a lap. Will see what happens the rest of the week before he leaves for PIM.

  2. hi bill. in australia horses today are prepared much the same as swaps.horses breeze at least 2 often 3 times a week plus gallops every other day sundays off.horses regularly go into 10f racers with a race 7 days before that could be 8 to 10f…..

  3. On turf: AU horses work 2-3x as often, run faster, and break down 0.6 times per 1,000 starters. Drug free. The US? threadbare conditioning, legal drug use on raceday, and 1.7 breakdowns per 1,000 starts. Every worldwide ranking system puts AU turfers at the top as well, their courses are no softer than ours in general, that’s just another excuse US horsemen make to justify their poor performance. Euro turfers, their 3rd stringers, routinely ship over here and take our turf stakes, especially at Arlington. We suck.

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