Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What can Thoroughbred Trainers Learn from Standardbred Conditioners?

For once in my life, I’ll try to stick to the facts and keep my opinions to myself, at least until a later date.
The fact is that harness racing times have improved markedly over the past 70+ years, while thoroughbred times have lagged well behind.

To keep things simple, I decided to use the winning times in the Kentucky Derby and the Hambletonian – the two feature races for each discipline, please see above table:

Both races feature a landmark effort to break the 2:00 barrier; first accomplished in the Derby by the immortal Secretariat in 1973, with the corresponding harness racing effort coming from Emily’s Pride in 1958 – both carding a 1:59 (for the purposes of this piece, I have rounded off all fractional times downward to the nearest second).

From the above chart, starting in 1930 standardbreds have improved winning Hambo times by 7.9%, while thoroughbreds of the same period have improved Derby winning times by just 1.8%. If you start analyzing the data at the time of the breaking of the magic 2:00 threshold the differences are even more striking – 7.0% for trotters vs. an imperceptible 0.08% for thoroughbreds.

So, we have seen a roughly 500% greater improvement in Hambo winners versus Derby champs. Those of you who have read my work before know of my interest in the training aspect of the game, so let’s take a look at all the variables that may hold some answers to the above discrepancy.

Training and racing frequency

Thoroughbreds these days are lucky to get 6 starts per year on average, yet standardbreds often race weekly – even needing to qualify prior to racing. Thoroughbreds, taking into account a few weeks off from speedwork after a race, may see 12 sec/furlong paces for a half mile every 10-14 days. Standarbreds train in an interval fashion, working miles each week at race pace of 14 sec/furlong.

Use of technology

Thoroughbred trainers are avid users of the stopwatch, and sometimes the scales. Standardbred practicioners have utilized heart rate monitors, lactate analyzers, resistance carts, etc. for long before I entered the picure.

The first standardbred trainer I met was training a thoroughbred here at Churchill Downs, a former $5,000 claimer. After a few interval sessions at 1 mile with the HR/GPS monitor, his horse went on to win his next two route races by a total of 29 lengths – and was eventually claimed away for $50,000. Now with a new trainer and using the same old methods, that horse has done very little since.
A Lexington-based equine rehab center with a modern hyperbaric chamber reports that after harness races at the Red Mile, she gets a line of vans with sound candidates for post race treatment in order to enhance recovery. Despite being closer to Keeneland, thoroughbreds never make the trip unless a horse is injured.

Drugs, namely Lasix and Bute

Lasix became raceday legal back in the 80’s for thoroughbred racing, and starts per career numbers have fallen ever since, while Derby winning times have remained stagnant. The Hambo outlawed raceday Lasix and Bute in the early 90’s, yet times have continued to improve at the same rate.

Pre-race warm up

Nonexistent for most US thoroughbreds, their pre race routine consists mainly of walking in the post parade followed by a gentle trot next to the pony before entering the gate. Standardbreds often warm up a few miles prior to completion, with several furlongs of race-pace efforts.

Other factors

All thoroughbreds start from a standstill, while trotters get a rolling gate, which is much easier physiologically on the Hambo competitors.
Thoroughbreds also travel much faster than the trotters, which can cause more skeletal and soft tissue problems.
In US racing, most thoroughbreds have to start quickly and come home dead tired, while trotters actually often complete final quarters faster than the first ones.
Add these factors together and you can see that thoroughbred racing is probably tougher on the equine athletes, which can explain a higher injury rate – but not a lack of performance improvement.

Parting shot

I have one client, a self made millionaire here in the US, who insists to me that all big time TB trainers have a very good grasp of equine exercise physiology – but the numbers just don’t bear that out.

Somewhere, someday a thoroughbred owner/trainer is going to copy the training methods of the standardbred guys, instead of the thoroughbred elite, and make history. Only then will everyone else copy his practices and we’ll see Derby winning times in the mid 1:50’s on a consistent basis.

Maybe it will be us in 2020?:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Thoroedge Racing Partnership - the only drug free stable racing in the US

Time to put my money where my mouth is. ThoroEdge Racing Partnerships is set for a January 2011 launch with 5-10 purchases of 2 year olds who are galloping regularly, but yet to begin formal speed training.

What make us different than the rest?
  1. 100% drug free racing, no lasix, no bute.
    Drug use for maladies such as coughs, colds, etc. is just fine, but drug abuse is not allowed. Vet bills to be shared with all investors.

  2. Action, action, action!
    Our economic model calls for 2 year olds to be trained in South America, where monthly costs are just $1,000. Without debilitating drug abuse, and through scientifically sound training methods, our stock will race every 10-14 days on average - like in the old days.
    Put just these two factors together, and you get 10x the excitement for your dollar vs traditional partnerships.

  3. Quality horseman at every level.
    Trainers with success in US-bases stake races, foreign assistants who have graduated from KY-based internship programs, and bloodstock agentswith decades of experience, make up the Management Team.

  4. Auctions are for suckers, unless you are the seller.
    All of our stock will be purchased privately, off the farm. If a seller doesnt allow me to monitor HR during a gallop - I'm not buying from him. Public auctions are where the world's leading breeders dump their unwanted horses - ones they have observed on the farm for many months that show zero hope. Some champions in that mix, but you have to spend millions to find them consistently.

  5. With our physiological testing regimen we are targeting the best athletes, not merely the potential pedigree superstars. The magic happens when a horse is moving, and his HR behavior indicates superior physiological ability in real time.

  6. Only those horses that can pay their way come to the US.
    With an average shipping cost of $10,000 from South America, our best prospects will need to win 3-4 races overseas before coming to the states.

  7. Our sport is horse RACING, not horse selling, not horse breeding - you want that other stuff, go join Team Valor, etc. Many of which, by the way, are fantastic organizations, just playing the game in a different manner than Thoroedge.

  8. Our ideal campaigner will, in his/her career, race until age 6 and make 50 starts. This can only be accomplished by judicious training/racing and keeping them sound with frequent paddock turnout time.

  9. All foreign races will be available via live webstream - perhaps not TVG or HRTV everytime out, but technology is pervasive enought to give us great coverage.

  10. Nothing noble comes without sacrifice. Sending stock to the southern hemisphere for 2 year old training effectively rules out the Kentucky Derby and other classics, but not the Breeders Cup or many other quality stakes races at ages 4 and up.