Horse racing has been around North America a long time, in fact the Sport of Kings is thought to have first got up and running on U.S. soil in 1665 in what is now the state of New York. That’s only one year after the Brits first annexed Manhattan from the Dutch.
Early races were more often contested simply between two horses and their riders and conducted upon the roads of towns. The sport has evolved of course and today the U.S. Triple Crown, a concept of three races originating in England in 1853, features the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and Belmont Stakes and is one of the most watched horse racing events on the planet; the Derby alone has had television viewing audiences of over 16 million.
Trainer Bob Baffert Has Won Preakness Five Times
Leading trainers, such as Bob Baffert, the five-time winner of the Preakness whose last victory in the prestigious Pimlico Downs race was May 16, 2010 with Lookin at Lucky, do not get to the top of their field without knowing that keeping a horse fit, well fed, groomed and entered in the right races are essential ingredients to training a winner.
Recently-retired trainer Sonny Johnson, who’s won hundreds of races at dozens of racetracks all across North America and has trained at New York’s Belmont Park, Santa Anita in L.A., Bay Meadows in San Francisco, Turf Paradise in Phoenix and Denver’s Arapahoe Park Racetrack, says that taking care of the health of your horse is the right track to winning races.
When it comes to diet Johnson, whose career spanned six decades and began at age 14 at Sandown Racetrack in Sydney, B.C. and Exhibition Park in Vancouver (a.k.a. Hastings Racetrack), says the most important ingredients are good hay and grains including oats, mineral salts and vitamins. He points out that a racehorse is large so with a low-calorie hay and grains diet it spends a lot of time eating in order to get enough nutrients and calories to sustain all that weight. So it needs good food and plenty of it.
A racehorse needs “daily training” to get fit for racing and Johnson says that around 90 days of galloping and workouts at a variety of distances up to six furlongs – a furlong is about 1/8 of a mile or 220 yards – are needed to get the horse race-ready. There are times a horse is worked longer, he said.
Thoroughbred Race Horses Are Built For Speed
Racehorses are large animals bred for speed and have thin ankles and legs which must transport a big body at top speeds around the racecourse carrying a jockey and tack; because of this they sometimes sustain injuries, in particular to their ankles and legs. Naturally trainers and owners can’t make money on horses that are not fit to race so sore horses are carefully nurtured back to racing form through a variety of treatments.
Trainers ice a horse’s legs and ankles when required and there are a variety of liniments that will sooth and promote healing. For a horse with body soreness Johnson has used liniments and blanketing to keep the horse warm. Sometimes the opinion of a vet is obtained but most trainers become knowledgeable enough to determine their horses treatment themselves.
Horses spend lots of time in their stall during the racing season and while much of it is spent eating and sleeping, they can get restless so trainers make sure that as well as workouts horses are walked daily. To help restless horses further, Johnson reports that he would use a goat to keep a horse company, tying the goat at the foot of the stall; he said the companionship is helpful to nervous horses.
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