The old time Jockey Seat

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

stylin book


Jan. 2016 . . . . . . . A rather remarkable event happened to me this month. I was contacted by Jason Neff, who brought to my attention, a recently published book by his father, Myles Neff, titled: Stylin’: Reviving the Lost Art of Race Riding. I consider this to be one of the most valuable Thoroughbred racing books I have read in years! Before that date, I thought I was the lone voice in the wilderness suggesting that we need to go back to the older style of jock’s seat perfected in the mid-20th century as described previously on this page. Myles Neff through this book has provided a unique insight into that old style of riding which was called “stylin” by the boys that had to ride for a living back during that time frame. This style of race riding where the jock was pretty much on his belly against the horse from gate to finish was epitomized by such old time greats as Eddie Arcaro, George Woolf, Earl Sande, Jack Westrope and Neff’s own teacher/mentor, George Martin. Myles was one of the last jocks to have utilized that style and it is seldom seen in these modern times. A photo of Myles Neff, “down on his belly” in the “skin of his horse” as he was often fond of saying can be seen below. Unfortunately, the sport lost this great man in 2011 to cancer, but his book lives on and can teach much to those open to learn and think.



One of the regrets of my life was that Jimmy Jones, the famed trainer of Calumet Farms and who lived not far from my family farm in northwest Missouri, died before I had a chance to pick his brain on old time training methods as practiced by he and his father, Ben. This is an all to common fate of great men with valuable knowledge. Their knowledge often dies with them! Myles has left a legacy for all of us who ride and train Thoroughbreds to contemplate. It allows us to reach beyond the current style of riding for that much coveted “edge” which only this style of aerodynamic and close contact seat can offer. Ignore it at your stable’s own peril!

Myles Neff was a rather unlikely jockey! At 13 he was 5′ 10″ tall and weighed 130 pounds, yet he wanted to ride more than anything in the world! His brother, two years older, weighed 180 pounds! Everyone discouraged him from trying to ride professionally and for good reason! By the time he reached his 15th birthday, he had gotten his weight down to 112 and took out his license at the old Detroit Race Course. He persevered, eventually won a few but moreover showed his guts. Finally, his father gave in and asked an old friend and famed jockey, George Martin to take his son under his wing teaching him the riding style that George was renowned for. The rest is history as they say. I find it amazing that such a tall rider could so easily get down low and ride in this style! This is certainly a reflection on how this style can create a rider, no matter how tall which is efficient and a threat to shorter, lighter jocks. Technique is everything and balance is the key! It makes one think why the Brit jock, Lester Piggott (5″ 8″), felt like he needed to ride so high in order to compensate for his height!


The beauty of this original style of American racing was that the jock rode low from start-to-finish on his belly, often had his face in the mane, avoided unbalancing his mount by maintaining a perfectly still seat, and rode with hands that provided sensitive contact with his horse’s mouth. It was a beautiful image of pure poetry in motion paired with an animal unhindered! In contrast, compare this image with what one sees today! Modern jocks ride high up in the air catching wind, ride with wide elbows often throwing the reins at their horse losing contact, wiggle around, and just generally hindering the balance of their mounts.

Yes, a low seat does put added strain on the rider. Its tiring on the legs. Many will say they ride high to save themselves and relax their horse. I say BS to that or they just don’t know any better! They are athletes after all! There is no reason why they cannot strengthen their muscles to accommodate this lower style. As far as relaxing the horse, phooey! I dare say there is more strain on the horse high up then down low and as far as making the horse relax during the early portions of a race by riding higher, I simply don’t buy it. Horses catch on pretty fast when the rider wants him to really try. As I mentioned on my MOUTH/SEAT webpage, the Brit trainer, Fred Rickaby writes that the gifted rider is perfectly balanced on his horse, never out of rhythm. There is no better way to accomplish this than by using this old style of riding down and close.

Lets talk about wind resistance. If for no other reason, staying down low avoiding catching the air should be the number one reason to adopt this style. The speed of a race horse can be anywhere from around 35-40 mph and if you figure in a head wind, drag really gets complicated and serious fast! A race horse wins by being the one that uses the least energy to get from point A to point B. This economy of energy can be accomplished in many ways with air resistance being one of the more serious factors to consider in energy expenditure. Neff points out in his book that there is scientific research that shows that the lower riding jockey reduces drag by 31% as compared to a rider sitting higher up. Just plain common sense will tell you that! He also writes that bicycle racers which have speeds around 30 mph can gain a five foot advantage per mile per 1% decrease in air drag.   M.I.T. researchers run a computer simulation program that calculated a rider riding down low achieved a drag force of 2.5 pounds lower than the same jock riding a bit higher. This would mean that a low ridden horse would experience a decrease in work load of 15% just from avoiding a higher seat by a less enlightened jock. Take a look at the below study that just came out from the Agence France-Presse (March 7, 2012) on the benefits of drafting in a race. Air resistance matters! Its insane that trainers and jockeys seem absolutely lackadaisical to the crimes that are being committed every day in races just from riders acting like parachutes!




What about balance? It doesn’t take a genius to know that the lower the center of gravity, the more stable the object. The lower riding jock creates a lower center of gravity not only in himself, but in the combined moving object combination of horse plus rider. The higher the rider, the more easily he can interfere with the balance of the horse via simple leverage. The closer he is to the center of gravity of the horse, the more he becomes that horse and achieves as Neff likes to say: “getting into his skin”, becoming one with the horse. Again, let me remind the reader that the truly gifted jockeys, the ones that get the most out of their mounts are the ones that are the most balanced on their horses, that disturb them the least, that let them run unhindered. George Woolf was the true example of this style and was called the “ice man” exactly because no one could tell what he was thinking by how still and balanced he was throughout a race.

A hidden dimension of balance in this seat is what Myles Neff calls: “purchase”. Purchase is the position of one’s feet in the irons (stirrups). Leg position generally is not thought too much about on the back-side other than how long one’s stirrup leathers may be. The “acey deucy” style where the right (outside in USA) iron is shorter than the inside has been around on the racetrack for years. If you ask a jock about it, he will simply say that having this uneven stirrup configuration will allow him to take the turns more balanced. This is pretty much where the acey deucey reasoning stops. Myles Neff in his book has much more to say about Acey Deucy and it was certainly eye opening for me! He suggests that the acey deucey style is pretty much a necessity when one rides low in the old timey form and gives reasons and illustrations to back that up. Acey deucy allows the rider to widen his legs with the right foot behind the left foot, using it as a driving point to maintain his balance. Eddie Arcaro wrote in his The Art of Race Riding: “I find that the short right iron gives me the great pushing action. I have the feeling I can get right down and shove on the horse with my right foot behind me and my left foot forward to shove against. Thus, my right foot is my balancing pole.” Myles Neff goes on to say that logically, this configuration doesn’t really seem to make sense, but in practice, it does! I agree. I never could get my mind into the practicality of acey deucey, but Neff has changed that for me. Neff writes: “Establishing and maintaining the balance created by riding acey-deucy is the easiest and most efficient way for a racehorse and jockey to move together. It allows the rider to shift his balance and position to go with that of the horse and the horse’s change of balance, whether it is small or large, gradual or quick. Acey deucy allows the rider to “fold into” the horse instead of squat over him. The rider should not be spreading his legs apart in order to get lower on the horse, nor perching on the horse’s withers with his knees, but rather take advantage of the acey-deucy technique to fold himself as compactly as possible over the horse’s back.”

      Lastly, I want to touch on how a racehorse is bitted and the jockey’s hands in general. I grew up training and exhibiting show horses where bitting was extremely important to such an extent, it took on an almost magical emphasis when describing the talents of the very best show trainers and riders which had gifted hands. Being able to efficiently communicate with a show horse was a must to tell him how to best perform. Once I got to the race track, I was dismayed to observe that most riders had little appreciation for how Thoroughbreds are bitted. The loose rein is rampant every where and one cannot communicate with a horse on a loose rein! Morning exercise riders are just as guilty as the jockey’s in the afternoon or night.   Even to this day while watching the very best jocks and horse racing events on TV, I always notice how each rider “bit’s” his horse, handle their reins at the walk in the post parade and once in the race. Invariably the loose rein is all that can be seen. Actually, how a rider bits a thoroughbred at the walk is really very telling. Everyone loose reins them. I never did. I always had a light contact with my horse’s mouth and my hands moved with the rhythm of their bobbing head at the walk. I was talking to them at all times! Eddie Arcaro had an interesting observation on hands: “. . . remember that you’ve got to learn an awful lot about your horse in 10-15 minutes, from the time you first see him in the paddock until they load you into the starting gate. The jock with what we call good hands is the jock who–to get properly technical for a moment–can understand the feel of a horse’s mouth and relate that sensitive touch both to knowledge of the horse’s capabilities and to the tactics decided between the trainer and jockey before each race. In other words, if you get a proper feel of a horse’s mouth on the way to the gate, you should have a pretty good line on the way he likes to run.”

Myles Neff does fortunately discuss in detail the current style and problems of jockeys’ hands. He despises the loose rein as much as I do and he writes how important it is to have a constant communication with the racehorse with a sensitive contact that can inspire. He also makes it clear that the close old time seat is the best seat to use in conjunction with good hands to get all one can out of his mount. Riding high with a loose rein is an abomination! The close seat provides a stable balanced rider that has stable sensitive hands!

Loose Reins photo2

So where did Thoroughbred horse racing go wrong and why have we come to this current sorry state of affairs? Perhaps it is the industry’s departure from having jockeys under contract with stables while they were learning their trade? Back when that indentured system was prevalent in our sport, a young man was taken under the wing of a trainer and closely supervised from start-to-finish, tutored on the necessary skills of race riding, closely monitored. Not any more! Jocks are created with only the sparsest of riding experience rising up under no one master mentor. They are also more prone to see their peers as examples to emulate. With everyone on the track riding high and loose-reined, how do you expect them to know the right way to ride? We also received an influx of Latin American riders from the 1970s onward that brought into our jockey membership, riders with a different culture and background of riding style. Myles recounts in his book how he visited with Eddie Arcaro toward the end of his life at a Florida Expo event asking the great jockey if he thought it possible to teach young riders to again ride close as they did forsaking the modern style. Eddie said: “Not even with a gun to their heads!” He told Neff he had tried in the past to mentor young riders, but they were all resistant to changing their style. Whether it be peer pressure, laziness or ego, Arcaro had no luck and so goes life. No doubt, some day we will go back to the old style. Maybe it will take a hungry, innovative young rider, similar to a Todd Sloan of the late 1800s that sees the light on his/her own and wins everything in sight riding low & close, but it wont be soon or easy. If you are a young rider looking for an edge consider going against the status quo, consider stylin’!


To purchase the book and videos:        !shop/c4wx  

To read more on the subject of the race seat:

The decline of the modern Thoroughbred?

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

It has been written off and on in our times that our racing thoroughbred is a weakling and getting weaker by each generation.  This is the popular excuse why our modern race horses cannot be trained hard or raced hard. The thoroughbred I knew in the 1970s, who I have personally witnessed was a tough horse when trained to be tough. The thoroughbred time trialers at the Red Mile (harness) track in Lexington, Ky which I saw back then proved to me that a thoroughbred was every bit as tough as a standardbred, presuming he is conditioned for it. They would go out multiple times in one day and match the top speed of the harness horses they were galloping against in their best lifetime efforts. I would guess these thoroughbreds would go out at least 5-10 times in one day. I presume my view can be countered with the opinion that the 1970s thoroughbred is a much different animal than we have in the 2000s—that our current thoroughbreds are innately weak and this has happened in the last 30 years. Wow, that is some major degeneration for a breed that has been around for hundreds of years!

It is the human condition to view the past through some type of skewed prism as some how better or stronger or more moral than the present day. Have you noticed that? The children we were in our day were much stouter, stronger, more robust ambitious, hard working individuals than the current generation of video game playing weaklings. Eh? As far as horses are concerned, the same has always been true, too. The weakness of the thoroughbred has been written about and proclaimed for years, if not centuries. We have just not been around to hear or read it.  If we had been, this charge would simply be a “ho-hum” and fall on deaf ears.

As long ago as 1835, this was written in THE LITERARY GAZETTE:

“We often hear it asserted that the British thoroughbred horse has degenerated within the last few years, and is no longer the stout and long enduring animal that he was in the bygone century (1700s), particularly during the last twenty years of it.
In the 1869, THE SATURDAY REVIEW, it was written that two year old racing was causing the British thoroughbred to degenerate. Also in that issue:
“The real truth is–and even careful observers sometimes draw wrong inferences from it–not that we have fewer good horses than our grandfathers, but that we have more bad ones. The number of worthless horses kept in training for a time is legion. We attribute this fact in the majority of cases to the ignorance and avarice of the breeder. Carelessness in the selection of sires and dams, and greediness in filling the pockets with heavy fees at the expense of the strength and vigor of young and promising stallions-these are the reasons why there is so much useless blood-stock in the country, and these are the causes that will, if continued, do more damage to the breed than any amount of two-year-old training and two year-old running.”


This was written in 1869! Sound familiar?

An editorial in the WALLACE MONTHLY of 1889 suggested that thoroughbred was degenerating because of the trend of reduced running distances.

Later in 1899, this was written by James Ewart in his book:

“As a matter of fact, the English race-horse, compared with even the Arab, is like a hothouse plant that only manages to hold its own when forced and nursed with unusual care, and after all, except for covering very short distances at a great speed, the majority of the hundreds annually bred are of comparatively little use. Breeders flatter themselves that thoroughbreds have since 1689 increased on an average eight or nine inches (from 13″2 to nearly 15″3 hands), but they forget this was partly due to the introduction of Arab blood, and that the size of a horse is very much a question of selection, food, and favorable surroundings, If the increase in size and increase of speed have, as is alleged, been accompanied by a diminution in the staying power and general fitness, the gain can hardly be held to compensate for the loss. That there has been a falling off in the thoroughbred may be inferred from “the smallness of the percentage of even tolerably successful horses out of the prodigious number bred at an enormous outlay.”
Written in the year 1900 by John Radcliff in his book, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JOHN OSBORNE:
“Horses are very much lighter now; they have neither the bone nor the substance that thoroughbreds had fifty years ago (1850s). I am certain that the constitution of horses of the present day would not stand such work; the modern breed is neither so robust nor so strong. ”
From a THE SPORTING REVIEW in the early 1900s:
“Given therefore that, as a special race, the English thoroughbreds of the present day, largely increased in number every year by the all dominating spirit of commercial enterprise, have, for the most part, degenerated from the speed and stamina of their progenitors of the earlier decades of the present century—a postulate that is by no means hypothetical merely, with some of our now few remaining veteran owners of racehorses, among turfites of all denominations, and those of the public who have reminiscences of their performances in the past—then the application to their case of the invigorating re-infusion of the Arab blood, which can alone gradually re-effect that improvement, and which all enlightened hippiasts consider as the solo fountain-head of absolute amelioration for all the Western races, becomes the initiatory step of chiefest import.
“The runner with a relatively long humerus should therefore have a long period of suspension. The length of the arm appears to be diminishing in our present day Thoroughbred.”
From the 1922, Journal of the US Cavalry:
“It is consistent to say that the thoroughbred of thirty years ago was an “animal of bone and substance.” Yet the son of that noble animal of only thirty years ago, is today, “blemished in hoofs, bowed in tendons,” etc. Isn’t this decline rather rapid for one or at most two generations? Have men like Major Dangerfield, Mr. John E. Madden (major breeders of the time) and numerous others worked hard and with marvelous ability for the past “thirty years” and more, to change the thoroughbred from an “animal of bone and substance” to “an animal of racing machine, blemished in hoofs, etc.” Isn’t it a pity?”
This doom and gloom of the declining thoroughbred race horse has always been with us for well over a hundred years by the soothsayers. It would be all so nice to be able to breed any racehorse that could be stalled a few days of the week, turned out the rest, galloped a day or two, maybe breezed every 2 weeks and never experience a breakdown and yet achieve its ultimate speed on the racecourse. If any of you believe this type of horse can be bred then you better go back to reading fiction as your reality. As a trainer, I know what conditioning can do and it is the only route to strengthening bone, tendon, ligament, lung, and blood for extreme unnatural performances.

Old quarter horse trainers just don’t get it!

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Beyer had some interesting things to say about Bodemeister:

    I suppose the key paragraph would be:

“He was flying leaving there,” Smith said. “He was two (lengths) in front
leaving the gate.” Smith and trainer Bob Baffert had talked before the race
about such a scenario, and Baffert had no reservations about letting his
colt go to the front. Some second-guessers have criticized Smith for letting
his mount go so fast in the early stages, but he was making a reasoned
decision. Bodemeister had raced only four times in his career, and Baffert
had not had the luxury of experimenting to learn whether he could be
restrained to sit behind other horses. “I didn’t want to change his style,”
the trainer said, knowing that the Derby is no place to experiment.”

    You know, this rather blows my mind! Baffert didn’t want to change his
style? Trainers are suppose to condition their horses to the style of racing
they will encounter. Why on earth was he not conditioned to come from
behind, to be on top and every where in between during his early works? Why
was he not trained in sets? He should have been trained to be comfortable
doing it all in the mornings. That is one of the luxuries of having a large
stable in that one can train in sets and replicate racing conditions. It
appears that Baffert had worked him at least 26 times before his first
start. Surely, he could have attempted to teach him to rate and find out how
he was from off the pace long before the derby? Apparently, it never crossed
Baffert’s mind?

Another journalistic piece may be as telling:

    Reading between the lines on this one, it appears that Baffert felt the
horse needed a lot of speed work. He seems oblivious to the importance of
race strategy. This  harkens back to his quarter horse background of all out
racing from start to finish.   I suspect Baffert really does not understand
the classic distances where horses just don’t win, if they leave the gate
like a sprinter. Rating is a must even with speed horses going a route of

     Actually, I think this is the crux of the whole matter. Bodemeister is a speed freak who is one of the few that can carry that speed much further than many, many horses. The win in the Ark derby at a mile & an eighth blinded Baffert and Smith. Put that kind of a horse with an old quarter horse trainer, and he reverts back to his roots. He thinks this speed can be carried even for a mile & quarter. What’s another little eighth of a mile? Unfortunately, it makes all the difference in the world, particularly if you are going faster fractions.  Sure, he may be proud of the horse’s efforts, even amazed, but in the end, he lost. Smith said. “He’s such a free-running, talented horse. It cost me at the end, but he ran dynamite.”  I am afraid “dynamite” don’t win classic distances!

I just uploaded to YOUTUBE, the video of the  Santa Anita morning work on
April 7, 2012 of Bodemeister being caught in a fast moving set of breezing
thoroughbreds. This amazing footage supports the fact that Bode would have
been good in the Ky Derby from coming off the pace.

Watch it:

What is a good trainer?

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

 (18×24 posters for  $15.00, write




(as inspired from Rudyard Kiplings 1909 poem)



If you can keep your head when all around you

Owners, grooms, punters lose theirs, blaming you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be bullied by expectation,

Or being lied about, yet never dealing in lies,

Or being intimidated without surrendering to intimidation,

And yet never look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream and not make dreams your master;

If you can think and not make thoughts your aim,

If you can race with Triumph or Disaster,

And treat those two imposters just the same;

If you can bear hearing the truth you have spoken,

Twisted by your detractors to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you have built your life on, broken,

Yet stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tack & tools;

If you can make one heap of all of your winnings,

And risk it on one promising colt prepped to come across,

Yet lose and start again at yours and his beginnings,

And never breathe a word of that loss,

If you can guide your horses’ hearts and nerves and sinew,

To serve their well-being long after being race called-upon,

Conditioning them to persist when nothing is left to run through,

Other than the Will which says to them and you: “Hold On!”

If you can talk with the press and keep your virtue,

Or walk with the wealthy without losing the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men and horses count with you, but none too much,

If you can train the unforgiving mile & a quarter race,

With 120 seconds worth of honest run,

Yours is the racetrack with everything in its place,

And more over, you will be a horseman, my son!


©2012 Ahart Publishing UnLtd. 


Monday, February 6th, 2012

 I finally came to the logical conclusion that any publicity of our poor sport is probably better than none at all. It sure beats watching lawyers, doctors, police procedurals, serial killers, etc, etc. I was first peed of various what I viewed as unrealistic portraits, over-use of stereotypes, but decided, again, it is better to have the sport in the public’s eye, than not. I do love the gritty, non-Disneyland air to this mini-series. Plus, it is about time this sport was not encased in a kid’s fairy tale. I watched WAR HORSE and it was pretty bad, exactly what I would never want to see in any racing movie or series.

    Well, it is HBO after all! You will get gratuitous nudity and sex and profanity and that is certainly what David Milch is known for in his credits. He did HILL STREET BLUES, DEADWOOD, and NYPD BLUE. I listened to him on a recent NPR interview and was very much taken by him when he said, us racing folks had an “alternate reality”. Wow, that was never so true! I had always felt that way about the profession, I had chosen. If ever there was an “alternate reality”, the racing backside was it! Hehehehe. Our whole life is built on an animal that can get from point A to point B, the fastest. Some alternate reality?

    As a horseman, I must admit this series does amuse me at times on what Milch passes as racing. Maybe I am wrong here, but here are some of my pet peeves of the past two episodes;

Episode 1

1)  A Calif horse owners license was displayed  with a big HORSE OWNER label printed on it. I have never had a license like that. Most state licenses have one’s occupation or license category in small print, but things may have changed by now? It is Hollywood and this was an demonstrative illustration device.
2)  Yeah, I know it is HBO with Milch, but adding a certain degree of sexual innuendo into a vet doing a rectal palpation is a bit much. I guess it doesn’t hurt that the female vet wasn’t half bad looking when she made that comment to her trainer/customer, but still. . . . In real life, if we were treating a horse with colic, particularly a $2 million dollar one as in this series, sex would be the last thing on the vet’s or owner’s mind!
3)  Some one better give Nick Nolte instructions how to give a rider,  a leg-up. Not good technique! However, I must say the other portrayed trainer, a South American one, did a nice job with this.
4) Nick Nolte plays a supposedly grizzled old Kentucky hardboot type of trainer, but he is far too emotionally involved with his promising horse to be very realistic. A true trainer that has been in the business that long would be full of fatalism and none too sure of himself or his horse until that horse actually brings forth the goods. However, it makes good TV to have a trainer so invested and emotional.
5) Too much emphasis on gambling, but I don’t really fault that much. That is how most of America knows racing…..through its gambling. I just wish Milch was not so obsessed with the degeneracy of horse gamblers. He wrote in some real “losers”.
6) I hope they got the horse break-down out of the way for the season as one happened in the first episode, but as things go, it was pretty sterile and peaceful. However, the state vet that put the horse down no more hit the jugular than the man in the moon. The horse was far too peaceful after suffering a broken leg and magically was on the ground with its head laying in the jock’s arm as he died. Hardly true to life.  And what is it with vets in this series? They all seem to need stethoscopes swung over their necks like their human counterparts!! Is this a medical badge of some type? Vets seldom use stethoscopes and don’t need them at hand at a moments notice.

Episode 2

1) I have never seen an exercise girl breeze or gallop a horse with her thick locks of hair down waving in the breeze. Probably not too practical, but looks nice on the screen. That was what the Irish gallop girl did in this episode. Of course, she wants to be put on the good horse in the afternoon which is a nice side to the whole story and more real to life, but the old kentuck trainer has other ideas so far and it appears the famous alcoholic jock played by Gary Stevens will get that mount.  I like this angle of the story! Most of the time, the name jocks do win out.
2)  Nick Nolte is at it again, apparently having a fairly big stable at Santa Anita, but devoting his entire time to grazing and rubbing his “big” horse. Not very true to life. Also, a scene where he was rubbing that horse down with a rub rag. He needs schooling on technique! You don’t rub a horse like he did. Kind of reminds me of those TV actors that try to pass themselves off as masseuses. You can tell they know little about massage. He is also pictured using a stop watch of the type seldom seen on track. We tend to use the ones with a 60 second time face dial, his was shown using a 30 second version–very awkward, little used.
3) Maybe feeding carrots is a big thing in Calf, but not so much in my experiences on the track. Even the price of carrots was discussed in this episode and we have a trainer giving his horse “hand treats”. I doubt that is too typical of most professionals.
4) Yep, there is a lot of “educational actor lines” designed to enlighten the audience. This is common in many films. I was always amused at many fighter pilot war movies when the entire dog fight is explained over the intercom. Same thing happens here on and off, but this is no biggie, it is Hollywood and may help educate the clueless viewer.

On the whole all of the above inaccuracies are minor. Not important to the big picture. I am just happy we have a first, a horse racing mini-series that will probably not necessarily have a story book ending, but be more true to life. Such is life. It is certainly entertaining and does bring some glamour to our business in an odd sort of way

The Belmont 2011 and the off track

Monday, June 13th, 2011

I love off tracks particularly when I have a mud horse and this running of the 2011 Belmont is no exception to how powerful the track’s surface can be in denoting an outcome. Most horses tend not to like sloppy heavy, muddy tracks. The good news is that in our modern times, most tracks if given half a chance and miminum of rain, can get a off track tight and hard with floating, etc. The bad news, some times they can’t. 

This year’s Belmont is an example how the only horse in the field that had won a race on bad going, did it again. This brings to mind one of my favorite mud racing stories of all time and involves a Missouri bred horse winning the Kentucky Derby under Boots Durnell. The horse, Elwood. 

By 1903 he (Boots Durnell) was racing during the summer in Chicago and heading to California for the autumn and winter. He was stabled in San Francisco that year when he heard one day that a horse sale was to be held at a local boxing ring. He and some friends decided to attend, but not with the idea of buying anything. According to Ransom, “the stock was ragged and the breeding rather poor, but finally, out came a slender colt, a bay yearling son of Free Knight out of Petticoat, by Alarm. Petticoat was a granddaughter of the great American Eclipse and her dam was a daughter of Leamington. Something about the youngster fascinated Boots, although it was not his looks, and he bid $100 on him. After three more bids, he was knocked down to him for $300, and he led the little fellow to his barn.”

Mrs. J.B. Prather of Faustiana Stud in Maryville, Missouri, had bred Elwood. The horse was not named at the time of the sale, and Durnell bestowed his mother’s maiden name — also his own middle name — on the colt. Elwood raced in the name of Boots’ wife, Mrs. C.E. (Lasca) Durnell.

At two, Elwood raced in some $300 claiming races, but he was not successful enough to attract a claim. He made seventeen starts and won only once, although he finished second in two little stakes, the Youngster Stakes and Competition Stakes.

The highlight of that California campaign came when three-year-olds were asked to go a mile and a half as early as February 27 in the Ascot Derby. Most of Elwood’s races had carried purses of $400 or less, but the Derby had a purse of $2,000. He finished second to Bill Curtis, beaten by four lengths on a muddy track.

His next start came nearly a month later, on May 2, in the Kentucky Derby.

Several elements of the lore of Elwood’s Derby tend to be questionable and contradictory but charming. A story recorded by Ransom was that “One day in … 1904, Boots’ brother-in-law phoned him from Kentucky and said ‘if you have any kind of a three-year-old handicap horse, put him in a car and ship him to the Derby. It has been raining for days and the track’s a quagmire. No one here has been able to train their horses.’ Boots hung up the phone, disconsolate, for he had no such horse in his barn. He yearned for that far-goal of glory, the Mecca of every breeder and race horse man [obviously a statement assigning the Derby’s later status retroactively]. He shrugged off the idea as an impossibility … However, when he walked back to his stable and ran speculative eyes over the awkward carcass of Elwood, his optimism rose. He suddenly remembered a workout when the horse was just flying in the mud, jumping and kicking like a bronc. He had a real mud horse.”

Ransom tells how Durnell, low in funds, traveled with Elwood, bedded down himself in a box car he shared with the horse. Elwood seemed stiff and sore after the long trip, and that, along with his origins, summoned snide reference to “the Missouri mule.” Durnell had difficulty finding a rider, and Frankie Prior agreed to take the mount only because he wanted to ride in the Derby.

The version attributed to Durnell is full of emotion, detail, and bravado:

“They finally got away in the deep slop and as they swung into (the) backstretch, I could see nothing of my awkward plater and I knew then the real heights of my folly. But wait. As the flying pack plowed into the gooey stretch, from far back came a mudplastered woeful sight, a horse eating up ground in great surging strides, and up there on his back was a ludicrous Ichabod Crane. Down through the long and boggy stretch the strange apparition continued his long furious jumps, simply running over horses at the end and coming out to open daylight at the wire. Somewhere along the line and with stunned disbelief, I might have sensed the real meaning of that long, awkward stride and who it was, with hoarse bellows of encouragement; I shouted the unknown horse home.”

Greatest Kentucky Derby Upsets

 By the staff of Blood-Horse Publications

The Belmont Stakes 2011

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

I am going to predict something here, I almost never do. A European horse, MASTER OF THE HOUNDS, will take it this year. Most of the time, horses that ship over here, a 12 hour plus plane ride are just too stressed to do well against our fresh horses, even if they are better prepped and they usually are!  We all know how jet lag feels! Try running soon after such a trip! I think MASTER OF THE HOUNDS will be that exception this year. He ships super well. His long plane flights seem to minimally bother him with a case in point being is ride earlier this year to the Dubai Derby where he finished a nice second. In the Kentucky Derby after another long ship right before that effort, he finished 5th but was making up ground at the end looking like he could have taken the roses,  if that race had been a tad longer.  Knowing the Irish and their habit of racing longer races, more like our Belmont Stakes, they know how to get a horse ready for a mile and a half. It is reported by the head stable lad that Master of the Hounds has been getting fast works, twice-a-week since his trip back from the Kentucky Derby, and I think this will be another key why he will take the Belmont this year. His work schedule is hidden from the general public and the DRF when he is home in Ireland. Our USA horses are mostly babied up to the Belmont following our mantra of always racing a “fresh” horse. Our view of fresh horses is a horse with a lot of rest and not stressed between the Derby and the Belmont. None of the USA horses in this year’s Belmont have breezed over 5f as a prep for the Belmont’s mile and a half distance. Give me a royal break! Are they crazy? How can any horse be ready for a mile and a half effort by doing so little work? They can’t? They run on guts alone. I suspect Master of the Hounds will have good old Irish training as an advantage in this one and taking his penchant for easy shippping–Watch out! Plus I like him starting on the rail! That should save him ground for a long effort if he stays put for a  while once he reaches the rail.

Master of Hounds in Louisville, Ky



(2) SHACKLEFORD (#12). . . . . . . . This horse did well in the Derby and Preakness and should have the guts to continue in the Belmont, but due to his classic lack of training which is typical in the  USA, he will probably be sorely tested by the Belmont’s distance. He won’ t have the depth to pull it off. Few USA horses have that training depth any more to do the mile and a half well,  let alone take the triple crown.

(3) RULER OF ICE (#3). . . . . . . . . . This is my long, long shot pick. I just have a hunch he may do well. His beyers are not that impresssive, but so what? A mile and a half is a different animal. He starts close to the rail and should get a good trip if the jock and luck is on his side.

My 2011 Preakness Analysis

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Ok, my Kentuck selections mostly bombed this year. So goes life and racing. Racing luck can never be under-valued and no one knows that better than jocks and trainers. We have a 14 horse field in this years Preakness. Again, I prefer the horses with the best chances to be those that have the most 2011 starts with the last start closest to the Preakness, and with decent works leading up to the Preakness. I like.

(13) Concealed Idenity. . . . . . . . . . . he is a long shot to put it mildly and I never  bet the chalk. He has raced five times this year with his last start being a win in the Tesio on May 7th at Pimlico.  His last work was on May 18th

(5) Shackleford. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . he has four starts this year with a 4th in the Ky Derby.  No works since the derby, but that ain’t that uncommon.

(4)  Flashpoint. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . he is a hunch bet. His  last raced on the 3rd of April in the Florida Derby with a 4th. I am betting his new trainer can improve on Dutrow.

My 2011 Derby Analysis

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

My, how time flies! Ky Derby time again.  I got lucky last year and picked the winner. Let’s see if I can do it again?

Since I am no longer a track denizen but have to rely on hunches and what I read at the DRF, I am at a disadvantage. What does it take to win the Derby? First and foremost, one needs a fit horse that can handle the distance. Then one needs luck! Luck is the hard condition to guess in any race. As every horse trainer knows, we are at the mercy of the Gods of Luck whenever we send a horse out to race. A 20 horse Derby field just makes luck even more pertinent and trying to find a Derby winner is more of a crap shoot. Jocks, I don’t pay much attention to. At this level, they are all about the same. One exception and that is Calvin Borel. Borel knows how to save ground and save a horse, presuming he is allowed to. Most of the time, he isn’t and this Derby day may be no exception. His style is getting too well known for his own good. It is unlikely that the other jocks will let him move on the rail like he has in the past. He is certainly on a horse that could do it, if the Gods of luck are present. I do admire the way he rides!

Which of these 20 are fit horses that could handle the 1-1/4 route? First, I like to see how many starts each have had this year. This is important. As any old timer will tell you, there is nothing like a race to get a horse fit. You can work most any of ‘em every week, but they will always get the most out of an actual race. Of the 20, only 1 has had 5 starts this year and that would be TWINSPIRED (#10) trained by Michael Maker. Six entrants have had 4 starts in 2011 and they are ARCHARCHACRH (#1), PANTS ON FIRE (#4), DERBY KITTEN (#9), MIDNIGHT INTERLUDE (#15), NEHRO (#19), AND WATCH ME GO (#20).   Eight horses have had 3 starts in 2011, four horses have had 2 starts in 2011, and only one horse had one start in 2011, the European.  Modern horses tend to be babied and few race over 3 times before the derby in that year. I contend this is not conducive to starting a fit horse. This was most certainly not how horses were conditioned over 50 years ago.  I like to see a 2011 seasoned horse go into the Derby.

How about current works? I want to see a horse that has had a good breeze very close to the derby day. Few modern trainers like to stress their horses close up. Too bad! Just proves, they don’t know how to prep a fit horse.  Geeze, look at Pletcher! He doesn’t even seem to like to gallop them hard during derby week let alone breeze them! What a whizzo! As the Daily Racing Form writes, he had Uncle Mo spend three relatively inactive days in the barn after his May 1st work at 5f and only on Thursday, decided to send him out for a paltry 1-1/2 mile gallop. Mamma-mia!  Few trainers seem to even want to stress their horse with just daily gallops anymore! Mile and a half gallops seem to be the norm. Most humans go more than that and not think a thing about it as their daily routine and yet derby trainers seem to think anything much over a 1-1/2 gallop is detrimental. How can these trainers figure that babying their horses so is a a good strategy?  COMMA TO THE TOP only jogged this Thursday and has done precious little else this week. Zito is another trainer that does not seem to know how to work horses. He has DIALED IN working only two half mile breezes since the Florida Derby win, over 30 days ago!  Only one horse worked May 3rd (5 days before the derby) and that was ARCHARCHARCH in 4f in the slop. Five horses worked on the 2nd, 6 days before Saturday. They were BRILLIANT SPEED in 5f, SANTIVA in 4f, MIDNIGHT INTERLUDE in 5f, NEHRO in 4f, WATCH ME GO in 5f.  I won’t talk about the others here.

    How about the post positions? As usual, everyone seems to hate the one hole and prefer to be way on the outside. This has always been a mystery to me. I like to see good horses down close to the rail where they can avoid being pushed out wide. Granted, one does not need some early speed to take full advantage of the rail, but even if you don’t get away well, you still can get to the wood fast and save ground. Thoroughbred trainers and jocks often have a much different view on that topic.  Trainer Fires is not the happiest with ARCHARCHARCH’s number one draw, but he feels he can live with it. I guess so! I say it is all bull shit. Jocks are scared being down on the wood and trapped down there scares them. They are more likely to get hurt down there unable to avoid an accident. Plus, they are an impatient lot. They find it hard to wait for an opening that will appear in many cases, if one just waits for horses to split. Calvin knows this well. Jocks talk to their trainers and since most trainers don’t or never did race ride, they believe shit and this myth grows. Take it from an old harness horse driver, the closer to the wood you can leave the gate the better off you are at saving ground. No way around it.

What if it the track turns up bad? Strange things happen in the mud!  Favorites lose consistently and long shots come in. Also, Borel often can rule the day, if he is on a horse that can handle that type of going. Jocks tend to perceive the track down on the rail as not good when the track is off. Borel can take advantage of this. Jocks because they like the middle of the track on an off track, will leave Borel alone to do his dirty work on the wood. What derby horses seem to be able to handle the mud?  ARCHARCHARCH, STAY THIRSTY, DERBY KITTEN, SANTIVA–all maybe.    PANTS ON FIRE AND SODALT, absolutely!

I tend to like Archarcharch, Twice the Appeal, Derby Kitten, and Twinspired.

My selections:

1)  ARCHARCHARCH. . . . . . . . . I am choosing him because I like his odds and he won the mile and an eighth Arkansas Derby and was one of the few horses that did a work very close to derby day. I like his post position and if given a half of a chance, should get a good position along the rail to save ground and won’t be caught wide like a good portion of a 20 horse field.

2) TWICE THE APPEAL. . . . . . . Ok, I can’t discount BO-rail! I generally don’t put much value in the jock, but Calvin may be the exception. He may find a way to exploit this horse’s talents by saving ground. He often can!  I don’t like the fact that this horse last raced on March 27th, nor do I like his last work being on the 30th of April, but that is pretty common in this field.

3) TWINSPIRED. . . . . . . . . . . . . . My last pick which is purely a hunch bet. He about won the Blue Grass only 20 days before Saturday–one of the few horses entered in the derby that has raced so close. I like that. He last worked on the 30th of April which is further away than I would like, but it was a longer 5f breeze which is better than a customary 4 furlongs. He has is the most seasoned with five starts this year.

Are our race tracks really hard?

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

 My research and personal experience shows exactly the opposite that
today’s average thoroughbred track is far “softer” and better maintained
than tracks back 50 or more years ago ever were and that would certainly
also hold true for the natural terrain any horse would go over in the wild
or farm. Just stands to reason when you consider our big tractors and
sophisticated harrows and our cranky modern trainers that are fixated with
not wanting to hear their horses’ pounding hooves over the track as they
pass breezing. All you have to do is look at some of the old antique race
track photos to get an idea how hard those old tracks use to be in the old
days! I might also add that the tracks were maintained back then with the
minimum of water and with a team of horses pulling a simple harrow AND most
of those tracks back then were used for both harness horses and thoroughbred
racing at the same time. Harness horses race on relatively harder tracks and
you can bet that they did not convert the track from one breed to the next
like they do now!

    As any human knows, it is much more tiring to run over a deep surface
than a hard one and this should equally hold true for the equine hoof. True,
a hard surface may be harder on bones and hooves, but I contend, not so
much, if you train your animals over that type of surface from the very
beginning. Bones are remarkable at remodeling and engineering themselves to
cope with what they train over and that includes hard surfaces. Hooves when
protected with plates and daily care can also handle hard surfaces. I might
also add as a trainer that I have had far more problems going from a hard
surface to a softer, sandy surface than I ever had in the reverse. This
scenario will open your horse up to all types of muscular and ligament
stifle/back problems, etc.

    One other point. For those of you that have hung around the backside
when the trackman for what ever reasons allows his track to get harder than
usual, you know that race times in the afternoon or evening always was
reflected with increases. A simple fact: a harder track improves race times
while a deeper track slows them down. That means less effort is needed on
the part of the horse to travel that piece of ground. When this occurs, our
modern trainers will raise bloody hell for a softer track! This happened at
Prairie Meadows a few years ago as it does at many other tracks from time to

    I contend that one reason why more track records were broken in the
first half of the 20th century was because of harder surfaces. Having
interviewed a number of old time horsemen, they never seem to recall that
their horses were any more likely to break down back then than our modern
horses are now. Scanning through past period literature, one never reads
much about breakdowns or the public’s concern at breakdowns like we do now
in the news. Perhaps the sports writers of long ago had different
sensitivities, but I doubt it. A breakdown is a breakdown, past or present.
If a horse was prepped over a hard surface from beginning to end, you will
see no more bone problems than you would today with the majority of
racehorses running over softer surfaces. Perhaps even less!

    There is more to the surface of our dirt tracks than a hardness or
softness factor! Dirt often breaks away more easily which is definitely a
negative factor and shod or unshod hooves will react the same. Many dirt
tracks are not as smooth as you may think, too. You get the factor of the
horse’s hooves not landing level. Harrows produce ridges, previous horse
traffic produces all types of unevenness.  Both shod and unshod hooves would
land unevenly on such surfaces. I remember a number of times of taking my
horses to the paddock from the barn area and having to get there by going on
the main track. AKSARBEN and Hawthorne were two such tracks which required
that. Even though I galloped my own and my horses seem to travel ok over the
surface, I was always amazed how uneven and rough and difficult it was for a
human to walk over the average dirt track’s surface. Of course, had we done
this same walk over a smoother hard turf course, there would have been no
comparison to the less effort involved in just walking over these two. Speed
and deep going kills, shod or unshod.

     Below is an an old photo showing three teams of horses pulling harrows conditioning a track before mechanization. Do you really think this produced a softer track with more cushion than our sophisticated equipment would today? If you do, let me sell you a sterling silver horseshoe.  You can bet that the characteristically harder surfaces of these long ago tracks were one reason why more racehorse records were broken on a more consistent time frame than they ever are now.  This may also be one reason why there were probably less break-downs, too, in the long ago past even though this cannot be proven.  A harder surface takes less energy to travel over! The key is to prep your animal from the very start on hard surfaces. The harness horse people do it all the time, and they don’t nearly have the incidents of break-downs as we do.  

How they conditioned a track beforem mechanization. Really think it was softer than today?