Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Peek Inside Susan's Scrapbook

Hello Friends, Fans & Partners,
Here is a glimpse into my scrapbook that's on UR new website. Watch for an email this weekend announcing UR new website. In the meantime, enjoy the slideshow!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

An Eye for the Future ...

O! to be in Saratoga … This season I had the great pleasure of bringing my horse-crazy neighbor Danielle to the backstretch of Saratoga. It was her first visit. As Danielle snapped pictures of the morning activities my own fond memories of the same brought a smile to my face and tear to my eye; nearly 30 years ago there stood I mesmerized by Seattle Slew. I still marvel at the old Kodak photos recalling the moment as yesterday. Though the Slew is long gone from the green barns, his greatness lives on in his four-legged descendents and in the hearts of those whose eyes he graced. As Danielle and I turned from the track we karmically walked right into the Slew’s trainer Billy Turner.

Danielle is an aspiring equestrian with dreams of becoming a jockey, she is a smart and fearless rider so I have no doubt she will excel with thoroughbreds. As we watched the dance of thoroughbreds in their daily work, Danielle quizzed me on every aspect of galloping racehorses. In doing so, she inspired this blog entry.

I have galloped racehorses since the age of 14 and have had the enormous privilege of sitting atop major stakes winners and working for leading trainers Bill Mott and Todd Pletcher. Riding for Bill and Todd reaffirmed my own conviction that every step and every breathe a racehorse takes in each training session must be designed to specifically serve that individual horse when he or she races. Anything less is wasted time, energy, effort and money.

For a trainer to effectively train a horse, the rider must be skilled enough to feel what that horse is doing and make adjustments while in the irons to ensure balanced strides and keep the horse straight and moving from hind to front. He or she then must be able to articulate the details of the ride back to the trainer. Ideally, the “exercise rider” is an extension of the trainer aboard the horse. Riding racehorses is a finely crafted skill. It comes by some naturally, for others it is honed from years of experience around horses; watching, riding, showing, grooming, training, hot-walking, etc. It is the consistent application of adjustments that emanate from what the trainer sees and the rider feels that are the magical ingredients to everyday progress with a horse.

Horses are intelligent, living, feeling creatures with unique individual personalities. They are curious animals and like to be out and about grazing, playing and watching other horses; this is hard to do 23 hours in a stall and on a track with blinkers! Great trainers, who are real horsemen & women know this, and they make adjusts with each horse to gain optimal performance. These adjustments may include changing surfaces, distance and direction of a morning outing, adding long walks or jogs under tack, working on hills or practicing dressage movements, afternoon grazing, equipment changes, and/or a rider change. Horses really try to communicate with us and if you really watch them and listen they will tell you what they need.

Everything you see in a horse at the track is symptomatic of his or her training regimen. From a lifetime of experience, I can look at a horse and tell you if he or she is being ridden properly, correctly shod and rightly fed. It shows in the horse‘s expression, body language, step, stride, weight, coat and musculature.

In a nutshell, a properly ridden racehorse will have a strong well-muscled back and hip, with definition through the hindquarters and a well-curved large gaskin. These simple indicators demonstrate that the horse is galloping by pushing from his hind end. Inexperienced riders can be seen hauling on a horse’s mouth and letting the horse pull around the track with his or her front legs, as a result, these horses usually have ankle problems and weak hind ends.

A horse that is correctly shod is a blessed animal at the racetrack! Most racetrack shoeing jobs are too fast and too poor, they do not serve in the best interest of the bio-mechanical function of the horse. Those adding toe grabs, trainer or farrier, should simply be ruled off the track. I have strong fact-based opinions on shoeing and I am in full support of a complete ban on toe grabs. Click here to read more on Toe Grabs.

Everything we do with a horse in the morning is all that horse has to draw on at post time. Every step, every breathe critical to crossing the finish line first. Great trainers know this. It is evidenced in their results. In the morning, look at horses walking from the stables of Bill Mott, Nick Zito, Jim Bond, Kenny McPeek and Todd Pletcher; there you will see happy, well-muscled horses, quiet riders, rhythmical strides and glistening coats. There you will develop UR eye for the future …


Saturday, July 12, 2008

What can racehorse owners do to make money?

Throughout my lifetime, I have watched countless new owners jump into to the horse business and burn through many hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not good for them, not good for racing and especially bad for horses.

With millions of dollars at stake in the thoroughbred industry, lucrative state-bred programs, claiming opportunities and ever increasing purse structures the sport of horseracing is a great place to make money. The business of racing is fun and virtually recession proof. Ownership through partnerships now make it possible for many new people to become active participants in the Sport of Kings.

One of the most successful new owners in racing is my friend Roddy Valente. Over the past several years, Roddy and trainer Bruce Levine have amassed a stellar record of wins with value-based claimers and NY-Breds. This year alone, Valente’s stable has earned over $777,000 (as of July 10, 2008) and his top charge, undefeated home-bred BUSTIN STONES, is scheduled to run next in the Grade 2 $250,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga on July 26. I spoke with this dynamic owner-trainer team at the O! for UnbridledTV and Roddy articulated just what new owners need to do to achieve success on the track… Click the video (plays 7 mins) to find out what you can do to be a profitable player in the racing game …

Thursday, July 3, 2008

O! for an Educated Customer ...

Recently, I had the unbridled delight of spending some time with my new racing partner Ray Purdy. We spent the early morning hours of Tuesday at the O!, Ray’s very mod nickname for the very old Oklahoma Training Track. This is the first time I have ever heard the track referred to as such; with an affinity for acronyms, it’s a keeper for me!

Year-after-year, the O! has served up hallmarks in my life; from my first A-rated blue ribbon at a horse show, to the first place I met future Kentucky Derby winning trainer Michael Matz, to my first gallop on a racehorse, to the first day of filming my award-winning TV series unbridled. The O! is a place of firsts, and this m
orning conjured up another when this blog broke out of my head and onto the world’s fast track of cyberspace.

As the sun rose over the historic grounds it illuminated an array of promising two-year-old and a visual feast of top trainers; Bill Mott (pictured right) on horseback, 07 & 08 Belmont Stakes winner’s Nick Zito (pictured above) and Todd Pletcher rail side, and the man with a yard full of top secret charges, 007 himself H. James Bond. Amidst the trainers and their four-legged stars glimmered yet another in NY Breeder and former teen idol David Cassidy. Ray and I were front and center for all the glitterati as we watched the parade of equine aficionados from the clocker’s booth with color commentary from the “Don of the Spa” veteran NYRA clocker Freddy Bond (click here to watch Freddy on YouTube!).

Meanwhile, the real rising star in the thoroughbred world was hard at work back at the barn; my future trainer Seth Benzel. Seth set up his shedrow and went solo on May 1st after several years with Todd Pletcher and Bill Mott. In my opinion, he is the best of them both. I worked with Seth when I galloped horses in the Todd Pletcher Stable. His work ethic and attention to detail are unparalleled, I predict a multitude of stakes wins and leading trainer titles await Seth Benzel.

My partner Ray is a lifelong racing fan familiar with the other side of the track, but is brand new to ownership. I had the great pleasure of introducing Ray to Seth this morning. To show Ray first hand exactly how a shedrow should be run was invaluable, to show him what to look for in a horse’s conformation and running style will serve him for a lifetime. I want my partners to know how to look at a horse and what to expect from a trainer. Ray asked one great question after the next and left the O! better educated and more prepared to be successful in the super competitive world of thoroughbred racing.

Here’s what I shared with Ray about basic racehorse conformation ...

When I evaluate a horse for the first time, I look for solid strong bone, a 45 degree angle shoulder with a big wide hip on a balanced frame with a rhythmical flowing walk from hind to front.

I want an intelligent, attractive head with big eyes and large nostrils, the eyes should be well set out of the horse’s head and the forehead wide. The nostrils should be big and the width under the jaw must be wider than a fist to allow for serious air intake to fuel the body. The horse's neck needs to be proportionate to the body type and be well tied in at the withers, while not being too thick, short, low or "ewe necked".

The hind leg must swing well under the horse from high in the hip to thrust him forward with great power when galloping, and it must have a well curved gaskin and wide strong hock. When the horse powers forward onto his front legs, I look for a long forearm and short stout cannon bone, absolutely correct knees and a 45 degree pastern angle. I will not under any circumstances buy, own or breed horses who are back at the knee, or have offset knees, long or straight pasterns, or short forearms and long cannon bones; they just don’t hold up and are injuries waiting to happen. From the rear, I want wide strong level hips and horse that tracks straight in his walk without toeing in or out, or paddling through the trajectory of his step.

From the front, a broad powerful chest is a must and a straight line from the center of the forearm to the center of the hoof with NO deviations! Just think how of all of the horse’s weight is distributed … In a galloping horse, the lead foreleg takes the entire weight of the horse for a fraction of a second--about 0.11 second to be exact--as the body rolls over the leg; deviations can be disastrous. The forces placed on each of the joints in the horses leg are phenomenal. The cannon bone alone experiences about 6,000lbs of pressure with every step and the force applied to the horse’s hoof is around 175% of the animal's own body weight. The hoof and the manner in which it is shod is so critically important that it requires a dissertation unto itself.
In short, I want an athletic equine capable of maximum speed and reach with the least possible strain to his or her body.
Training hours at tracks are one of the best places to educate your eye because you have the opportunity to view several horses moving across the track at once in various stages of work; jogging, galloping or breezing. You can clearly see the differences in running style and how specific physical attributes enhance or inhibit a horse as he moves across the ground.

Ultimately, I am looking for a horse built for speed and endurance with the most efficient motion, the one who covers maximum ground with the least effort. To me, this is achieved first and foremost by owning horses with correct conformation, angles and balance.

In a nutshell, study every angle of Secretariat and you will discover the ideal build for a thoroughbred racehorse.