I received a link to this article today:
It’s nice to see some publicity about those using science and technology to condition racehorses. Australia and New Zealand seem to be leading the way in using heart rate monitors and other tools to get facts about the horses they train.
I will be rooting for Ortensia on June 19th!
Recently, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board (NYSRWB) opened a two-week comment period on the raceday use of Lasix. The proponents of Lasix make strong arguments for its use. In fact, regular readers may remember that not too long ago I reversed my own position on using Lasix from no to yes. This was based on an article which stated that bleeding (Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage – EIPH) is responsible for sudden deaths on the racetrack. To me, that seemed an unacceptable risk.
There is a lot written about Lasix, mostly pro, and I’ve read a lot of it. I confess that I make many decisions based on what could be termed intuition,gut feeling, or instinct – something just feels right or wrong. I may have no logical reason at the time I make a choice, but eventually the information will either come to me or it will work its way from the depths of my mind into consciousness.
Lasix is just such a case. Gut said no. Then, second-guessing my gut, I swayed over to yes, despite the fact that I do not believe bleeding is caused by high blood pressure caused by fluid in the horse’s system. Horses evolved to run. They evolved a spleen which contains up to 30% of their red blood cells. A spleen which contracts during flight to flood the horse’s system with extra blood cells. They are born blood dopers. I am fairly certain that nature built them to withstand extra fluid in their bodies.
But Lasix has been proven to reduce or prevent bleeding. Why?
The other day light dawned at Marblehead. All the stuff I read and heard finally got processed by my brain and the critical question floated into consciousness. Lasix is a diuretic. It is given hours before a race to flush water from the horse. The horse races and doesn’t bleed. But wait!! In other places in the world, Lasix is not allowed on race day, however, horses are TRAINED on it. It still prevents bleeding. How can that be? A diuretic given days before the race prevents EIPH? And there is my answer. Lasix does prevent bleeding. But NOT because it’s a diuretic
Some internet research quickly revealed the fact that Lasix (furosemide) is a sulfonamide. Sulfonamides are drugs that prevent the growth of bacteria in the body. See below:
And there it is. A good argument for the real cause of bleeding. If using Lasix 72 hours (or more) before a race (the amount of time it takes to give a negative drug test) prevents bleeding, it’s due to its being a sulfonamide, NOT a diuretic. The diuretic effects of Lasix last 2-4 hours. Certainly not 72.
So, my position on Lasix returns to the original. No. We will not be using Lasix. I will however do some research on natural, legal, substances that work on the same bacteria as sulfonamides.
I stumbled over this the other day while searching for material for the online trimming course I’m offering.
I quote from the Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit Issue 2 – Sponsored by the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation:
“Long toes can cause strain on tendons, the suspensory ligament and the sesamoid bones while short toes combined with high heels can cause concussion to the hoof (putting the horse at risk for navicular disease, ringbone, and arthritis). Low toe angles have been reported for horses with musculoskeletal and/or lameness problems.
In one California study, all groups of injured horses had acute toe and heel angles suggesting that decreasing the difference between toe and heel angles should decrease the risk of suspensory apparatus failure for Thoroughbred racehorses and should be considered to help prevent injury.”
Imagine my surprise when I see that this was published in 2007! This is the report that caused toe grabs to be banned, but apparently that was the only thing that racing decided to embrace. Sadly.
For those who want to read the whole report, which is well worth a read, click here.
EasyCare just put out a white paper on a study done of heat in the foot of the horse. Shod vs. Barefoot. Wow! Wait til you see the photos. Here is more scientific evidence of the negative effects of shoes!
Use the link at the left, or click here, to view the white paper. And many thanks to EasyCare.
I saw this book when I went to the Keeneland Library with my friend Marilyn. It was available, used, on Amazon.com so I ordered it.
In the book, Dr. Cook (the same Dr. Cook who has patented the bitless bridle) goes into tremendous detail regarding airflow in racehorses. It actually makes a lot of sense to me, and explains why potential winners cannot be determined by conformation. There have been great horses who were less than perfectly conformed, including ones with crooked legs. Dark Mirage was barely 14:3 but won what was called at the time the Filly Triple Crown, and is now called the Triple Tiara. She not only won, she devastated her competition, as can be seen by the photo below.
I was actually aware of her at the time, and photos of her were in the Thoroughbred Record. Not only was she tiny, she was not all that attractive. According to reports, her entrance into the sales ring at Keeneland prompted laughter, and she ended up being the lowest priced horse of the sale at $6,000. However she went on to earn over $362,000 and was Champion 3 year old filly. (Unfortunately, she suffered an injury as a 4 year old and complications ended in euthanasia.)
Dr. Cook’s theory is that airflow is the limiting factor in racing. He goes into great detail and explains using jaw width as a guideline in determining airway size. He states which measurements are average, and which superior. He backs this up with measurements of many champions all of which had larger than average jaw width. According to his research, the “average” TB has a 4-finger jaw width (7.2 cm) or less. Horses who’ve proved superior have from 5-6 finger widths (9 cm and 10.8 respectively).
I feel that his theory is very valid, in part because of something I heard a long time ago – that you should be able to fit your fist between the branches of the jaw at their widest point. Over the years I’ve tried that on a lot of horses (TB’s) and was unable to do it. I tried it on Chance when I first got him, and was happy to see it fit. Not that airflow is the only factor – after all, a horse must be healthy and fit, and I believe a horse can do better barefoot than shod. But if the limiting factor IS airflow – better to have it than not.
Of course I wanted to know immediately how wide Chance’s jaw is. I measured probably 12 times, being sure I did it right. Then I measured my fingers. Turns out his jaw width is 9.5 centimeters. I am happy! Actually, he is bred to run. His sire, Aptitude, won the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Hollywood Gold Cup, among others, along with finishing second in the Kentucky Derby, and second in the Belmont, and earning over $1.9 million. His dam’s sire, Broad Brush beat Ferdinand, was third in the Derby and the Preakness and earned over $2.6 million.
And of course, I wanted to know how wide Zola’s jaw is. Just about exactly the same. Very cool.
Here are some of the champions Dr. Cook measured. (The book was published in 1993). Northern Dancer 6 fingers, Seattle Slew 5 fingers, Secretariat 5 fingers, John Henry 5 fingers, and Forego 5 fingers.
Now, let’s hope Dr. Cook is right!
There is a heated debate regarding racing’s Triple Crown – the Kentucky Derby, The Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes. Many trainers, veterinarians, etc. are in favor of the following changes: shorten the Belmont to 1 and 1/4 miles from it’s current mile and a half and make the time period between the races longer. D. Wayne Lucas went so far as to say run the Derby where it is, then the Preakness on Memorial Day, and the Belmont on July 4th, also shorten the Derby to a mile and an eighth.
To his credit, trainer Nick Zito said leave it alone – “let’s wait for another Secretariat to come along.” In other words, let it be a true test of a horse’s greatness. And yes, those great ones don’t come along every day.
Those in favor of change are quick to say they don’t want the changes to make it easier to win the Triple Crown. Right. Then why change it at all?? Clearly they want it to be easier. They even say that horses just aren’t as good as they used to be.
I don’t believe that’s true. I believe racehorse training (and breeding) is devolving. Listening to the debate on Belmont day, I was horrified to hear that many trainers only race their horses every 5-6 weeks!!! No wonder they’re not fit. As any athlete knows, you train, you compete at your peak, your rest. I don’t think any human athlete would only compete once every 5 weeks and expect to do well.
As far as breeding goes – since horses don’t run hard it’s hard to tell who is really a quality stallion (or mare). Horse are so lightly raced and retired so early how can a real estimate be made? What I WOULD be in favor of, is changing the Triple Crown to a race for older horses. That would benefit racing and the horses themselves.
A trimming client of mine sent me a very interesting article by Dr. Deb Bennett on the developmental timetable of horses. Among other things, she points out something I already knew – that way back when Thoroughbreds competed by racing three four-mile heats. And if the result wasn’t clear enough there would be a final heat of 3 and a half miles. Now that was a test.
However, I didn’t know about the potential fourth heat. I also didn’t know that there were only 30 minutes between heats!!! Imagine!
(Click here to view the entire article – it’s well worth reading.)
Eventually someone thought of creating Futurities (races for young horses). Obviously 2 and 3-year-olds couldn’t run 12 to 15.5 miles so they made the races very short (under a half mile). Those races became quite popular, especially with bettors, as they went by so much more quickly. And there began racing as we know it today.
I personally don’t think Thoroughbreds are incapable of running those kinds of races today. Look at the steeplechasers in England – they run over 4 miles and have to jump as well. I DO believe that the racehorse trainers of today are incapable of training such horses.
When I watched the 2009 Kentucky Derby and Mine That Bird won, I was pleasantly surprised to see that he looked pretty fresh. Not totally exhausted and puffing away like a steam engine as he came back after the race.
He didn’t run too badly in the Preakness or the Belmont. And I do feel his jockey, Calvin Borel, made a mis-judgement in the Belmont, perhaps failing to realize how far it was to the finish line from the far turn.
After that, though, he just seemed to be unable to run well at all. I hypothesized that maybe once he had “made the big time” his trainer changed his exercise regime, or some other factor of his care, in order to be more like the famous trainers.
Last weekend however, I believe I figured out the real reason for Mine That Bird’s loss of form. Don’t know why it didn’t come to me sooner.
I lived in New Mexico for almost 10 years. (And loved it!). It should have come to me right away why Mine That Bird looked so fresh after the Derby. He had been training at over 5,000 feet. It’s much more work to run at high altitude, so when he got to sea level – he suddenly was way more fit than any other horse in the race. The longer he remained away from New Mexico, the less fit he became. He didn’t necessarily win the Kentucky Derby because he was the superior horse – but because of his superior wind.
Conditioning!!! It really is all about conditioning.
I just finished reading “Funny Cide” by Sally Jenkins. For those of you who don’t know, Funny Cide won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness (first 2 jewels of the Triple Crown) in 2003. To me it was a very sad book – and I feel bad for Funny Cide.
Funny Cide’s trainer, Barclay Tagg, did everything the traditional way. “Correcting” Funny Cide’s hoof angle. A good example of how TB’s are not born with bad feet. According to the book, Funny Cide’s feet were at steeper angle than the “normal” one of 45 degrees. But they fixed that!! Poor thing. Then he was forced to stand in ice for hours before every race – again normal for the track. He got the usual 4 minutes (or less) of exercise in the morning. But worst of all, the more successful he became the more his trainer kept him secluded!! After the Preakness, not even his owners were allowed to visit him. So basically, his reward for winning was solitary confinement.
When my friend Dawn was out here in March, we visited the Kentucky Horse Park and saw Funny Cide in person (he’s only ten). And I don’t really think he looks happy. I wish I’d known how he was treated before I went.
But back to the 4 minutes of exercise. I have to admit that does not include the walk to and from the track from the barn, or the time spent on the walking machine afterwards. If any of you have ever seen TB’s on the walking machine you know that it’s a very slow pace – and many horses have learned to stop the walker and take a break.
When you see 4 minutes in print it really becomes obvious how little time is spent conditioning racehorses. Four minutes!! What human athlete would consider 4 minutes of work per day enough exercise? It’s ludicrous. No wonder the injury rate is so high. Not to mention that before a race many many horses stand in ice for hours. Contrary to most human athletes who are trying to warm up so they don’t get injured. And imagine how the poor horse feels as his circulation returns – all those stinging pins and needles!!
Where is the logic? There isn’t any!
Horses are worked at full speed occasionally. At distances of 3/8 of a mile to 6 furlongs. Sometimes they are worked a mile and there may be horses who are racing a mile and a quarter who will sometimes work that distance – but not often. The day after a work (even one that is only 3/8 of a mile) the horses often have a day off because of the “stressful” workout. In human training, athletes will often sprint repetitively – several sprints over the course of an hour or so.
When racing – it’s even worse. Aside from the “cheap” tracks, horses will have literally weeks off after a race. They will still put in their 4 minutes and have works, but no racing – it’s too “hard on them”.
With sports all over the television, and information all over the internet, why is it that racing hasn’t caught on?
In 1908 a filly bred by Federico Tesio, a famous Thoroughbred breeder who lived in Italy, won the Epsom Derby (one of the major races in England) against colts and then 2 days later won the Oaks (another major race, this one for fillies only). There is no reason why this cannot be done today.
I raced my own horses at cheap tracks when I was younger. They were older horses who had suffered injuries over the course of their careers and whom I got very inexpensively. However, they were always in the money and each won for me as well. I raced them every 3 days. They improved after each race, the wins coming later, not sooner. Racing is what gets horses fit for racing. Working alone on the track doesn’t inspire the horse to run like competition does. They run faster and harder in races, therefore increasing their level of fitness. When a horse is raced every few weeks, he loses that added fitness he gained from one race before the next one.
This mistake is made for at least 2 reasons. One is the belief that racehorses are fragile and can’t race frequently a belief not held at cheap tracks obviously) and the second is that trainers try to get a horse to race all year. To me that is a huge mistake. The horse should be trained and brought to a peak. He should compete often during that peak, and then have a few months off to rest. This is what human athletes do. There are seasons for sports. Baseball season. Football season. Hockey season. Track has a season. No athlete can compete all year at a continuously high level. They train and perform in cycles.
That is the goal with Money Talkin. Get him fit, race him, give him time off to rebuild and repair – before he becomes worn out. Then build back to a peak and race again.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that peak performance requires peak physical condition. Horse shoes are one of the largest impediments to true health. In the past there was really no way to scientifically show this, but we are now in the 21st century and have invented machines to do amazing things.
To the left is a thermographic image of barefoot horse. Note that the overall color is yellow (warm) with some areas being even warmer (red). Blue indicates a cool area. It’s plain that the horse’s legs are yellow – warm. Below is a thermographic image of a shod horse. Note the blue area from the knees down.
The blue area proves that shoes reduce circulation in the leg – not just the foot. I’m sure any sports medicine physician would attest to the fact that for maximum effort, circulation is critical. Blood brings oxygen and needed nutrients to enable peak performance. Reduction of circulation leads to early fatigue – and fatigue leads to injury. It’s my theory – and not too wild a one – that the poor circulation in the lower leg caused by shoes is one of the primary reasons horse’s at the track break down.