Moderate workloads the sweet spot for Thoroughbred track success – study

Australian researchers measured the workout schedules of Thoroughbreds against their trainers' track success.
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The key to Thoroughbred success on the racetrack appears to centre on a moderate galloping workload in training, the findings of fresh research suggest.

Researchers with the University of Melbourne said a combination of cardiorespiratory fitness and musculoskeletal adaptation is required for racehorses to succeed. However, the volume and type of workload that optimises race performance is unknown.

“This is reflected in the lack of universality in training regimens implemented by Thoroughbred trainers,” Ashleigh Morrice‐West and her fellow researchers at the university’s school of veterinary medicine wrote in the journal Animals.

Previous research has shown that both high and low workloads are linked to musculoskeletal injury in Thoroughbred racehorses, indicating that workload modification had the potential to reduce injury rates.

“However, optimising workloads to prevent injury is unlikely to have a high uptake by trainers if these strategies compromise performance outcomes,” they said.

“Understanding the relationship between the training practices of Thoroughbred racehorses and race performance is important to ensure advice given to trainers for injury prevention or management is practical and consistent.”

The study team set out to assess associations between intended volume and speed of gallop training and rest practices on trainer success rates, based on the previous rate of wins and places, and prize money, per start. By intended workloads, they meant typical workloads for horses that are free of injury or other performance limiting conditions.

Sixty‐six Thoroughbred trainers in Victoria were surveyed.

A dataset was generated for each trainer. It included the typical training track surface, training speed and distance for each age, and intended race distance of their horses both pre‐trial (progressive workloads from paddock fitness) and maintenance workloads (for maintaining fitness between races), as well as typical frequency and duration of rest periods for horses under their care.

They found that the intended training workload was not associated with trainer prize money once other factors were taken into account, but more frequent rest breaks were associated with greater prize money per start earned in the previous season.

Intended training programs with moderate galloping distances as horses gain fitness for racing (that is, not too high or too low compared to their peers), and moderate times between race starts were associated with better rates of wins and places.

Pre‐trial total galloping distances between 7500m and 15,000m were associated with a higher rate of career wins, and previous season wins and places per start.

Slow‐speed galloping distance to trial between 5000m to 12,500m was associated with a higher rate of career placings per start, with reduced performance being evident over 12500m.

Greater time between race starts was associated with a greater rate of previous season wins and prize money per start until three weeks between starts, with a decline in performance noted thereafter. Between 2.5 and 3 weeks between races appeared to be optimal, they said.

A greater frequency of rest breaks was associated with greater prize money per start earned in the previous season.

“These finding suggest that there is considerable scope for future modification of training workloads without negatively impacting trainer success rates and prize-money earnings.”

The trainers who used the lowest and highest total or slow‐speed galloping workloads as horses gained fitness and prepared for racing had fewer wins and places, indicating that a moderate workload appeared to be the sweet spot for training.

“Our findings and those of others are consistent with the lowest and highest volumes of galloping not being conducive to maximising horse performance.

“However, in horses in this study it was the volume of galloping in preparation for training that demonstrated that association rather than gallop volumes once horses were fit to race.

“It is possible low workloads are not sufficiently preparing horses for race‐level fitness and that horses trained over long distances are over‐trained.”

There was limited data supporting some of the links, they said. “Only the very low or very high intended workloads were associated with poorer trainer success rates, but not consistently.

“Therefore there may be substantial potential for manipulation of workload quantity and intensity without the risk of compromising trainer, industry personnel or horse owner earnings.”

The study team comprised Morrice‐West, Peta Hitchens, Elizabeth Walmsley, Adelene Wong and Chris Whitton.

Morrice-West, A.V.; Hitchens, P.L.; Walmsley, E.A.; Wong, A.S.M.; Whitton, R.C. Association of Thoroughbred Racehorse Workloads and Rest Practices with Trainer Success. Animals 2021, 11, 3130.

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here.

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