03/12/2007 11:00PM

Stamina-building experts


In the life of a Thoroughbred racehorse there are two major transition points that separate sprinters from routers.

The first one occurs in the late summer and fall during the 2-year-old season when the precocious speedballs who dominate early spring dashes suddenly find themselves gasping for air in the late stages at 6o1/2 furlongs, seven furlongs, and a mile or longer.

The second is occurring right now, while last year's 2-year-olds - now maturing rapidly at 3 - regularly get tested at one mile and longer, often around two turns. These, of course, include the most talented horses on the Triple Crown chase.

Every year during the late winter and early spring, we see six-furlong and seven-furlong winners fail to hold their form going longer. Conversely, we also see horses who were a step or two slow in sprints last year suddenly act as if they have found heaven at eight and nine furlongs.

Part of this change is genealogically inspired. Good distance breeding begets good distance horses. But a much underrated part of this equation has its roots in training techniques as well as where specific trainers elect to apply what they know.

Some examples: Horses that train at the Payson Park training facility, which has a relatively deep racing surface compared with the fast strip in play at nearby Gulfstream Park, tend to respond more readily to training regimens designed to produce improvement at route distances.

Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has used this tendency to great effect through many years with many horses, including some who gain their strength and durability at Payson and exhibit their fitness for long races in late March and April in the annual migration back to New York. While it is true that Mott has not been a force on the Triple Crown trail, his personal bent is to develop the stamina in his best prospects so that they reach their peak later in the year and as older horses. But just as aging Charlie Whittingham changed his stripes to win Triple Crown races in the late 1980's, don't be surprised if Mott doesn't apply his stamina building training ideas with a serious Derby colt in the next year or two.

John Kimmel is another New York-based horseman who has discovered the benefits of Payson Park training, using that facility to "leg up" many of his absentees for distance races for their return to competition.

Christophe Clement, one of the best layoff trainers in America, is a 24-carat distance specialist based at Payson. Meanwhile, other horsemen in south Florida are finding the Palm Beach Downs and Palm Meadows training facilities to be nearly as effective for similar reasons. Among them are Kiaran McLaughlin, Michael Matz, and Angel Penna Jr., all outstanding with well-bred 3-year-olds who seem to win races at nine furlongs and longer as easily as most trainers win sprints.

Horseplayers should keep this in mind: With the benefit of relatively slow workouts at five furlongs and longer over deeper, kinder racing surfaces, all of these trainers invariably improve their stock while stretching them out in distance. They know how to train horses to win important races at one mile and longer on dirt and turf, without benefit of traditional prep races.

In Maryland, a core group of trainers who have good records with routers gained their insights from a long line of old school horsemen who trace their stamina-building techniques to the legendary steeplechase Hall of Famer W. Burley Cocks.

Billy Turner Jr., who developed the great Seattle Slew in the 1970's, came directly from the Burley Cocks school of horsemanship. So did other contemporary horsemen, including Barclay Tagg and the low-profile, high-percentage trainer Tim Woolley. Each of these stamina-minded horsemen know that the Fair Hill training facility was important to Cocks and Turner as they developed some of this country's most effective long distance specialists.

Likewise, trainer Michael Dickinson stated in a seminar at Horseplayers Expo on March 2 that one of the benefits of training his horses on his private Tapeta farm in Maryland is the stamina they gain galloping and working uphill on his patented artificial Tapeta surface.

Artificial tracks have begun to play an important role in stamina-building workout regimens. Trainers from coast to coast have credited these forgiving surfaces with minimizing soreness in the ankles and knees, a major problem at many speed-favoring dirt surfaces.

Tapeta will be in service at Golden Gate Fields later this year, along with other versions of artificial tracks to be installed at Arlington Park, Del Mar and Santa Anita. These are in addition to the artificial Polytrack surface in use at Turfway Park, Keeneland, and Woodbine, and the Cushion Track at Hollywood Park. Although there is much to learn about how to properly maintain artificial track through radical shifts in weather, some of the most successful trainers in the game have applauded the implementation of artificial surfaces.

Two prominent examples, Todd Pletcher and Patrick Biancone, have gone out of their way to train their most expensive, most promising young horses over these innovative surfaces with results that have improved already excellent win percentages.

Beyond artificial tracks and private training facilities, horseplayers should also take a closer look at horses who have had the benefit of training or racing at three traditional dirt tracks with stamina- building qualities: Tampa Bay Downs, Calder Race Course, and Laurel Park.

Tampa Bay Downs annually brings added fitness to horses that ship north to tracks in the Midwest, including Churchill Downs, where many players erroneously think these Tampa shippers are outclassed, without accounting for the added conditioning they may have gained on the Tampa racing surface.

Likewise, horses that train and race at Calder also tend to improve, or stretch out nicely in distance when shipped to tracks with glib surfaces, such as Gulfstream and Monmouth Park in New Jersey.

Training or racing at Laurel Park can be a big plus for stamina-building training regimens. Although not quite as potent as Tampa Bay Downs in Florida, or Fair Hill, Tapeta and other private tracks in Maryland, the racing surface in use at Laurel Park is kinder and deeper than any other surface in play at any Eastern-based racetrack.

Horseplayers should take special note of such things and of the trainers who win more than their share of distance races after a series of moderately clocked workouts on these stamina-building tracks.