By: Jennifer Morrison
Reade Baker on when, where and how to start training for two-year-old racehorses.
The key to training two-year-old Thoroughbred racehorses is to be slow and cautious so you build a great foundation, but I’m also an advocate for consistent training.
I don’t believe in giving two-year-olds a break over the winter because that is essentially stopping their development. Days when they are being turned out after being broken are days you are missing helping them learn and strengthen. Nearly all of my two-year-olds were sent to a training facility in Kentucky to winter.
I would also send yearlings-turning-two down there for the winter after being purchased or by October. At that point they are broken to ride and then they will begin galloping in company with one or two other horses. They could be galloping for five or six months before they even get to the racetrack.
The two-year-olds should come to the track when they were ready to work three furlongs – be that May, June or July. Once they arrive, I have them gallop for 30 days and then begin workouts every week after that. This would involve two works each at two, three, four and five furlongs.
WORKING HORSE IN COMPANY
Horses should work in company as much as possible. Some tracks have restrictions on how many you can work with, generally two or three, but have as many as you can.
Since they have been galloping in company, they will be accustomed to having other horses beside them. This helps to simulate racing and develop their competitiveness — they need to look another horse in the eye and get that fight in them. At the same time, be careful of having one horse beat another repeatedly, even if it is by a small margin.
You will need to stop working them in company if a horse starts pulling hard on the rider. Sometimes when horses work in company, one might get too aggressive.
GATE TRAINING YOUNG HORSES
I like to take my two-year-olds to the gate as soon as possible so there isn’t too much to do to get them ready before their first race. Begin as early as you can taking them behind the gate on gate training days and let the gate crew know they are first timers and follow their instructions. Be sure not to leave the gate schooling too late so that you have to practice several times close to a race, which can unnerve them.
If you are set on winning first time out at the short distances you have to have them break hard from the gate. A horse should do this on their own after they have been there a number of times and have developed that competitiveness. However, if I had a two-year-old that I knew was not going to be a five-furlong horse, I don’t care about a fast break since he is likely going to be a long-distance horse. So, he is probably not going to win (at five furlongs), but I would like to see him close some ground. The farther the race he debuts at, the less concerned I am about a fast break.
Use the best track you have available to you for training. That is usually just one track, but at Woodbine it would be the training track. Work your horses right after the surface has been groomed at the break.
MONITOR HORSES FOR EARLY TRAINING PROBLEMS
During early training you must always back off if a problem pops up. This could be anything form lack of enthusiasm, to going off their feed, to shortening their galloping stride, to sore shins.
If your two-year-old does end up with sore shins I view this as a yellow light that signals immaturity and to proceed with caution. About 25 per cent of my two-year-olds came up with an ouchy shin at some point — you could usually see a bump there or if you picked up the leg and squeezed it. Be careful to not have several people feeling the shins as eventually a horse will develop skin tenderness.
When shins do become sore, I reduce the intensity of training, but I don’t stop all together so as not to lose any conditioning. If you send them to a farm for rest or to get the shin blistered, you will lose four to six months.
Though most horses will jog and gallop perfect with sore shins, I believe that they should just jog until the issue is resolved. That could be 10 days, two weeks or several months. If you keep going with them in full training, that shin is going to get worse and it will eventually turn into a hairline fracture.
While there is a myth that once x-rays show that the young horse’s knees are closed it’s okay to increase training, but I spend more time being aware of little problems that could appear. There are lots of bones that close at different times and the knees are just one part of the whole body.
Using this format I have had a success rate of getting two-year-olds to the races about 90 per cent of the time.