Racetrack Training

Conditioning a thoroughbred racehorse is a seven-day a week, three hundred and sixty five day a year job. There are many different ways to build and maintain fitness including going for a hack in the field, walking in the shedrow, or heading out to the track.

If you have visited a training center or racetrack in the morning, you will have seen exercise riders navigating their way around the track, at speeds and distances dictated by instructions received from the trainer. Horses doing fast work will travel counterclockwise, and joggers or returning horses head clockwise. The faster a horse is moving during a counterclockwise work, the closer it will be to the rail; racetrack etiquette dictates that slower horses move aside. Some of these horses will work alone while others will work with another horse, known as “in company”.

On the track, there are four different speeds at which a horse moves. A “jog” is another term for the trot, a two-beat diagonal gait. As speed increases into the “gallop” the rider will shift his or her weight forward, rise up out of the saddle and travel 16 – 18 seconds per furlong (220 yards). A “two-minute-lick” is characterized by a horse going one mile (8 furlongs) in two minutes, i.e. 15 seconds per furlong. The fastest speed at which a horse will exercise is “breezing”, where a horse will travel approximately 12 seconds per furlong. Which speed is used on a given day will depend on the horse’s condition, the proximity to race day, and most importantly, the individual trainer’s training regime. Workouts can also be used to determine where the horse’s talents lie when they first begin training.

 The routine for each horse is tailored to the type of race being aimed for; sprint or route. Distance breezed, as well as the time taken to travel that distance, is decided by the trainer and will typically vary from three to five furlongs. Average pace is twelve seconds per furlong, but fitter horses, or those with more natural speed, will complete this pace with much less effort.

Breezes typically occur weekly and are recorded by a clocker who watches the breeze and reports the time. Before a horse starts in its first race, a certain number of published works must be completed. For example, at Churchill Downs, “A horse starting for the first time shall not be permitted to start unless it has three published work outs, one of which is from the starting gate, and one which is within twenty days of entry.”

Handicappers use these workout histories for insight and all published workouts, on any horse in training, can be found at equibase.com. When viewing the workouts you will see where, when, and how far the horse worked, as well as how long it took for the horse to travel the specified distance. Also included is the horse’s rank when compared to other horses working the same day, at the same track, over the same distance. Using Teen Pauline’s Current Workout report, you can see that in her most recent workout she ranked ninth out of the seventy horses that breezed four furlongs at Belmont on November 21st.

Follow Teen Pauline’s works leading up to her run at Churchill Downs in the G2 Falls City Handicap. When reading her workout times, it is important to know that Teen Pauline has a lot of natural speed. Her last race was 10/26/14 at Belmont Park, and we can see four weekly workouts prior to that race and two after.

A trainer will give a horse an easy final work five or six days before a race. We see that Teen Pauline worked five furlongs for three weeks in a row, at roughly twelve seconds a furlong, during which time she was building fitness. Her work on the 20th of October, the week before her race at Belmont, was over the reduced distance of four furlongs and at around 12.4 seconds per furlong.

After Teen Pauline raced on October 26th, she did not work again until three weeks later, doing a very easy four furlong workout in 50.12 seconds. Just as a horse will have an easy workout before a race, an easy work also follows. Her final workout on November 21st is comparable to her October 20th workout, as they are both the last workout prior to race day and are the same distance at similar times.

The purpose of a workout will vary from week to week and from horse to horse. While the ranking system may lead some to believe that speed is the goal this is deceiving. Look again at Teen Pauline; her ability to go four furlongs in 48 seconds with little effort would give her a rank below a horse that was at full exertion to complete four furlongs in 47 seconds.