Saturday, June 28, 2014

The job of a thoroughbred trainer is this.

Occasionally the frog of a horse's hoof will shed, exposing healthy but sensitive tissue underneath. If it happens a day or two before a race, the sensitivity can be enough to interfere with a horse's race performance.

Listen to what Jere Smith Jr. did when this happened to a horse he had entered to run, as he remembers the situation from many years ago.

Hear this interview at and please read the comments after, which follow up some questions that came out of this interview.

Monday, June 16, 2014

I answered this question on Quora, "How is strategy used in horse racing?"

Posted on Quora, a really interesting forum on all subjects.

"How is strategy used in horse racing?"

As soon as the entries for a race are set and available, the trainers, owners, jockey agents, and the more detail minded jockeys are handicapping the race to determine strategy by examining the past races of each horse in the race. Post position is huge because a horse that usually gets out of the gate early and likes to be close to the front of the race early can get cut off and boxed in. A heavy favorite will be targeted by all the riders who will try to keep him behind horses, down inside or far outside. A heavy favorite that has an outside post position and doesn't need to be on the lead early is very dangerous and more likely to win. The strategy for such a horse is to take his time, ease up slowly and try to get position to make a clear run to the finish. By race day, everyone involved with the horses has mapped out how they expect the race to go and where each horse will be in the race at all times. In the paddock before the race, the trainer, owner and jockey will have a short pow-wow to discuss how they think the race will play out and what the jockey's strategy should be. Despite all this, the best laid plans often go awry and the jockey then needs to fly by the seat of his pants to try to win or at least finish strong.

Long term strategy is also important. Good trainers plan a horse's races carefully, picking out a race to aim for and training up to the race to hopefully have the horse in peak condition on the day of the race. Entering a horse in the right type of race is also crucial because each horse is competitive at a certain level. Most horses are only competitive at a certain distance (short, middle or long) and on a certain surface (turf, dirt or artificial). It's difficult to find the perfect race to fit a horse at exactly the right time he is ready for a race but it's the trainer's job to do that.

Trainers often lobby the racing office to try to make sure an appropriate race will be available for a horse that needs a certain type of race. Trainers have a book from the racing office that lists each race that will be held on each day of the racing meet, but the racing office also adds races to those available in the book in order to maximize the possibility of having a lot of horses in each race. The races that have the most entries for a day will be the ones that actually are run. If less than 6 horses enter a race, the office usually does not use that race and the trainers who entered will have to pick another race to enter. Thus trainers have to be in constant planning and strategy mode in order to find the right race for a horse at the right time.

Monday, June 09, 2014

I agree with California Chrome's owner - but maybe not for the same reasons.

Yes I thought he was out of control after the Belmont but after watching the NBC coverage and promotions leading up to the triple crown races, I actually agree with his opinion, to a degree. I think it might be a good idea to only allow horses who rack up a certain number of points in Kentucky Derby prep races to run in the Preakness and Belmont, as well as the Derby. I would not go as far as saying only the Kentucky Derby starters can run in the Preakness and Belmont but making the other races also fit into the "point system" seems like a great idea to me.

Those who say "why change the triple crown now?" have missed the fact that Churchill Downs has already unilaterally changed it by creating the point system for Kentucky Derby eligibility. By the way, this fact is seared into my mind because Churchill Downs refused to include the Illinois Derby in the points system for seemingly childlike punitive reasons - see for details.

I think it would really help racing if we had a set group of horses and their connections to follow throughout the triple crown media coverage. NBC reached a huge audience but sadly we heard mostly about California Chrome and his colorful connections, while many of the other connections are also very entertaining. Perhaps making the point system apply to the triple crown would narrow the possible contenders to the point where media coverage could help us get to know them better and get behind our favorite. It might help create more long term fans of the sport. So in that regard I agree with California Chrome's owner.

My sense is that in the "old days" the triple crown was more about sporting rivalry and less about maximizing a horse's earning potential - so that is another reason I agree with California Chrome's owner. Don't get me wrong, I have the greatest respect for Christophe Clemont, a great trainer and an interesting person. I would like to have heard more about him in the NBC coverage but since he was a newcomer to the series he was mostly overlooked - I'm sure he is fine with that but I'm not. I would have liked to hear more from him and all the other characters in all three races. Clemont may be one of the very few trainers around who can plan out a horse's campaign so carefully. He has done a fabulous job with Tonalist, a very beautiful horse. But to casual fans it's a big letdown to have an unknown horse and connections turn out to be the spoilers.