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.

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