Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Interval Training an Iron Horse, with PPs

Antrim County was claimed at CD for $7,500, interval trained, raced 9 times in 5 months, and lost back via the claiming route for $50,000. Not a bad ROI for this gelding out of Giant’s Causeway paired with former standardbred trainer Jay Wilkinson in Louisville. That’s roughly $10,000 additional value per month, for a single horse! Quite ironic that he also won the Claiming Crown Iron Horse up at Canterbury Park in this stretch. When I dissect his conditioning below you will see just how fitting the title ‘Iron Horse’ is in this case.

Now, this horse was handled by D. Wayne Lukas to start, then Bernie Flint, Cody Autrey, Mike Maker, Clifford ‘Jay’ Wilkinson, and finally with Bret Calhoun. 5 household names and Mr. Wilkinson, who I doubt many of you have ever seen on TVG or HRTV. Jay is a former police officer, former harness trainer, and an old fashioned horseman with an open mind. Yet, Jay is the only trainer to get top performances out of Antrim County, and no Ragozin bounces – which every other trainer failed to avoid despite much time between races. Standardbred trainers and thoroughbred trainers are VERY different and only one of these two disciplines are actually improving in measures of stamina:

I can say with all certainty, that none of these ‘supertrainers’ ever sent Antrim County 6F from the gate at CD in 1:14 during the middle of a racing campaign.

Here is that work captured on my HR/GPS gear: (blue line is speed, red line is heart rate, x-axis is elapsed time, note the 58bpm HR while standing in the gate on a hectic training morning) - click images to enlarge

I can also assure you that none of these guys had Antrim County gallop a mile in 1:48, walk/rest 5 minutes, and gallop another in 1:40 during the madhouse that is Churchill Downs in the morning. But Jay did that too – and was scared to death in the process:

Jay: “Bill - I have a race in 6 days, what the hell are you doing to me!”
Exercise rider: “He pulled my arms off, you are gonna kill him and me!”

But the team was soon rewarded with 2 wins at 1.5 miles each by a total of 29 lengths. Turf at Kentucky Downs, dirt at Mountaineer Park, no matter – this is the definition of an Iron Horse. No BS here, PPs are included above.

29 lengths, wire to wire, never seeing the stick – or any other horses either for that matter. I don’t care what class of races these are, this is the definition of STAMINA, and you don’t get it from 4F works spaced 7 days apart unless it is already present by virtue of winning the genetic lottery.

Study those lifetime PPs, or catch this horse at the Fairgrounds in 2011 and you will see he has reverted back to normal. 4F works have become the norm and so have Beyer Speed Figures in the 70’s. What a waste.

Jay’s Beyer numbers during his 9 starts (with 7 wins) over just 5 months? 86-90-90-88-90-86-97-84-89.

That 97 was Antrim County’s best career number out of 67 starts, and it came at age 5 with the trainer working for an outfit called Boys Haven here in Louisville that employed as stable hands teenagers who have met some misfortune in their lives. DWL’s barn was right across from Jay’s at this time on the CD backside and we walked by it on our way to the track with Antrim County every morning, small world.

Without objective, quantitative physiological feedback from your horse, interval training is akin to a death sentence. I get hundreds of people finding this blog searching for ‘thoroughbred interval training’ – so I finally bit the bullet and put up a real life example for all to see. Try these methods without appropriate HR/GPS gear at your own peril, and don’t blame me afterwards.

I know, and will show anyone truly interested, how and why Jay was able to pull this off. I am sick of hearing anecdotal evidence of guys who say that they interval trained a horse and it didn’t work. It does work, if prescribed in the right situation and in the right dose. Many only try the tactic when they have a horse that has already proven to have no ability, expecting a magical outcome. That ain’t how it works, folks. When instituted properly, it moves up (relatively sound) claimers more than a few price points as evidenced by Antrim County – and if anyone has the guts to try it with a stakes horse – well, Afleet Alex comes to mind. He turned out alright.

Now do you need interval training to succeed? Of course not, not with owners like Moss, Repole, Zayat, etc. But this isn’t just about winning. It’s about maximizing the genetic potential of each athlete – a ‘supertrainer’ doesn’t need to do that as he has a never-ending supply of royally pedigreed stock, but most others are not as fortunate and need to consider ROI.

Comments, as always, are welcome from one and all – good and bad, as that is how we learn new things.

P.S. If you need a full and clearer .pdf of the PPs, drop me a line at


  1. This horse profiles as a sore horse. Where i come from that means big intervals between racing. Then punch 3 in quick time.

  2. Racing Titbits, How do you explain 9 starts in a row with no big interval between races, and no drop in performance?

    My reasoning is, maybe a fitter horse has a greater chance of staying sounder. I sore up when I significantly do more than my body has been trained to handle. As long as, I build up slowly, I can gradually do more with no pain. Run only 1 mile a day for months then all of a sudden run 5 miles. There is a greater chance that you will be sore/lame/in pain the next day, take your pick. Slowly build up to 10 miles a day than run 5 miles; it will be a walk in the park. I believe horses that run within their fitness level should stay sounder. Horses that exert themselves greater than their fitness level have a greater chance of getting hurt in the process. These unfit horses need the break in between racing to fix the damaged caused by the race. If they were fitter, there would be less damage, and hence less the need for a break. Fitter also implies not being over-trained. Over-training will lead to pain.

  3. BinMar, I agree.

    Modern methods of conditioning have led us to the Ragozin bounce, or the 'didn't fire' excuse that has become so prevalent among trainers.

    Pletcher is correct when he states his stock performs best with 60 days between races, because they take at least 14 days after a race before they are fit enough to go back to the track for a breeze.

    No Triple Crown champs followed that pattern, none. And we won't have another until someone goes back to the methods of the Hall of Famers.

  4. from Tom Ivers way back in 1994:

    Experimenters on the Thoroughbred side have produced a Japan Cup winner (Stanerra [Ire]), a 1:33 miler (Jondolar), stakes winners (Saratoga Passage, Image of Greatness, The Very One, and others), and a lot of winners since 1982. The goals were always the same: safety and better performance. Preserve and enhance.

  5. Disgusted of Tunbridge WellsFebruary 20, 2011 at 7:43 AM

    If a horse takes 14 days to get back to work he has lost much of the benefit of his race.

    If he NEEDS 14 days to get back to work then he wasn't fit to run.

    I think [hope] some of the quotes attributed to trainers are misinterpretations or misunderstandings:"I don't know what you think you heard but I do know that's not what I think I said".

  6. I find your views interesting