Something Bill Pressey pointed out over at his ThoroEdge blog this week has been rattling around my brain as sounding awfully familiar. Bill noted that, on his Louisville Courier blog, Hansen’s owner casually mentioned that the morning of the Gotham, trainer Mike Maker galloped the near-white Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion six furlongs—and how that relaxed him better. We all saw how well that strategy worked, as the colt rated just off the pace before roaring down the stretch to win by three lengths.
Being an earnest historian of the sport, I particularly enjoy learning how ideas about training and racing have evolved over the years, so in the midst of researching something entirely different this evening, I ran across this fascinating tidbit about the great Troubadour. The day before the running of the 1886 Suburban Handicap—a race he would win by four lengths after having never been headed—Troubadour’s trainer J.W. Rogers worked the dark bay horse one mile (eight furlongs) over the Sheepshead Bay course in 2:07 3/4. As Walter Vosburgh tells the story in his Racing in America, 1866-1924 (available scanned in its entirety via the Kentuckiana Digital Library), p. 134, Troubadour's trainer later said:
I know people criticized my working him the day before the race, but sometimes when a horse has had his last work several days before the race he is apt to stiffen up his muscles when it comes to the day of the race. But when he has it just before the race he comes out all unlimbered and fit to run.
I’ll definitely remember that, and Hansen’s recent experience, the next time I question a trainer “blowing out” a starter close to race time. Some times the old ways still work, don't they?