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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