Saturday, April 14, 2007

Basic Training Principals of Thoroughbred Sprints and Routes.

Sprinting and distances of 6 furlongs or more, require completely different training methods. A sprinter relies less on oxygen, where as a distance horse relies greatly on oxygen. You must understand how basic physiology and biochemistry work in race horses. I'll explain topics such as ADP, ATP resynthesis, anaerobic metabolism and aerobic metabolism in further detail in future articles.

With young horses, six furlongs can be considered a distance whereas the 1/2 mile to 4 1/2 furlong races would be a sprint. An older horse should be able to sprint 5 furlongs without tiring. Depending on the class of the horse, 5 1/2 furlongs may just be what does him in if he has run at his top speed. Top speed typically can only be maintained for 3-4 furlongs. You must find your horse's optimum cruising speed to fight high lactate levels, which results in muscular fatigue.

In a distance race where class is a big factor and a good, smart rider is a must, the horse most likely will never run at his maximum speed potential, and if he does, he is sure to tire before 5 furlongs. Gradually increase your young horse's race distances until you can evaluate his 6 furlong racing performance. I like to use this distance as an indication of potential and future performance. If he finishes strong on a fast pace, consider his stamina and stride efficiency and stretch him out longer distances in upcoming races. Of course you may find that 6f is his optimum performing distance.

"Slow and steady" wins the race in a 7 or more furlong race. By "slow", I mean relative to that horse's top speed. Although on today's faster tracks, such as the Tapeta track developed by Michael Dickinson, horses can maintain higher speeds for longer distances. A horse that needs to run up front must make sure he has the field slowed down to his pace in hopes that at the top of the stretch, the others just couldn't keep up or that your pace setter has a move left for the final stretch run. Much energy is wasted in a horse that fights the jockey and runs too fast, too early.

You may notice a lot of horses with respiratory problems end up sprinting great early in their race and hitting a wall around a half mile. Horses do not need oxygen to sprint top speed, but they do need O2 to maintain sub maximal speed. The distance at this point he can run without requiring oxygen during the race depends on his conformation and genetics.

A distance horse is trained aerobically to optimize the maximum oxygen uptake rate for an effective cruising speed. When aerobic resources are depleted, anaerobic metabolism takes over to fuel the oxygen depleted muscles. As humans need to learn breathing properly when swimming, running, or biking, horses must efficiently breath as well for distances. A well trained, calm horse will run effortlessly and without anxiety. This is a huge factor in pacing a race and finishing strong at the wire. Some horses will run 70% pace and 30% max, 80%/20% or some may even run 50%/50%. This depends on the distance and class of the race and a range of other factors.

Muscle type is a factor as well. You have three types of muscle tissue in a race horse. Fast Twitch Type 1, Fast Twitch Type 2 and Slow Twitch muscles make up your equine athlete. FT1 uses oxygen very fast and does not respond well to high lactate levels. FT2 is the most efficient fast twitch muscle and can sustain speeds longer because of better lactate buffering properties. Slow twitch muscle tissue uses oxygen most efficiently and readily uses glucose from resynthesized lactate from it's own liver as a sustaining fuel source. Train your horse's muscles specifically to the distances they are running. The shorter the race distances, the more you work on 3-4f sprints to maximize the fast twitch muscles. You should sprint your horse more than once a week at 3-4f. The longer the race, the more 2 minute miles and cardiovascular fitness should be practiced. Weekly workouts of 5-6 furlongs are usually best mixed with long slow gallops and jogging. Older, running and fit horses do not need to work on a weekly basis once they are finishing well in their class. Distance horses of a mile or more, do not need to focus on running high speed sprints because at this point, FT1 muscle tissues do not play a role and tuning this muscle fiber may be counter productive. You will not see a 1 1/4 mile horse win if he has run at his top speed in any point of the race. Bullet speed in the morning only proves efficiency of stride, great confirmation and breeding. Your job with this horse is to tap into this talent by focusing on endurance at sub maximal speeds to create a long lasting healthy career in route races.

After finding your horse's own style, limitations and class of competition, you need to train accordingly. All horses need to be trained as individual athletes and should not be stress by making them do more than they are physically capable of. The principles I have discussed are a general guideline and should be further studied to ensure effectiveness and safety in your training regiment. By no means this is the rule for every horse, but these basic principles can be applied to all classes of horses. You must tailor a program for each individual horse.

- Christopher Crocker

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Go Cali!

Once again, I feel I must express my thoughts regarding drug test in the sport of Thoroughbred Horse Racing.

I am all for California race tracks to start drug testing in the barns during training hours. This will certainly bring the playing field closer to even. This means that random drug testing can be administered to see if a trainer is using performance enhancing drugs to train his horses. The benefit of training these horses on medication, allows them work harder, longer, faster, in the morning and will condition the horse faster and stronger so when it is time to race, he has an advantage whether using these drugs on race day or not.

The argument against this practice is that... "What if a horse is in need of antibiotics or has a sprain, disease, or other health disorder that needs legitimate treatment?" Navicular disease, where isoxsuprine (a common treatment) is used to treat the horses, is a valid use. The use of isoxsuprine for performance enhancement is common and we know that the number of horses that are on it do not have navicular disease.

All this said, I hope a system can be implemented for random substance testing in the morning. I will be more than happy to help create this program. I feel if the vets are on board and the administration of drugs are logged and reported to the racing commission, then that would be a great start. The D.V.M. should have to write an actual prescription as the M.D. does for us human kind. This would make the veterinarian responsible for the health of the animal and his own reputation. Trainers are not allowed to have needles in the barn and have to pay serious consequences if they are caught. This rule needs to be enforced more often and barn checks with stiff penalties will help stop this practice.

Thoroughbred horse racing is the only professional sport that allows anabolic steroids. Just an observation. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Lets be kinder to our horse athletes and let them run how they were intended by nature. Maybe the real trainers will shine through. After all, one horse must win.


Friday, February 02, 2007

Barbaro loses the battle.

Barbaro loses the battle for life. Barbaro was euthenized in January of 2007 after an eight month long battle to survive the complication related to his shattered ankle. We will never know if he was truly the best three year old of 2006. What we do know is that he will be one of the most remembered horses of this decade. Not necessarily because he was a Kentucky Derby winner, but also because of the public, tragic end of a champion thoroughbred race horse. He will be remembered in the history books as the Kentucky Derby winner of 2006, that is for sure. After all, "The Derby" is the most prestigious, sought out race in the United States.

Does this hurt the sport of horse racing, does it help or does it change anything? Well that depends on who you talk to and everyone has there own perspective. My thoughts as a thoroughbred trainer, nothing has changed. In my profession, Barbaro touch our hearts. We all want a Barbaro in our barn. If a trainer in this business is not in awe of such a great athletic display by this horse, then he doesn't love the sport. You have to respect the horses power and show of class, whether you trained him or not. Sure, the best horse does not always win the Kentucky Derby, but he was the best that day and that's what counts. But we see racing everyday and horses break down on occasion. Unfortunately it is part of the sport, as injuries occur in human sports as well. It hurts to see an animal end his career whether a stakes winner or a cheap claimer.

As for the average spectator, who is far removed from the backside of the race track, opinions may differ. Some will say horse racing is cruel, period. Some say it was inhumane to keep the horse alive to suffer for eight months for a chance at a breeding syndication. Some will just understand that it was a just an unfortunate tragedy. As far as cruel goes, these equine athletes are of the best taken care of of any pet or sport animal. They are groomed daily and kept under a blanket when necessary. They are fed very nutritious diets. They are exercised. Their legs are massaged and rubbed down with liniment oils. Their feet are cleaned daily. Basically all trainers know, a happy, fit, sound, nourished horse will perform at their best. Much money is invested in these horses, so why would they not be cared for and protected so well? As far as keeping him alive, the owners have respect for their champion thoroughbred and I am sure they feel like he is part of the family. The vets are in practice because they love animals. Everything was done to keep this horse comfortable and pain free through the whole ordeal. They were just simply trying to save this beautiful animal's life. After all, he earned more than 2.2 million dollars and won 4 out of his 5 starts. He deserved every chance he could get at saving his life. Most who know about horse racing, understand this was an unforeseen injury that just happened to occur to the most famous horse, at the time, in front of millions of spectators.

So will this change the industry of thoroughbred horse racing? In my professional opinion, probably not. As soon as another Triple Crown winner comes around, Barbaro will fade as a tragedy and primarily be remembered as the Kentucky Derby winner of 2006.