I Blame Trainers for Lack of Triple Crown Winners

By Bill Pressey, ThoroEdge

I'm sure I'll get skewered for this post from all the trainers out there, but here goes:

We can't even have more than one Triple Crown RUNNER this year (Dublin as of this time), much less a winner.

I don't need to go into training regimens of the top 3 year old contenders - because they are all essentially the same; gallop 1.5 miles a few times a week, never breeze further than 6F on dirt, no speed work 2 weeks after a race, breeze 0-1 times between the Derby and Preakness, etc.

Every trainer laments the spacing of the Triple Crown series, then goes back to breezing once every 6/7 days and racing every 5-6 weeks in preparaton for such a challenge. Like Einstein said, "Insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly, while expecting a different result."

During this 30+ year drought, I think we can safely assume all trainers copy off of what the big boys like Pletcher and Baffert do. Similarly, back in the 30's and 40's, everyone was also copying what the trainers of those throughbred champions where doing, there just isn't much evidence of what that was exactly - until I found detailed training schedules on the legendary Assault (pictured above) in a great book entitled "Training Thoroughbred Horses" by Preston Burch.

Assault won the Triple Crown in 1946 for his trainer Max Hirsch, who also got 2/3 of the way towards immortality with Bold Venture in 1936 and Middleground in 1950.

And away we go, all data courtesy of two thoroughbred hall of fame trainers:

3 - 4F in :48
4 - Won Kentucky Derby by 8 in 2:06 on sloppy track
5 - walked at CD
6 - shipped to Pimlico
8 - 3F in :40
9 - 8F in 1:45
11 - Won Preakness Stakes by a neck in 2:01 on fast track
12 - shipped to Belmont
16 - 4F in :52
18 - 3F in :40
20 - 4F in :48
22 - 8F in 1:44
24 - 3F in :35
25 - 1.25 miles in 2:05 (:50, 1:15, 1:40, 2:05)
28 - 4F in :50
29 - 1.5 miles in 2:32

1 - Won Belmont Stakes by 3 in 2:31 on fast track
5 - 4F in :52
7 - 4F in :51
9 - 8F in 1:43
11 - 3F in :36
13 - 8F in 1:43 at Aqueduct
15 - Won Dwyer Stakes by 5 lengths in 2:07 on fast track

To summarize:
A Triple Crown AND Dwyer win within 6 weeks.
16 breezes in that time, averaging nearly 6F per effort, in 12-13 sec/f paces.

Currently our runners such as Super Saver and Lookin at Lucky, while still fantastic specimens, cannot breeze/race 4 times in this period, much less the 20 of Assault and no doubt all others during 1930-1948 when we had 7 Triple Crown champs.

Assault's mother never ran a race, and the colt himself had a foot injury early in his career. Today he would have been trained/raced like he was made of glass - instead of iron.

So, what happened? Did we stop breeding for stamina? Did we stop training for it?

Probably a combination of both, with economics no doubt the driving factor behind many decisions. Plus the introduction into the thoroughbred game of quarter horse trainers who seldom train aggressively cetainly didn't help matters.

Human training has evolved through science and technology over the past 50 years.
As a result, athletes are faster than ever, with lower injury rates in all sports.

Conversely, thoroughbred conditioning has went backwards during this time while our racing times fail to improve and lameness and bleeding runs rampant.

Horses improve and get better after being allowed to recover from a bout of appropriate exercise. The more of these sessions you squeeze in, the more development you can expect.

Every sound elite thoroghbred recovers from a half in :48 within 2-4 days - yet is forced to wait a week or more before sprinting again.

Humans know they can't lose weight exercising once a week for 20 minutes, exercise science has proven you need 3-4 of those sessions each week in order to see results. If there is too long a break between exercise bouts, the positive adaptations made by the body come and go - there is no cumulative effect.

Every horseman should read the work of Preston Burch, as well as David Evans - the father of equine exercise physiology (nice long free preview).

Don't just train harder, train smarter.

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