We’ve had a lot of rain the last week and the ground has just now gotten dry enough to use the track. Not dry enough to gallop, but good enough to trot.
There is a 50% chance of rain today, so I worked the horses at their first grazing “break”. They eat for a while then come in to hide from the bugs for a while. I started with Zola, putting her on the lunge line to check her energy level. She seemed quiet, so I got on. She was a little balky to start, but not as bad as in the past. All I asked her to do was walk around the track twice. I’ve changed the configuration a little, moved the north turns further toward the road, hopefully making it so we can go faster than last year.
Zola offered a little trot but I really just wanted her to walk. It’s been almost a year since she was last ridden or had a bit in her mouth, so I want to give her a chance to get used to the weight and the bit.
After Zola I decided to ride Chance. Partly to get him fit and partly to get myself fit. I just wanted to walk, to get him used to the new turns and “homestretch”, but there were a couple flies bothering him so I asked him to trot. Went about halfway around at a trot and then he wanted to gallop. It really was too slippery for galloping, so I held him to a trot, but it wasn’t easy. He really wanted to go. This is the first year I’ve started him up and had him be so eager. Normally he’s pretty lazy in the beginning. Could he be trying to tell me something?
Lena stood by the fence watching it all and waiting for her turn, which finally came. I lunged her with the saddle and she was better than last time, but still not 100% relaxed about it.
Well, for those who didn’t watch the races, Beholder lost the Oaks by half a length to longshot Princess of Sylmar, who paid $76! Beholder did fall down in the post parade, so that may have had some effect. Close Hatches finished 7th and Pure Fun finished 6th. Pure Fun went off at 20 to 1, so she ran well. She also apparently sustained an injury to her ankle during the race.
As for the Derby – the mud was a big factor and no doubt the race would have been very different on a dry track. Revolutionary finished third, Oxbow finished 6th, with Goldencents running 17th. The winner, of course, was Orb, and there is a chance we may have a Triple Crown winner this year.
As I said the other day, Chance was wild. Running harder than I had ever seen him during any of his workouts at the Thoroughbred Training Center. What does that have to do with Gary Stevens? Two words. Rehab duration.
When I got Chance in 2009, the plan was to give him time off and then run him. And I did give him time off. But was it enough? We, as humans, make determinations of what we think is enough time off. I really thought he would run well last year (2012) but that was not meant to be. I didn’t even train him in 2011. And this winter I decided to give up.
And then Gary Stevens came out of retirement. I had read his book and learned he has serious knee problems, and clearly enough pain to force him into retirement. Now, after 8 years off, his knees feel good – or so he said in an interview I saw on TV. And I believe him. In eight years his body has healed at least some of the damage.
Perhaps Chance – and any horse – needs a longer rehab than we think. I can only say that when I watched Chance the other day, I didn’t see an “old”, or slow horse. Far from it. He is only 10 – a horse in his prime really. A horse whose body has had time to heal – not that he had any noticeable issues, but maybe he just felt burnt out. Now he seems to feel fresh.
I’m excited to see how he does in training.
I was lucky enough to be invited to meet Bob and Jill Baffert this week and was at their barn this morning. I got to see Midnight Lucky, Code West, and Govenor Charlie, among others, and to talk with Bob, very briefly, about drugs.
Bob said something that I know to be true, that if all drugs are eliminated from racing, the trainers who will be most affected, negatively, will be the small trainers. This was not news to me, but after seeing Bob’s horses in person, and then hearing what he had to say, I suddenly saw very clearly one of the reasons Bob, along with Todd Pletcher and other “big name” trainers, is so successful.
In a blinding flash of insight I saw how small trainers get horses – in a way I never really thought about before. An “ah ha” moment is when all the things you know suddenly fall into place, along with a new piece that makes you see things in a whole new perspective. Well, I had an ah ha moment after leaving Bob’s barn this morning, and this is what I realized; Bob Baffert has first pick of the best horses in the country. Being able to judge horses is a gift. Not everyone has it, so Bob, and others who do, get the best horses first. And this is the key. First.
Where do most other trainers get their horses? Lots of people buy young horses at sales, but the cheaper, or less well bred, etc., horses are often lacking in conformation, and/or other more ephemeral qualities. Already they are at a disadvantage. The other source of horses available are those that go to Bob Baffert’s barn, or Todd Pletcher’s etc. – first – and after some training are found to be not as highly talented as was thought. Or they have physical or mental issues. They are sold or dropped into claiming races and make their way down the ranks to the barns of less successful trainers. There are many many well-bred horses in the cheap claiming ranks. (I personally have a son of Aptitude out of a Broad Brush mare and learned to ride on a son of Summer Tan.)
The trainers of those horses are most likely not going to improve their performance. In addition, with each start horses are at risk of arthritis and other injuries, further limiting their performance. And, not least of all, top trainers like Bob don’t have to run a horse who is not fit or ready or not in the exact right spot. Less elite trainers are often pressured into running horses strictly for financial reasons.
So yes, superior racehorses and even champions can come from unexpected places, but they are the exception, not the rule. As in anything, money helps. If you can afford the best horses, you have the best chance of winning. Trainers’ talent is also a factor. Not to offend anyone, but some trainers are sorely lacking in horsemanship. There are trainers who could have a horse capable of being a champion, but in his or her hands, the horse will never reach its potential. Lava Man is such a horse. John Henry, and before him, Seabiscuit, were such horses.
If you think of it in terms of cars, there is the new-car lot with high performance cars, and there is the used-car lot with the same cars, just not in as good condition. Then of course there are the Chevy’s.
Now for my Oaks and Derby favorites. In the Oaks I am pulling for Beholder. I saw her on the track this morning and she is really stunning. Close Hatches also looked very good, and I like Pure Fun as a longshot choice.
In the Derby I am rooting for Gary Stevens on Oxbow. Purely sentimental. It would be great to see both Gary and D. Wayne Lukas win another Derby. I am also cheering on Goldencents – I always root for the least expensive horses, and he was a $5,500 yearling! I like Revolutionary as my longshot. His win in the Withers was spectacular. The Derby is a traffic jam and, to me, Revolutionary seems to be okay with that kind of race, not all horses are, and I think that’s why the Derby winner is often a surprise.
On the light side, I got to watch D. Wayne Lukas give an interview to ESPN. And I got to see him grazing a horse, which is something that says a lot to me. I overcame my shyness and asked Angel Cordero if I could take his picture, and talked very briefly with ESPN’s Jeanine Edwards, who is much more petite in person that I think she looks on TV. I got a good look at Kenny Mayne as he walked over – much cuter in person than on TV! It was kind of fun to see so many famous people. I got to shake hands with Bode Miller, and Game on Dude’s owner, Mr. Schiappa. Celebrities were everywhere; Donna Barton Brothers, Mike Batagglia, Bob Neumeier, and many more. All in all a very enjoyable morning.
This evening Zola and Sweet Tea were sharing some hay and were in perfect position for a comparison photo. Amazingly, they stayed that way while I ran in, got my phone, and ran back out. So here is the evidence that Sweet Tea has grown, despite the fact that she was 6 when she arrived last May. In 5 days it will be exactly one year since the top photo was taken. It’s pretty clear that last year Sweet Tea’s butt was smaller than Zola’s and that in general Sweet Tea had a finer frame and was smaller. No longer. I would say her butt is now bigger than Zola’s. And Zola has grown since last year as well. When I first saw Sweet Tea my comment was, “what a little peanut”. She is no longer a little peanut.
Click on the image to enlarge it.
My personal opinion is that Sweet Tea was supposed to be at least this size, if not larger, and one of the effects of starting horses in training so young (normally 18 months), racing them at 2, then continuing to race them hard (Sweet Tea had 51 career starts from 2008 to 2011) can prevent them from growing. Certainly that appears to be the case with Sweet Tea.
I had to get hay this morning before I turned the horses out. They have to be in the fenced 20 acres when I’m not home, obviously. When I got back and had the hay put away I opened the gate and called the horses. They came running! Part of the way I could only hear thundering hooves, then when they came into view Roxanna was in the lead. As they turned to head toward the gate Chance came from the back and took the lead – way out in front, and running.
Normally they would run out, do a little circle and start grazing, but not today. They were all fired up for some reason and took off across the field at a serious run. Maura and Chance had determination in their faces and I have never seen Chance run so fast. Certainly not during his works at the Training Center in 2010.
It’s amazing how they can all look like a bunch of crossbred pasture pets and then transform into racehorses in the blink of an eye. Chance looked fantastic. I wish I had had my phone with me! I have totally taken back my plan to retire him from racing and will try to get him to Kentucky Downs in September. He must have run at least 6 furlongs altogether. At one point I was standing in the road and he was running the length of the pasture and I yelled out, “Go Chance! Go!” And he actually dug in and went faster. What a thrill. Of course everyone was running, but not as hard. And not all in the same direction! What a video it would have made. They thundered by me several times, into the fenced area and back out. In and out. Across the field – up and down. As they slowed there was rearing and bucking and prancing. I’ve never seen them that wild and I loved it.
Lunged them all a little while ago and they all went well, not too surprisingly, as they had clearly taken the edge off. This was Lena’s first time on the lunge with the saddle since October, and only her third time total. She was good. She did half of a stiff-legged crow hop and that was it. I won’t say she is completely comfortable with the saddle, but she was not afraid.
Zola went around once at a lazy trot and stopped – as if to say, “I worked out this morning.” I asked her for a canter and she gave one without a buck. I sent her the other way and she stopped again and looked at me. Since the whole point of lunging her is to get her to relax and be calm, I made her walk one more round (only so she wouldn’t believe she is in charge) and then quit.
I had lunged Sweet Tea first and she went well. Much more relaxed, but still not sure about whoa. But it’s definite progress.
Quite an enjoyable day.
This is not a good photo. It was taken from indoors, through a screen, in the evening. Also the angle is misleading, it’s not a straight-on shot, it’s shooting up the fence line. However, I think it’s clear that Sweet Tea, even given the perspective, is at least the same size as Zola, and certainly more substantial than a year ago. The dark color is her winter coat – I’m assuming she’ll lighten up again when she sheds out.
It’s raining today, I’ll try to get a better photo when the weather is better.
The weather was again great. Lunged Zola, who went very nicely, with weak bucks at the canter, and actually had one depart without a buck.
Lena was next and she was very good, relaxed and calm.
Sweet Tea was last and she was more willing to relax, though she was not actually relaxed. She was also much more willing to stop from the walk and it only took two whoa’s. At the trot she would go back to the walk most of the time. At the canter she was too tense to really listen, but did stop much better than yesterday. By the end of her session (no more than 15 minutes) she was listening for whoa, so she could get a treat.
Zola’s withers have come up since last year. She really is a beautiful girl, and those withers go all the way back past the middle of her rib cage.
Lena’s is growing – apparently focus is on her butt at the moment.
I wish I had taken good photos of Sweet Tea when she first arrived. She has definitely grown. When I initially saw her, my first impression was, “what a peanut”. She was tiny and all leg.
I’m going to try to get another photo of Zola and Sweet Tea together, as I am sure Sweet Tea is bigger. In the late fall I noticed that her butt was higher than her withers, and now her withers are again higher than her butt. I frequently get her confused with Chance. She was actually quite beautiful on the lunge – looks like a different horse when she’s moving – and is a good mover. It’s easy to see why she was fast. Hopefully, the new bigger, stronger version will be just as fast, if not faster.
I lunged Zola the other day (the 16th). I worked all day on Wed and Thu, then it poured all night Thu. Things dried out nicely yesterday (a miracle) and today I lunged her again. This is not for exercise, just to build a routine of work, work out kinks, and judge mood. Zola was very good, but still in a bucking mood when cantering.
I also lunged Lena, which is still pretty new for her. The last time she was lunged was October so I really felt we might have to start from scratch. She surprised me by being very good. Relaxed and just walked off on a nice circle. When I asked her to trot, she responded very well and with a nice easy trot. Then the unexpected happened. Horses never cease to amaze me. All the other horses came flying across the field at a full gallop, looking as if they’d never seen Lena before. Of course the excitement had an effect on Lena and she started pulling away. I held her but she reared (she is a rearer more than a bucker). She ended up falling down and then stepped on the lunge line, breaking it, and took off. What a bunch of lunatics! They ran around like idiots – acting like Lena was a new horse.
I just followed along and retrieved Lena. I tied my lunge line back together and put her back on the circle where she did very well – again. As I went to switch the line to the other side of the halter she started walking off, right into me, so I pushed her off and she galloped away. Geez. Another long walk to go get her again. Once again, back to the circle and she was fine. So it all went well.
It’s inconvenient training a horse in a huge field, but I do have to say that it sure makes for trained horses. A horse who will behave, be calm, and obey in the middle of a field is doing very well. Often horses who are calm and obedient in an arena are not all that calm or obedient when they leave it.
Finally it was Sweet Tea’s turn. I put her on the lunge line and she walked off nicely. She moved into a trot without being asked, and then into a nice canter. Since I want horses to know the words walk, trot, canter, and whoa, I asked her to whoa. She clearly had never heard that word before and as I started to ask her, with the line, to slow down, she went faster. I kept shortening the line and she really kind of panicked. Just before I finally got her to stop she was galloping around me in a 6 foot circle.
I was wearing my fanny pack with horse treats and gave her one for stopping.
We spent the rest of the time working on walking and stopping. She was very good at walking, but really not sure about stopping, though she did finally get to the point where it only took 4 whoas. For each actual stop she got treats. It’s sad to see that while she is a very good girl, she really has only learned one thing. Go. The confusion and near panic at being asked to slow is especially telling. One also has to wonder if she was rateable, or if her resistance to slowing down is the reason she always went right to the front. I didn’t get the impression that stopping was something she didn’t want to do, but was instead something she didn’t think she was supposed to do.
I think Sweet Tea will return to the track this year as a more mature and confident runner. Not to mention slightly bigger and definitely sounder.
The second race on Sunday at Keeneland was won by a barefoot horse. According to the article at the link below it has been discovered that going shoeless helps horses on artificial surfaces. Huge progress for horses!!