In an era of better training through chemistry, there are still a few trainers who do it right.
That was the thought I had after studying the two-year-old races run during the final week of the Saratoga meeting with Kerry Thomas of the Thomas Herding Technique.
Having spent the last two days watching hours of pan and head-on replays, paying close attention to how young horses react to various race conditions, two trainers really stood out for the way they prepare their young horses: Chad Brown and Jonathan E. Sheppard.
Those names should be no surprise. Brown is an up-and-coming conditioner who learned under the great Bobby Frankel. He had an excellent stay in Saratoga Springs this year, winning 29 races from 95 starts.
Sheppard won 5 races from 31 starters at Saratoga this year. Amazingly, it was the 45th consecutive year he has won at least one race at the meet. Sheppard is in the Thoroughbred Hall of Fame and he is the only trainer to have won the American steeplechase Triple Crown.
This is by no means even a remotely complete or exhaustive list of the "trainers who do it right." Many have raved about the results produced by Todd Pletcher, who won a ton of two-year-old races this year at Saratoga. Pletcher's system does an outstanding job of getting speed out of young horses, but his is a different style of horsemanship.
Watch a Brown or Sheppard horse debut and more than likely you will see a horse that is not hell-bent on getting to the front. Their horses break and settle. They don't exhibit panic when sitting behind horses or when forced to negotiate traffic. They embrace, and often thrive, in the chaos of herd motion.
The foundations they instill in their young horses allow them to win in a scenario that very few trainers can -- going long first time out. Not only are their horses physically prepared for what lies ahead, but they have the mental foundation to succeed and grow as racehorses.
Watch the Sheppard trainee Hedonemewrongsong (2yo filly by Bluegrass Cat-Bitter Lemon, by Lemon Drop Kid, bred and owned by William Backer) win her debut impressively (#3) http://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/videos/race-replays/USA/SAR/2012/8/29/7/race-7
And here is video of Dell Ridge Farm's homebred Noble Song (Unbridled's Song-Serena's Cat, by Storm Cat), making his debut for Brown. (#1) http://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/videos/race-replays/USA/SAR/2012/9/3/1/race-1