A very old but tried-and-true saying on the backstretch is "Time only counts when you're doing it."
I received an email today from one of my favorite members. He's one of my favorites because he's not demanding, doesn't ask too many daft questions and generally doesn't drive me to drink more pints than I should.
Apparently, some of his buddies have been ribbing him because one of his PGR horses (who I might add already set a new track record at Beautiful Belmont Park) wasn't working fast. I get this from a lot of horse racing aficionados and handicapping pundits. The jist of the matter is, horses don't always need to work fast in the morning to run fast in the afternoon. Many trainers have different styles of training and horses have different styles of running.
From a training stand point, many of the top conditioners work horses in company. They will tell you that a horse will get more out of a morning workout looking eye to eye and working against another horse than they will working alone no matter how fast they go. Trainers will match horses of similar ability, age and fitness level. They will let them hook up at the beginning of the breeze and go at each other for the duration of the work. If a horse begins to pull away, he or she is usually held to stay one on one with his workmate. This way they both get a lot of mental as well as physical exertion out of the exercise. This will more accurately simulate what will go on in a race in the afternoon. You’ll hear comments from the riders like: "He was tugging my arms out of their sockets" or "She was really on the bit” if they worked well. If they didn’t work so hot, then you may hear: "He wasn’t focused or "She was all over the place, switching leads back and forth”. The interest here is not the final time (although it should be acceptable) but how they finish and whether they really got something out of it. Showing fatigue is always a good thing if they worked hard and then you’ll hear, "He got a lot out of that work today".
From a horse’s perspective, it’s like you're at the gym, going through your daily routine on the treadmill and it’s the same old ho hum work out. Then this young muscle bound kid (yeah, tight tee shirt, you know what I’m talking about!) shows up, gets on the treadmill next to you and starts jogging! Jogging mind you! Just to warm up! Well you twist that dial and get going faster because "I’ll be gosh darned if I'm going to let this little whipper snapper get the best of me!" And guess what? You're working harder than you have since you were his age. Your heart is pounding out of your chest (I think this gym has a defibrillator), you're about to fall over from sheer muscle fatigue (you keep it together, he's still there). After the young buck leaves, you douse yourself in water and wipe the sweat off your brow, but all in all, you feel pretty darn good. No one was timing you, you weren’t racing against a clock, you were just being (my wife would say ridiculous) competitive! And that’s what it all about.
The whole time thing is a talking head media thing (Ooh that horse worked in 46 or that horse breezed 59). They’ve got to incessantly talk about something! Don’t get me wrong, horses have to run faster than the opponents to win, but they need to be not only physically fit but mentally prepared to vanquish their foes and have a fun doing it. You can leave a lot on the track in a fast work in the morning and then you're a little dull for the main event. Bottom line is, it really doesn’t matter what they do in the morning, it’s what they do in the afternoon that counts. And you only have to run fast enough to win!
I’m exhausted just thinking about the whole treadmill routine. Barkeep, I think I’ll have another!