Thursday, November 4, 2010

Synthetics are like a trampoline says Zenyatta's exercise rider

"She’s terrific," added Willard. "She couldn’t be training any better. She loves the dirt. I knew it two years ago, and I knew it going into Hot Springs (for the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park). She drives off it. It doesn’t have the trampoline effect like the synthetics."

Better than from the horse's mouth!

By the way, that Apple Blossom in which she was so dominant timed at 1:13 for 6F, while Saturday will be around 1:09 for 6F on a similar surface. So, Z will use much more energy to be close - or be 15-20 lengths further back than usual.

Ragozin, Thorograph, Beyer, all point to a disappointment for the legions of Zenyatta fans this weekend - and her backers believe that she transcends numbers/statistics. Gotta love this sport in that she finally gets to prove which side is right.

Some of you know, I collect physiological data on horses during exercise. Most of my data comes from Churchill and Keeneland, I've never been out West. From these numbers, horses breezing on synthetic experience much smaller lactic acid build up than those on dirt.

Amazingly, it takes 6F on polytrack to even get close to the lactic acid dealt with after just 4F on dirt. So after 6F of the BC, Zenyatta will likely be in uncharted lactic acid territory for her and still have a half mile left to go. Ouch. She is indeed the greatest racemare ever if she can overcome this against such a quality field.

Don't just take my word for it, get out there yourself and feel the differences.

Run 400m on blacktop(CD), again on your local high school rubber track(poly), and again on grass(turf). They will feel markedly different, both during the run and in the days after - and the stopwatch will differ greatly.


  1. Nice to see a push towards good analysis. Lower lactate buildup would mean faster race times. Meaning horses would run faster on synthetic. Make that "a lot" faster if your 6f to 4f comparison is accurate. But they don't. Why??

  2. Um, her two races in the Apple Blossom were on the dirt, NOT synthetic.

  3. The lactic acid difference is an interesting question, but also remember -- the Apple Blossom is run on plain dirt, not the synthetic "trampoline." So, on dirt this past April, Zenyatta was less than 4 lengths behind at 6 furlongs in 1:12.68. Racing for 3 furlongs after that, she went on to win quite handily.

    Also, the Classic's early pace may not be near 1:09. The last time we had the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs, the Classic's first 6 furlongs went
    in 1.11.11. In 2000, at Churchill, this Classic split was 1:12.01. This Saturday, if Zenyatta runs her usual early pace, she may be 10 or 15 lengths behind the leader at 6 furlongs but not 15-20 lengths farther back than usual.

    Finally, although she has mostly breezed and raced on synthetic surfaces, Zenyatta also gallops frequently on a dirt training track at Hollywood Park -- so she does have many miles of conditioning on dirt.

    "Gotta love this sport in that she finally gets to prove which side is right" -- absolutely! Wishing all the Breeders' Cup horses safe and fair racing, and looking forward to a wonderful Classic.

  4. The Apple Blossom is run at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, which has a natural dirt surface.
    So, how can she be in uncharted lactic acid territory after 6 furlongs on dirt, when she's already won at 9 furlongs on dirt?

    Also, the figures you mention all pointed to disappointment last year also. Can you provide a reason why they would be more insightful this year?

  5. I know the Apple Blossom is on dirt, but she was at 1:13 for 6F, a pace she cannot get away with on Saturday at CD.

    Regardless of past years splits, Quality Road is going in 1:09 from the one hole.

    'Fast' is a misnomer, horses only hit top speed for a few strides, the true test is who slows down the least when tired.

    Last year she would have lost the Classic if it was anywhere but on dirt also.

  6. Fixed typo above, apologies for referring to OP as a trampoline.

  7. RonM, if synthetics last another few years, and trainers start to train more aggressively over them, we will see record times fall everywhere.

    But so far, the pace scenario sets up more like a turf race - unnecessarily so in my opinion.

    As long as horses only race 6 times a year and breeze 4F once every 7-10 days while dehydrated on lasix, we'll never see faster times.

  8. Bill:
    I'm still hung up on 6f lactate level = 4f;
    As a runner, if i were to race 1 mile (8F) on surface A where my lactate level was "x" after 4f and on surface B where my level was "x" after 6f, my final 8f time would be much faster on surface B; being very rough, say 20-30 sec (at least) faster for ~5 min mile; Given a horse runs 1 mile in one third that time, that would be almost 7-10 seconds difference. So a horse that could run 1:33 on dirt could run 1:26 on synthetic. This isn't adding up for me. Also, it suggests horses moving from dirt to synthetics would be dominant, which rarely happens.

  9. Horses run instinctively a flight response. The adrenaline produced in the less the 2 minutes it takes to run would override any immediate lactic acid effect. In humans any effects from the build up of lactic acid is often felt 24 to 72 hours after an exercise event and that’s in humans only. Perhaps you ought to try your hand handicapping the New York marathon? Most of those runners have been training over a variety of surfaces.

    If Zenyatta loses it will likely have little to do with lactic acid build up.

  10. Interesting point--we often overlook the "science" of the sport.

    However, like previous commenters noted she has raced very successfully on dirt before. And as for assuming she would have lost last year's Classic if it had been on dirt--that ignores the fact that she was hardly "all out." If she had had to, she could have run much harder than she did.

    I'd be happier if she had had more experience racing on dirt myself, but there is the possibility that she's one case where paper calculations simply don't apply. I sure hope so, anyway.

  11. RonM-

    Horses will run better over synthetics in the years to come, approaching those times you have quoted. However, training has yet to catch up to the nuances of the surface. Unlike humans, many races are run strategcally with those doing 'just enough to win'.

    Also, due to the principle of specificity, dirt forms doesnt always cross over to synthetic form. You have to be fit for the surface. At SA again this year for the BC, Zenyatta very well romps.


    If horses run purely on adrenaline then why do we even train them at all? You get off the couch and go run 400m all out and tell me you dont feel lactic acid at that very second.

    Now take yourself and a champion track athlete and the loser of the race is punished severely. Both of you run with adrenaline, but you still lose.


    Depends on your definition of 'success on dirt'? Winning twice, yes. But the times and Beyers/Ragozins/Thorographs do not agree.

  12. So, the question becomes - what matters more? Science or horsemanship?

    In my view, if you have 2 horses running on dirt, one has a VLA10 of 31mph and the other 29mph, the first one wins every time.

    VLA10 is the velocity traveling when the lactic acid in the blood hits 10mmol/liter.

    Now, Z may very well have the best VLA10 on dirt, but if she does - it's because she was born with it, not because her current regimen of training/racing on synthetic developed it.

  13. I think many commentors are missing the point... the writer says that lactic acid builds up at a greater rate on dirt than synthetic. He notes that the Apple Blossom race went thru 6f in a tepid 1:13... it's anticiapted that this race will go thru 6f much faster (not sure I agree with the 1:09 since previous Classics at Churchill have gone thru in 1:11+) and given that Zenyatta has never been pushed so fast thru 6f on the dirt, it makes sense to say she is unchartered territory.

  14. OMG... What a dolt. The mare ran 1 1/8 miles on D I R T already, so after 3/4 of a mile tomorrow, she'll be in "uncharted territory."

  15. The assumptions of the site owner here prove positively why, in the science department, the USA is lagging far behind other industrialized nations. Hasn't anyone told you that Zenyatta defies all speed figures as well as your "logic?"
    It's small wonder the figures-makers don't care for her, she flies in the face of all their "logic."

  16. Bill you don't have a clue! You are a typical educated person who thinks he knows more than people who have been around horses for generations! Please stop writing so much BS!

  17. Q Road never made the lead and they went 1:11! It's better to say nothing and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and leave no doubt!

  18. Thanks Anon-

    I know and have lived more about exercise physiology than most commenting here. Horses are different than humans obviously, but there are many similarities.

    I never claimed to know anything about horses, it would take me 20 years to learn what others in the game know. I have no interest in that.

    Phil Jackson is the greatest NBA coach ever, but he has no clue how to train his players to run faster and jump higher, he lets others take care of that job.

    There are degrees in Equine Exercise Physiology available all over the world - nothing I write about is new, and none of it comes from myself.

    Your fantastic generational trainers have bred the best to the best for 50 years and can't approach race times from the 1950's, even with the newest drugs. Current conditioning practices are a joke compared to the likes of Preston Burch and Charlie Whittingham.

    Coolmore and Darley are on board with this stuff, I know because we both buy our equipment from the same manufacturer.

    If you think Aiden O'Brien is full of BS, then that is your call.

    Boy if I realized how much hate would spew from Zenyatta lovers I would have kept my mouth shut.

  19. Anon number two-

    The 6F time was 10-15 lengths faster than Z's Apple Blossom on dirt, just like I said it would be.

    QR went a half in :47 and the race was over because Z failed to handle the surface early as indicated by Jerry Bailey.

    She has two choices: Get to the 6F mark in her customary 1:13 and change and face a huge task of making up much ground against other dirt specialists, or move earlier and risk being in uncharted territory physiologically.

    If that race was at SA, Blame folds like an accordion and your Z is the winner.

    If Z spends a month at CD training, she goes down as the greatest ever because she has 5 lengths less to make up.

    Maybe you were one of the numbers anons who predicted she would smash the track record? Those are the true fools.

  20. Heart rate during exercise is a measure of exercise intensity.

    That holds true for humans, mice, greyhounds, camels, and even our beloved thoroughbreds.

    A horse that completes a 2:15 mile with an average heart rate of 188bpm will not necessarily duplicate that effort when changing surfaces. Some will be better, some will be worse. Some a little bit different, others quite a difference. It varies within the individual and is a method of putting a number on a horse’s ‘way of going’.

    This is what one of those charts look like-

    Regardless, every single one of them improves when given the chance to practice over that new surface. And each bpm of improvement means several inches come raceday.

    Obviously that improvement doesn’t come from any structural changes to the horse such as pastern length or shoulder angle, but the neurological system or ‘foot/brain coordination’ makes millions of minute adjustments to compensate for the unfamiliar footing, which ultimately leads to improved coordination and performance.

    This doesn’t come from a textbook, it comes from hundreds of hours of collecting the appropriate data over the past years during mornings at the training track at Churchill Downs, Keeneland, and others around the world.

    I have collected reams as an exercise science consultant, as have other, more traditional horsemen and women.

    If the connections of Z had experience with this data, I feel they may have taken advantage of the dirt at Hollywood Park over the past few weeks, or perhaps came to Louisville a bit earlier.

    Please don’t confuse handicapping numbers with numbers derived from physiological data. Zenyatta may very well transcend Beyer/Ragozin/Thorograph, but that doesn’t mean she is unaffected by the laws of exercise physiology.

    Now, Zenyatta lovers under the guise of anonymity can continue to call me names – but if you folks can’t understand the above facts – you really should be reading someone else’s blog.

  21. Now your really leaving no doubt, listening to Jerry B...even your smarter than that! Blame has done most of his training else where! How did he win? Did you ever meet CW? I did ! He trained alot of great horses but trained alot more slow ones! CW never told an exercise rider what to do with the horses, if the wanted to jog 2 times or gallop 2 miles it was upto the ex rider! Even with works he only told them the distance! Training is totally over rated! Interesting that you mention Phil Jackson, when he had the Lakers he told me his job was to keep the players happy and to play as a team! Just like a horse trainer! If the horse can run your a genius and if he can't your a bum! CW never made a slow horse into a fast horse!

  22. Mike Smith agress with me too:

    "It wasn't very good at all in the beginning.
    We got away just a little slow, and I was just having a rough time of it going underneath the white wire the first time.
    She wasn't leveling out like I wanted to, the combination of the dirt, of course, hitting in her face was a lot of it. She just wasn't used to that part. It just left her with too much to do.
    Although she has run on dirt twice, they were really short fields and she really never got anything in her face before."

    I'll take the opinons of the race rider over some Hollywood hotshot who uses 11 exclamation points in a sentence filled with misspelled words. It's 'you're' not 'your', smart guy.

    I see why you remain anonymous.

    Blame raced several times over the dirt at CD, he could train the last month over cotton candy and be OK for Sat.

    Phil Jackson is smart enough to hire the best strength and conditioning coach in the game, some guy named Chip I believe.

    Phil knows exactly what his job is, and isn't.

  23. To the last Anonymous poster and his two unpublished comments:

    I cannot approve these posts, the personal attacks make me uncomfortable. You can find my contact info at if you wish to continue our discussions offline.