Saturday, November 6, 2010

Traditional Horsemanship gets Zenyatta beat

Synthetic horses were 0-10 on the dirt at CD until Race 9 when longshot Dakota Phone broke the skid.

Much like Zenyatta, he had a career mostly on synthetic with just 2 dirt starts.

But unlike the great Z, he got a fast work over the dirt surface this week prior to her start. A 3F move on Wednesday, just 3 days prior to his start in the BC Dirt Mile, which is one of my ‘tricks’ to squeezing out a few extra tenths come raceday, best used by Carl Nafzger with Unbrided:

Another trick is to break away from that stupid TV-friendly post parade and knock off a few 14 sec furlongs. Dangerous Midge did so in the BC Turf, perhaps by accident, and then came home a big longshot winner:

Back to Zenyatta’s heroic effort-

15-20 lengths back at the first turn, Jerry Bailey said it took her several seconds to get used to the track. Why not get her used to the track during a 6F work last week in the morning under the lights?

6F in 1:11 flat put her 10 lengths further back than she had ever been on dirt at OP.

Blame kept in front through the gallop out after the wire, didn’t shy away like females did for the past 2 years when hooked, but then again he ain’t Rinterval.

Commentators act like nothing could be done, she just didn’t like the dirt – well they all ran over the same surface, the difference is that other horses had the experience. She could have had it, but was kept at home instead so as to not interrupt her routine.

This is a game of inches, and you have to do all you can to put those inches in your column. A nice blow out 3 days before is one such edge.

Another edge is familiarizing yourself with a foreign surface, not just one race over dirt in the last 2 years against a field of 6, that isn’t good enough.

I’m not just guessing at this stuff, I collect GPS, heart rate, and blood lactate data on horses during training hours on a variety of surfaces. Through appropriate training on a surface, they can improve by 10% or more. All she needed was another couple of feet and she makes history.

Traditional horsemanship, where you keep your horse psychologically happy instead of physiologically primed, came back to haunt the Sherriffs camp. You simply cannot play that game with the synthetic wrinkle thrown into today’s game. Would you take Goldikova into the BC Classic on dirt after a career on turf, of course not! Not without a prep and a month of training over the surface, that is.

People realize that turf is different from dirt, and would never skip from one to another without much preparation, why treat synthetic differently?

One key principle of exercise physiology is that of Specificity. You get what you train for, in other words. Go back 10 years when all was dirt and this point is moot. But now we have ProRide, Cushion Track, and Polytrack and the rules have changed.

Blame won 3 other big races at CD and had the homecourt advantage, but could still only eek out a victory by a neck. Zenyatta is the better horse in my opinion, but could have been managed a bit better with respect to the surface question.

The streak is over Mr. and Mrs. Moss, give her a break, unretire her again, bring her back in CA next spring, head East for some dirt action against the boys, and win this thing next year by 4 lengths. Please. Then you can have your well deserved Horse of the Year award and go down as one of the best ever, regardless of gender.

Run this race again in a month and Zenyatta finishes on top in her customary style. She earned more respect from me today than she did in those other 19 wins, by far.


  1. It seems that California horse racing news doesn't travel to your side of the country...the Pro-ride/Cushion Track experiment at Santa Anita is over. God's own dirt will be in place for the winter/spring meeting.

    Interesting point on the specificity. There's much that can be dissected about how the head loss could have met a different outcome.

    However, the armchair training that you are doing is a disservice to her human connections, in particular John Shirreffs, who prepared her to perfection 19 times before.

    Would you be nitpicking if she'd won by a head instead of losing by one? Would you be suggesting that Al Stall, Jr. should have kept working BLAME on synthetics instead of dirt earlier in the week to make up the extra hundreths had they lost the photo? It is doing the industry such a disservice that after-the-fact you're giving Shirreffs pointers? PLEASE!

    To imply that, after a day when fans were cheering/screaming rabidly in her direction, that she wasn't psychologically happy" is absolutely ludicrous and self-serving.

    I'm sure that you help some people, some of the time with their horses. However, if you're going to point fingers of "Blame" at ZENYATTA and Shirreffs, doing so after the race rings hollow.

    It is also a sad statement that it took her to lose, by a dimiinishing head margin, to earn your respect. The fact she accomplished all she did 19 times prior should have been enough for you to recognize her greatness. You should have recognized that if BLAME or some other horse in the Classic field were to win, they'd have laid their body down. He did that + she did that = great horse race.

    Sometimes it pays to take your eyes out of those statistics and see, in the flesh, what class looks like...class that gets squeezed at the start and stops her massive frame to a walk, class that makes up the stagger despite trailing the field by seven lengths at the 1/4 call and by such a margin at the 3/4 call even Trevor Denman's voice wavered with worry, wondering like the rest of us if she'd even hit the board, let along challenge for the win in deep stretch...class that made up all but a head on the best older horse in the country...class that danced in the Championships and took the loss like the Queen she is. Watch her post-race walk back to the barn...that was not the gait and body language of a horse that felt defeated.

    I'm selfish and hope she comes back again next avenge her loss many times over, like her great-great-great grandsire NATIVE DANCER did after defeat in the Kentucky Derby during a 22-21-1-0 career.

    Her story on the track may not be complete.

  2. you make some good points, but the slow first 2f (16.25 lengths behind 1st) got Zenyatta beat. She ran the last 8f in around 1:36.

  3. Not sure why you assume CA news doesnt make it to us hillbillies here in KY. Synthetics are hopefully on the way out. Imagine letting baseball players use aluminum bats next year, some guy hits 80 home runs and we all claim he is better than Babe Ruth. That is the disservice the synthetic did to Zenyatta.

    This is no 'Monday morning Quarterback' situation, my posts last week predicted a loss, I just thought it would be by a larger margin. I pointed out the missteps in great detail before the race.

    You are obviously a long time industry veteran. Nothing I suggest comes from me, it's all from other trainers around the world. Sherriffs blew it by keeping her out west, simple as that. If she won by a head instead, it would have been because her intrinsic greatness overcame the lack of CD dirt experience. America insists its champions are born, not made.

    'Class' is not some magic, unmeasureable trait. It can be captured in numbers. Not Beyers, or Thorographs, but by collecting real time physiological data on the horse in the morning during training. You collect that data on Zenyatta and watch it improve as she breezes and gallops over the CD oval. Why get her familiar with the track during a horrible first quarter during the race?

    Darley practices this, so does Coolmore, you wont see either of them make this mistake on a BC stage in the future.

    So then you go on to list all your excuses as to why she got beat, ignoning the fact that another synthetic creation won 2 races earlier in identical fashion. But, he had the benefit of some CD work the week before.

    I don't give a sh!t how she danced or perked her ears up, she got beat and it didnt have to happen. No dirt horse who went to the BC on synthetic the last 2 years had much success and the opposite was true yesterday.

    Put her at CD a month earlier to train, and she wins that race by 4 lengths and all is well in the world because you don't have to read my nonsense.

  4. ANON-

    My point exactly. She doesn't run that miserable first split with some recent prior work over the surface.

  5. Wow, ACapper-

    Show me where I claimed she wasn't psychologically happy. Why you saw the need to make that up isn't clear to me.

    I simply claimed the focus was so much on keeping her psychologically fit that they ignored the physiological side.

    I'm sure this was a conscious choice, as she won twice before on dirt (spread out over 3 years).

    Don't confuse BS handicapping statistics with laboratory quality data derived from the heart, lungs, blood of the acutal athlete during exercise.

  6. Plucking statistics out of the air that back up a theory and ignoring the rest of the many contributory factors that effect the result of a race is not a very scientific approach. To reach any conclusion as to what applies as cause rather than random effect has to compare apples with apples, not bananas.

    Z did not blow up because of lactate build up which was the main issue of your prediction. Wherever did you get lactate data that 6f on polytrack is 4f on dirt - that is complete scientific nonsense if the track type speeds were equal? Z showed absolutely no signs of lack of fitness for the task. Her body was in magnificent shape - but maybe not her mind.

    Z lost simply because she gave the field too huge a start - that major handicap to her chance is a fact that has to be dealt with and you have not. She had no trouble on the track in completing her race in even time and you have provided no scientific evidence that the track was the issue.

  7. Of course she didn't have lactate problems, she spent the first quarter mile jogging due to poor handling of the surface and dirt being thrust in her eyes. The leaders went through 6F in 1:11 and she was 3 seconds behind.

    She doesn't give this field that big of a start on her home track.

    I have not worked with her, but I have worked with other stakes winners and their heart rate and blood lactate numbers differ on different surfaces.

    Some differ a little, some a lot. ALL improve these numbers given a chance to train/race on the surface. Dakota Phone pulled it off an hour earlier.

    I dont pluck those from anywhere, I get up at 4am and collect them myself, so do many other people in the world that are way smarter than I am.

  8. To all of the numerous 'anonymous' critics, here is some junk science to convince you that running over crushed pieces of rubber tires is different than running over dirt:

    "Horses working on the artificial surfaces will experience one-half the impact as compared to horses working on a conventional dirt surface."

    Dr. George Pratt, MIT

    And to those who don't believe you can quantify 'class':

    Some Misc info:

  9. Anonymous posts come about because of the way your site is set up for replies.

    Everyone knows polytrack tracks are different to dirt. The injury, breakdown and maintenance issues are what lead to the the introduction of polytrack.

    I am a great supporter of your training science initiative but that further obliges claims to be made with sound evidence and provisos, rather than "opinion". There are so many intertwined factors in race performance that to assign black and white cause of an overall effect to a small part of the picture can be very misleading.

    I am not aware that Prof George Pratt has ever measured hoof impact but Prof Mike Peterson certainly has. His measurements of 4 dirt tracks gave hoof impacts in the range of 9-14. The polytrack gave 12 - the second highest impact.,%20Keeneland%20Training%20Track.pdf


  10. Robert-

    I am not smart enough to be a real scientist. All I do is take the work of those guys and try to give trainers information they can use to get better results.

    It is not my opinion that I have over 8,000 HR/gallop speed charts during breezes and sub maximal gallops over both surfaces and that they differ greatly in every single incidence in terms of heart rate recovery.

    I dont care if synthetics are good or bad for the game, just how to take advantage of the impact they bring to the table.

    Horses given the opportunity to practice on a foreign surface always improve in terms of accomplishing more work (speed) with less effort (heart rate/blood lactate).

    You are never going to see that in a study because it is a waste of time. There are studies on this blog from the New Bolton Center a decade ago that less than 10% of horsemen follow.

    I'd go broke trying to complete a study showing how you can get a length of improvement simply by warming up your horse correctly in the post parade. But, I have trainers on 3 continents doing so regularly.

    Had that been done with Z, like Dakota Phone, the outcome would have changed the history of TB racing. That is significant and deserved to be addressed.

  11. 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.

  12. Bill,

    First off, Pro-ride no longer exists in California, strike that synthetic from your data base. There is movement here to jettison them altogether.

    Secondly, you were 1/2 a head from being wrong. What would you have written had BLAME been squeezed hard enough down the lane to stall his momentum causing the photo to be a two length win by ZENYATTA? How could you say that by losing she doesn't have the "intrinsic greatness" you would have credited her with had she won by a head? To say she's better than BLAME is also a disservice to him and Al Stall, Jr. They won on the track, fair a square. Does BLAME get the pulse of the enthusiasts going? No way, not even close to Z. He doesn't have "it", that class which stamps him as a special colt and one that would not lose to Z in a rematch. You said as much by saying Z would win the rematch.

    She's truly one of a kind. The legitimate class that she exhibits cannot be measured. It causes lifelong horsemen like Mike Smith and John Shirreffs to be in awe of her, find words difficult to explain what she's about. True class forces a person to look at the individual.

    Take a gander at her as a yearling at the KeeSep05 sale ( was imploring the inattentive crowd to take a look, whinnying at them to get their heads out of the books because what they came to see/buy couldn't be seen on a page. David Ingordo paid attention when he signed the ticket for Jerry and Ann Moss.

    Shirreffs didn't blow it either...he prepared her as he had for 19 straight wins, nearly identical to the the two wins on dirt which were her most emphatic in terms of open lengths. Shirreffs was correct 95% of the time with ZENYATTA's preparation, very nearly 100%.

    The numbers you espouse are all fine and well for the ordinary stakes horses and below. I'm sure they help your customers. The numbers don't apply to true greatness. They can never predict what ZENYATTA is and can do.

    Take Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird...the four best closers in NBA basketball in my lifetime. I'm sure if you had them on a HR monitor the final 5 seconds of games they took the final shot, you'd find they were remarkably calm. They can quiet themselves and perform at a very high level. Players like that, the upper 0.5% of great players, find comfort in those situations. That's Z.

    Your stats would have predicted LIFE AT TEN's melt down/tie up, ATTA BOY ROY's exhaustion...two horses not anywhere near Z's class.

    As for the psychological aspect, I misread your intentions with that point. I'm sorry if I misinterpreted you. I still take issue that you call out Shirreffs, a master horseman, but you're entitled to the opinion just like I'm entitled to disagree with it.

    I'm done, I'll still read.

  13. Well written/said ACapper-

    If Synthetics never invaded CA, Zenyatta would have won last weekend by daylight and would be the greatest ever at 20-0.

    Mr. Shirreffs is indeed a master horseman, but I take issue with prepping Z over synthetic for the biggest dirt race of her life.

    Emotions and class aside, you prepare optimally for a turf race on turf, synth on synth, and dirt on dirt. It may only make a yard of difference, but that was the difference between making history.

    That being said, you dont need to be undefeated to be the best. Bring her back, put her on dirt more often in 2011, wrap up with a BC win and no one will remember last Saturday.