Read the article by clicking here.
The Kentucky Derby was War Admiral’s third start in 24 days. Since he’d never gone a mile and a quarter, his trainer worked him the Derby distance four days before the Derby. He won the Derby of course. The Preakness was only a week after the Derby in 1937, and War Admiral worked nine furlongs four days before the race. As we all know, War Admiral won the Preakness. The Belmont Stakes was his fifth start in 52 days. That was not considered a particularly grueling campaign at the time, so just to be sure that the Admiral was ready for the 1 and 1/2-mile trip, Conway worked him not once but three times over the Belmont distance during the three weeks between the Preakness and the Belmont. He won the Belmont in a record tying time of 2:28 and 3/5, again leading wire to wire despite slicing a quarter off his right heel breaking from the starting gate.
Clearly our modern trainers could learn something from trainers who trained horses – instead of running them on drugs!
My friend Marilyn and I went to The Red Mile on Sunday. It was my first ever visit to the “trotters”. It was extremely interesting – and informative.
As we watched the post parade (sort of) there were many other horses on the track – all with post position number cloths on. It was a few races before we figured out that there were 2 numbers on the cloths – race number and post position number. What was clear was that horses were warming up on the track about three races before their own race. And by warming up, I mean going around the track (1 mile) multiple times, sometimes very fast.
After that initial warmup, the horses would come back for their own race and warm up again. For quite a while. There were a few “heat” races, where not only would the horses do the early warmup, race warmup, race, and then RETURN for an additional race, 3 races later.
And these horses were not going slow. The times for the mile ran around 1:52. For the quarter :28 seconds, for the half :52 to :57 seconds. The average time for the average Thoroughbred race mile is around 1:38. That is only 14 seconds difference. These horses are trotting almost as fast as a Thoroughbred can run!
The informative part is that this shows clearly that horses do not need 5 weeks to recover after an athletic performance. The difference? Standardbreds train many miles a day, several times a day. Making them athletes, not the hothouse flowers that TB’s have become.
The Fourth of July passed relatively quietly. Unlike last year, when fireworks were being fired off right and left, there were a few early on, then nothing until late at night. Still, did not ride Zola.
Today is hot and am not planning on working with Zola unless it cools off.
Have been working on a couple horse related projects, doing research and contacting people. One of the projects is that of finding a foundered racehorse, which I still hope to do. This could well be the easiest way to make a difference, as founder IS 100% curable, and the horse would not necessarily have to win after returning to racing – just achieve his or her former form.
Received The Horse Health Newsletter today, which included a study done on airway disease in horses. The gist of the study is that researchers took 20 healthy Thoroughbred horses 16-24 months of age with no prior history of racing or IAD and sent them to a racing barn. Within three days of arrival, 55% had some degree of IAD, and by Day 28, only two of the 20 remained IAD-free. The researchers determined that both respirable dust in the horses’ breathing zones and ammonia accumulation in the stalls led to inflammatory changes in their airways–likely due to a horse’s immune responses to the challenge of environmental contaminants. Even when the research team placed a HEPA filtration unit over half the horses’ stalls, the apparatus was not effective in removing dust or ammonia from the environment. For the complete article, click here. I’ve also added it to the article list on the left sidebar.
This is huge to me! Clearly it spells out one more reason why being stalled is so bad for horses. I now have to wonder if Chance was suffering from IAD (one would have to suppose so, since he was at the track for at least 3 years), and if he is now completely cured. Could this be one of the reasons he is so different this year?
Time will tell.
I have always maintained that horses don’t have to be dancing on their toes and high as kites in order to train, work, or race well.
Chance is the perfect example. I lead him with just a normal lead rope, although for the track I have a leather lead with no chain, and he drags his butt along 6 feet behind me like he’s going to slaughter. He stands still and waits for me when I drop the rope and say “whoa”. He normally looks like he has no energy and even grazing could be becoming work .
He walked like his normal self through the parking lot, through the barn, and through the tunnel. But the instant his feet hit that track he became a racehorse. As anyone who knows horses is well aware – horses have an instant on switch. The most placid old gelding can go from half-asleep to bolting away at top speed and snorting fire if something spooks him. No warm up necessary.
Given the choice, surely relaxed is better for the horse’s entire system. It can’t be good for a horse to be on edge and keyed up all the time.
Chance’s behavior today also makes it pretty clear he understands the difference between his everyday life and his job. After his workout he was back to his normal laid back, and lazy-looking self.
It’s amazing how once you open your mind to a new way of viewing things you wonder why you never saw things before.
When I was young I never questioned the idea of galloping a mile a day as exercise for a horse. Granted, I did ride my horses on the trails during the winter, and they did have turnout, so I wasn’t totally in the dark. But I am shocked at the degree to which I did NOT think for myself.
Really, a mile a day? Having now been riding Chance for a couple weeks it’s clear to me that a mile is nothing to a Thoroughbred. Nothing. It’s pretty obvious that this form of (dubious) exercise arose as a way of keeping it convenient and cost-effective for people. It’s about saving time and money. I have to wonder when the knowledge of horses started disappearing from racing. 100 years ago? Two hundred? Surely, back in the days when people used horses for transportation, no one thought going a mile was work.
I would love to know what the training regimen was for those horses who were racing in 3 four-mile heats with only 30 minutes in between.
I’ve been watching racing on TV – starting with the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes – and what I see is very disappointing. Most trainers learned everything they know from a trainer who learned it from a trainer who learned it from a trainer. And what’s being passed on? Not true knowledge of horses. No. What’s passed on is things like using tongue ties, standing horses in ice, using blinkers, bandaging legs, etc. And of course what drugs to use. Racing practices. Nothing really about horse physiology or psychology. And certainly nothing progressive or new.
I picture it like this. Way back in the day there was a guy who really knew horses. He had a gift – and it is a gift – for knowing what to do and when to do it. He taught his assistant everything he did – but you can’t really pass on a gift. So what that trainer knew didn’t ALL get passed on. And with each generation a little was lost. Until here we are, with trainers who don’t know that white foamy sweat means your horse is not fit. With trainers who blindly put tongue ties on every horse. With trainers who use blinkers instead of training. With horses walking over to the paddock with 2 people and 2 shanks. Just 40 years ago – when I was 19 – horses were walked over to the paddock with nothing more than the reins. Tongue ties were pretty rare. People raced their horses almost weekly. And did better. Times were better in the 60′s than they are now. What does that say?
To me it says that while the pleasure horse industry is embracing new knowledge and improving horse/human relationships and performance, the racing industry is really going backwards. And I have to say I understand why it continues to go backwards. Because current trainers are selling it so well. When I watch TV and hear those trainers talking as if they know everything – and remember their horses are winning the majority of the big races – I am intimidated on some level. I feel myself get less sure that Money Talkin will really do well. I get caught up in the talk of class and price and who can run with who. I start to forget that NONE of them are fit. They are all basically racing as God made them. Right out of the box so to speak. It’s all natural talent. There is NO athletic preparation.
I think – actually I know – that other trainers are psyched out. So much of it is psychological. If someone pays $5,000 for a horse, they don’t start them off against what they consider the “good” horses. No, they start them out at a lower level with lower expectations. They don’t believe they’ll ever have a “good” horse, let alone a champion. And so they don’t try to have one. I’ve seen that personally.
Believing in animal communication, as I do, I have to wonder what effect that has on the horses themselves. Does a horse do better with someone who believes in him? Do horses go by our expectations?
So, I realize that I need to keep up my own morale. I not only have to make sure Money Talkin is truly fit and ready to run, I have to make sure that I continue to believe that he will improve a great deal because of his new lifestyle.
I bought a copy of the video of Money Talkin’s last win at Suffolk Downs. It arrived the other day and I immediately watched it with a friend. It was cool to see him running, but it was amazing to see how he ran. Every time he went to lengthen his stride and increase his speed, he tripped!!! Then he would reduce his speed to where he wouldn’t trip. This happened at least 5 times during the race. Still, he did win.
Having watched Chance running free in the pasture, I know how he looks when he’s going all out. He’s very low and flat with a big stride. And even though the pasture is bumpy – not groomed like the track – he never trips. Comparing what I see now, with what’s on the video, it’s pretty clear that Chance wasn’t running anywhere near his best at the track. A horse can only run as fast as his feet will allow.
More good news for the Experiment!
Other things were revealed as well. He went into the gate quietly, and stood still waiting for the start. He ran on the rail, he rated, he moved to the outside when asked. In short, he seemed very willing to do whatever the rider asked. Which is very good.
I’ll try to get a portion of the video uploaded so that readers can see the tripping.
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.