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Racehorse Workouts: Time Isn't Everything

May 08, 2015 · By Erin Birkenhauer · Share

We’ve found over the years that some Partners become alarmed when they receive a workout notification and their horse worked five furlongs in 1.03 and the move was ranked 25 of 26 for the day. There are certainly instances where a slow work is a bad work, but many times trainers use slower works by design. On the other hand, a bullet work doesn’t always mean a quality work. Thus, assessing the quality of the move solely by time is not a good idea.

Things to consider when evaluating workouts:

  • Goal of the trainer -- slow and steady maintenance work? quick blowout? stiff breeze where they want the horse to show speed? start off slow and finish strong down the lane?

  • Trainer’s philosophy on speedwork. Some trainers do not believe in working their horses fast. Others, bullet workouts are the norm.  Think Bob Baffert versus Shug McGaughey.  Both are hall of famers with polar opposite work philosophies.

  • Weight of the exercise rider

  • In company vs. solo -- some horses can be lazy by themselves and work faster when they go with another horse. Some horses stay more relaxed when they work in company.  

  • Horse’s tendencies -- some horses are just lazy in the mornings! This doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t successful racehorses in the afternoons. Ever heard the phrase “morning glory?” Some horses are brilliant in the mornings but slugs in the afternoons.

  • Did they break away from the pole slow or were they already breezing passing the pole?

  • Were they running off and uncontrollable breaking off from the pole?

  • Works from the gate vs. the pole (located every eighth of a mile)- a horse could break poorly and be slow into stride but still breeze nicely.

  • How much the rider moves their hands during the breeze, especially down the stretch.  

  • Was the rider whipping and driving to get the horse to finish well?

  • How much energy does the horse have crossing the wire, are they laboring or full of run?

  • Are they striding out comfortably or choppy?

  • Did they change leads on cue?

  • Did they work around the dogs (cones used to protect the inside of the turf course), causing them to go wide around the turn?

  • Distance -- a horse has license to get a little tired the first time they breeze at a certain distance.

  • How much did they have left in the gallop out? Did they work fast but then pull up quickly past the wire?

  • Margin of error- all workouts are hand timed by clockers and trainers that are on the complete opposite side of the track when the workout begins. It is not uncommon for a clocker to have a time for a work that is a full second or more different from another clocker or trainer. Other times, clockers will miss the work entirely and will publish the time given to them by the trainer.

Watch Twilight Eclipse breeze earlier this year at Palm Meadows. This graded stakes winner never works fast, but he does it the “right way”. Watch how nicely he strides out and how the rider is motionless on his back. The horse passes the wire and gallops out with gusto. This is an example of a nice work, even though it was ranked 16 of 19.

The video below shows Danzig Moon in his second to last breeze before the Kentucky Derby. His half mile work was the fastest of the day, but trainer Mark Casse felt the colt went entirely too fast for his comfort. He broke off very fast from the pole before getting leg weary nearing the wire.

His work mate on the inside finishes stronger, look at the inside horse whose rider keeps looking back at Danzig Moon as if to say, “Are you gonna pass me, big boy?”  Danzig Moon never does and visually looks like he is slowing down to the wire. His gallop out is none too eye catching either. The good news for his connections, his final work before the Derby was much better AND slower. The colt ended up running a respectable fifth in the race.

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Hi sirs iam a member of your newsletter iam not ready for my share yet in a horse but in the next year i hope.
Sounds great Horace. Please reach out with any questions. Dawn
very enlightning
Thanks Suzanne.
Great article on workouts! Being a partner with West Point Thoroughbreds for one year, this makes total sense. A bullet workout is often misleading...
I was curious about the difference in time from a dead stand still start from the gate and breezing starting just before pole marker both going same distance,it seems logical the the horse starting from the gate would have a slower time as compared to a horse starting just before a pole and already running at speed
Hi Walt thanks for your comment. Your logic is sound. You might also like to read this interesting article on the run up in North American racetracks.
Could you explain pace work/ pacing 4 f
Hi Rim not sure I completely understand your question. Pacing is a gait used in standardbred racing where the two legs on the same side of the horse move forward at the same time. In Thoroughbred racing, the pace of a workout is usually conducted at a full run and typically a horse goes an eighth of a mile in about 12 seconds. Four furlongs is a half mile and it is a popular workout distance. Hope that helps!
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