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Training for a Race (1907)

The below is an excerpt from John H. Davis' autobiographical,   The American Turf with Personal Reminiscences,   published in 1907:

     There is a tendency toward returning to long distances, and a happy and encouraging fact this is, though it is not receiving that attention from the public breeder to which it is entitled.  The private breeder, however is blazing the way, and racing associations, by offering large rewards for supremacy in such events, are rapidly compelling acquiescence in the plan.  It is popular also, for nine men out of ten  would rather see a good long race, where the horses pass the stand as many times as possible, than a short dash, where one is hardly interested until it is over.   In the olden times there was the greatest excitement, because it took some time for the contests to be completed and because there was an additional interest in watching the struggle of one horse for the supremacy over the other.

     It is just the same as in a card game.  If it were all over by the turn of a single card, no one would care to play whist, and thus this fashionable and highly interesting pastime would fade and die. It takes time to produce the excitement that is attractive to anybody but one who has simply gone to the track for speculative purposes.  The man who really loves the sport because it illustrates the glory of the horse want to see the actual racing and just as much of actual contest as is possible.

     The olden time sportsmen cared comparatively little for the money to be won.  He enjoyed seeing a race and he was not in the least actuated by sordid motives.   William Walker, who rode Ten Broeck in his famous race with Mollie McCarthy, once told the writer concerning Mr. Harper, the owner of the horse he bestrode and piloted to victory, that Mr. Harper did not bet a cent on the race and never bet on any of the races where his horses were entered.   He said the glory of winning was sufficient for him.  Mr. Harper was a horseman of the old school and was loved and respected because of his fairness and devotion to the sport.

     But this is a diversion.  What I started out to tell the people of the present time was how a man trained a horse for a heat race when it was necessary for a trainer to thoroughly understand his business.  I do not mean to say that the trainers of the present time are not good men, but I desire to convey the impression that they are wedded to short distances and that there are not many of them who would know how to exactly go about fitting a race horse for a long distance race.  Of course, there are a few, and they are good men, who have had experience in that line.  The same methods are not used to in the new school as were used by those of the old.  But in the event of a return to the long distances it will be absolutely necessary for the trainers of today to inform themselves on the very matters which I am discussing here.

      We will take for example, the case of a trainer taking one horse to train for a stake event that is four months off. Let us assume the horse to start in this race has just been taken up out of the pasture.  He is brought to the track or training quarters, and the first care of the trainer must be to see that the stall is comfortable.  It must have plenty of ventilation and there must be a nice window in it.  This window must be sufficiently high to prevent a draught on the horse, so as not to give him a cold or bring on any disease resultant therefrom.  Everything must be clean and there must be no ill aroma,  for this is a disease producer as well as any other cause.  This horse must be handled as carefully as a child.

     The first day, upon arriving at the training quarters, the horse may be walked about the track.  It may be at a time when there are flies, or his feet may need protection to prevent them from becoming injured by stamping or anything of that order.  Therefore, on the second day he should be shod.  Now, this is not always the case, for his feet may not be in such a condition as to require it then, but it should not be long until this is done.

     You have now provided comfortable quarters and seen to our horse's feet.  These are the salient points up to this time, and your horse is ready for training.  If he comes in from the pasture very gross or big in fresh. he should not eat over ten quarts of solid grain per day, one-third of it corn.  In the absence of grass, corn is the natural laxative.  At least two days in the week he should have a mash at noon, say Tuesdays and Fridays.  The mashes should always be cooked.  It is frequently the case at the present time that cold ones are served, and they often produce colic.  One might go on for twelve months and not have an accident from this case.  but in the thirteenth month he would go to his stable some morning and find his horse dead in the stall.  Instead of feeding the mash at night, it should be given at noon, so the horse may show the effects in the daytime.

     Walk the horse the first week, giving him short trots occasionally to accustom him to the work.  Pursue the same course the second week, but you may gallop him if he is getting along nicely.   Then when you send him out for the third week you may give him a mile and a quarter gallop, and then walk him a half mile.  Give him another mile and a quarter, and then walk him about until he is rested.  Take him back to the stable and have him rubbed down gently, in order to close the pores of the skin which have been opened by the exertion. In this respect he is just like a human being.  A man always feels refreshed after toil by a good rub down, and it is so with a horse.

     The latter animal should be taught to eat as much as possible, in order to increase his strength and vitality.  If the bowels are too loose, cut off the mashes for a time, but if the animal is inclined to constipation, they should be kept up.  By this time, if there has been nothing of a nature that has affected the horse's condition, you may begin to move him along at the rate of 30 seconds to the quarter two days in the week.  With such a horse there should be no change made until the end of the sixth week.  Of course, you must be governed by circumstances.

     If the track is good and the weather favorable, you may work the horse at a two-minute gait for half a mile.  This should be done twice a week and kept up until the eighth week. There are yet two months in which to get him ready for the great race in which he is entered.  He has got along nicely until this time, and there is no change in his condition.

     Even if the horse is perfectly healthy and still is gross, he should have a ball, which will loosen him up and cool him off as well as act as a tonic.  During the twenty-four hours preceding the giving of the medicine at least two mashes should be given.  This prepares him to receive the ball.

     A ball consists of five drachms of fresh Barbados aloes, one drachm of calomel, half drachm of rhubarb, half drachm of ginger, mixed and worked into a ball or pill.  Roll it in a little flour, so it will  not stick to the hands, and in the event there is no veterinary near, it is always best to insert a balling iron, so the horse cannot bite you.  Be sure to get the ball  back of the tongue, holding the tongue with the left hand.  Release the tongue and down goes the ball.

     This operation should be done at 8:00 in the morning, and the horse should be placed in a stall with a muzzle on, to prevent his eating.  At 8:00 the next morning, the horse should show some symptoms of its acting.  In the case there is no evidence of its acting, the horse should be walked or trotted to bring about such an action.

     After the medicine shows its effects, begin to check him.  The idea is to get the medicine properly diffused into the system.   Feed him some dry hay or oats.   Often a horse will eat hay when he will not eat anything else.  It is just as important to get the medicine out of a horse as it is to get it into him.  The idea is not to purge a horse violently, for it may make him sick  for six months at a time.  Careless and incompetent trainers will bring about this state of affairs nine times out of ten, and they should not attempt it unless they know just what they are doing

     For 48 hours after medicine has been administered and the purging has stopped, the horse should be kept in a stall where the temperature is even, so he will not take cold and become weakened in any manner.  Then he should begin to eat regularly again.

     At first, upon taking him out on the track, he should be simply walked around for a few days and then gradually put to work until he gets back to his two-mile canters again.  He is now a horse in perfect condition, and there will be no further trouble with him if he is cared for properly.  Go on as before carefully for another week. Then let him move a fast quarter--say, about :30 seconds. At the end of this week send him along for a half mile in about :58, and one week later breeze him along at the rate of a mile in two minutes.  Do this twice a week.

     Five weeks remain in which to prepare for the race.  Gallop him two miles and repeat each day, making him do the last mile about two minutes.

     Four weeks remain.  Work him again in about 1:50 in order to tighten him up.  There are three weeks.  Give him a mile and a quarter in as good as 2:15 or hereabouts.  If this is done on Monday or Tuesday, he should be given a mile in 1:50 five days later.  Two weeks remain.  Send him a couple of miles on Monday in 3:50.  The latter part of the week send him down a mile in 1:45. Plate him at this juncture, and send him with company, if possible, whatever the distance is, in about as fast time as he will go of his own volition.  Four days later (he has but two days left) give him another two miles well within himself, not pushing him.

     He is now fit and ready to run his first race of the season.  The usual gallops may be given the last two days.  Early in the morning on the day of the race, he should be moved a quarter or an eighth with some horse as a test to show whether he had retained his speed with all this work.  If he is cheerful, feeds and shows the proper example in the stable, he may be pronounced fit to race.

     This method is not infallible, for the horse may be different one than I have described.  A wholly different treatment is needed where the animal is delicate and not strong and hardy.  There can be no special mode of treatment given for the care of any horse, for he may be of a different temperament.  Then another horse may not need one-fourth of this treatment to get him in condition.  This is something that the level-headedness of the trainer must determine.

Below is a summation of weekly works:

    .

week #

                            Daily Works

           Speed Work

1

Walk and short trots

 

2

Walk, trot, some galloping

 

3

1 mile gallop  +  mile walk   +  1 mile gallop

 

4

2 mile gallop  +  mile walk  +  2 mile gallop

 

5

2 mile gallop  +  mile walk  +  2 mile gallop

:30 quarter, twice a week

6

2 mile gallop  +  mile walk  +  2 mile gallop

:30 quarter, twice a week

7

2 mile gallop  +  mile walk  +  2 mile gallop

1:00 half,    twice a week

8

2 mile gallop  +  mile walk  +  2 mile gallop

1:00 half,    twice a week

9

Physic Ball given, stalled for 2 days, gradually worked back up to 2 mile gallops as before by end of this week.

 

10

2 mile gallop  +  mile walk  + 2 mile gallop

1:00 half,    twice a week

11

2 mile gallop  +  mile walk  + 2 mile gallop

2:00 mile with last half in :58 daily

12

2 mile gallop  +  mile walk  + 2 mile gallop

Last gallop mile  in 2:00 daily

13

2 mile gallop  +  mile walk  + 2 mile gallop

Last gallop mile in 1:50 daily

14

2 mile gallop  +  mile walk  + 2 mile gallop

1st of week: Last 1 mile in 2:15.

Last of week: Last mile in 1:50

15

2 mile gallop  +  mile walk  + 2 mile gallop

1st of week: 2 miles in 3:50,

Last of week: 1 mile in 1:45

16

2 mile gallop   +  mile walk  + 2 mile gallop

1st of week: 2 miles breeze well within capabilities.

17

                                     Race

 

Analysis of the above Training Chapter in Today's Terms

        Isn't it amusing that even in 1907, there are those in the sport regretting that distances were not longer and begrudging the modern sport's shortening of race lengths?  Some things never change!  Nevertheless, Mr. Davis' recommendation to a conditioning program designed to give a horse enough bottom to compete in heat racing or the longer distances should be studied by even our modern Thoroughbred trainers. I would like to give you my interpretation of this chapter and how it may apply to our 21st century of racing.

     First let me say that this description has to be for a horse that has already raced the year before. It is not applicable to a young horse that has had no race experience. If one was conditioning a non-starter for the first time, it would take much longer and involve much more 'socialization" of that innocent animal to the ways and means of the race track. One cannot simply take a green horse up from pasture and expect to follow the above schedule, impossible!

     Davis cautions in not allowing a draft to flow on a stabled horse directly; this was a common misconception of the past.  Certainly we want our horses comfortable, but most horses can take a lot of natural air directly without the fear of its immune system being compromised. Take his advice with a grain of salt.

     Rations are next covered.  He likes to feed corn. I have had experience with corn in my early years and we fed straight corn without any consequences. Later in my life with the race horses, I fell into the tradition of only feeding triple cleaned northern grown oats and a bit of sweet feed (some corn present), but seldom would I feed more corn. I suspect that much could be gained to going back to whole corn. I concur with his advice on rations. He says only feed a hot mash. I disagree. I don't think it has to be cooked, but I will use as hot tap water as possible to mix up a bran mash. However, I disagree that one must be careful about feeding a cold mash. It will not produce colic and I have never seen any signs of this ever causing a horse to have colic. Also, I will only feed a bran mash, no more than once a week, particularly, right after a race. 

     Next, we come to an actual work schedule. Most interesting, no?  This type of conditioning is most unusual for a Thoroughbred in these modern times. Well, perhaps with the exception of those Thoroughbred men that is following various interval training programs. This type of configuration has been fairly common with the harness race horse that, I might add, comes from a history of heat racing, though Standardbred heat racing ceased to a large part after the 1980s.  Like the Thoroughbred, the Standardbred has dropped heat racing in favor of dash racing.  It will be interesting to see if the forthcoming harness horse trainers who have never seen or experienced any type of heat racing will do away with "heat' training. If Thoroughbred racing is any indication, they will.  Anyway, Davis' conditioning program of  2 mile gallops spaced in between by a half mile walk is very reminiscent of what harness horse trainers call, a "double-header". I would often go a double header when I trained harness horses, go back to the barn for roughly 30-40 minutes and then come back for one last training "heat".  Davis does the same thing, except once his thoroughbred double-header is over, he goes back to the barn, finished. The use of double-headers whether by a Thoroughbred or Standardbred is simply a convenient way to put more work in an animal at one setting. It increases stamina. Of course, stamina is only part of the equation. We must horn our horse with speed work. Davis starts his horses doing some speed around the 5th week. This seems about right in today's standards as well. And most certainly, I applaud this speed work at an interval of twice-a-week! I would tend to divulge greatly form the Davis method in his speed trails. I would slowly decrease times by exact, equal increments, though I am sure an old experienced race horse could get by without doing it so carefully.  Davis and the other old timers of that era were correct in assuming that a previous starter would mainly need his bottom developed and less emphasis was needed with actual careful speed horning.  He mentions on the day of the race to breeze an eight or quarter. I don't think this is advisable or necessary. In fact, I seldom take my horses out on the track for even a gallop, though this practice certainly is not unheard of. Each horse must dictate his own schedule and Davis was very succinct in proclaiming this in the last paragraph. No one horse is identical to another. In the end, the horse will tell the trainer how best to condition himself and the trainer must be perceptive enough to listen.

      I might add that the practice of giving physic balls was quite common back then and, now, it is never done.  His use of Barbados aloes, calomel (mercury), rhubarb and ginger is a remnant of heroic medicine from the 1800s both in man and animal. Purging is never done in modern veterinary medicine, though it may have some alternative value in certain conditions such as colic. You will note that the use of Barbados aloes and ginger can be very helpful in intestinal pathology. Whether such regimented use of intestinal cathartics may be of value, is debatable at this time.

 

     

A common backside scene from the early 1900s. This is probably very typical of fair racing in that era. This particular photo was taken in Southern Illinios (NewBurnside, Harrisburg, Marion areas). 


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