by Jeremy Plonk
February 26, 2018
Once upon a time, workouts were conducted in the dark. Literally some mornings, but figuratively away from the public view. Then came things like Dawn at the Downs before the Kentucky Derby, and Breeders’ Cup coding saddle towels with horse numbers that look like a bingo caller’s playback sheet.
And now we have XBTV.com, an effort that takes what we’ve grown to love over 2 weeks per year into daily coverage of the workout scene in California and Florida. For horse geeks, it’s an awesome on-demand free service that provides important updates on the game’s stars. Gamblers can utilize it to orchestrate who’s hot and who’s not heading into their next race. Owners and horsemen can get a high def look at their prized steeds and monitor their progress much closer than with binoculars or from behind a cup of Starbucks at Clocker’s Corner.
But you don’t need to be president of a particular horse’s fan club or a world-class handicapper or even Bob Baffert or Millie Ball to find some utility in XBTV’s workout videos. Here are five easy tips to follow when you’re observing the workout videos that can enhance your understanding of what you see.
The more still the rider is, the more the horse is doing it on his or her own. Pay particular attention to the rider’s arms. You prefer to see the elbows tucked and the hands in close to the rider’s body in what’s the proverbial “hammer lock.” When they say “all half-miles in :48 are not created equal,” it’s oftentimes because of how much one horse was let loose and asked, and how much another was doing it in spite of not being asked.
If two horses or more are part of the training session, look up information on the sparring partner. Tab what they’ve done (what class level are they?) and perhaps what they do before the main horse returns (perhaps a sign of a live horse). Also, how much is the workmate asked in comparison? They may hit the wire together as planned, but the target horse was all out to do so and the ‘star’ of the show was simply cruising. Remember, no workout in company is supposed to be a runaway; that defeats the purpose.
Beyond the wire
Some dispute the importance of a gallop out after a race as they only pay to the wire, but there’s no money on the line in the a.m., and what’s done beyond the wire often tells you how much more is in the tank or if the trainer is building stamina. That’s especially important if the horse is stretching out in distance or making an early start in his or her form cycle after a vacation. I like to see a good gallop out a solid quarter-mile past the wire onto the backstretch.
Does this barn typically work fast or slow and how does this workout measure up to that scale? You don’t need cold hard facts, just some observation. One outfit may work horses in 1:01 regularly for 5 furlongs without much emphasis for speed, while the next blazes in the a.m. and 1:01 would be considered a red flag. You don’t need to know stride analysis and horsemanship to see patterns.
Anything you can gather from experts is a bonus. XBTV's Bullet Drill is a great follow-up to workout video watching. Trainer and occasional rider interviews could be telling, but often are coachspeak and remember sometimes the trainer’s real audience is the owner, not the gambler.