Bruno With The Works Focusing On The Horse

TwinSpires Staff

January 13th, 2014

After 23 years of clocking, watching, and analyzing racehorses, I’d like to think I know everything there is to know about them, but the truth is I’m still learning.

As a workout analyst—or a clocker as some people categorize the craft—I have done my best and most competent work as of late. I have also extended my technique to other corners of the industry: handicapping, bloodstock agent, owner, and breeder.

My confidence in my own personal assessment stems from my understanding of horses; what they do, how they think, and how they feel. At least I feel I see things I didn't see before. The key to my personal progress is an understanding of the true dynamics of an equine athlete.

I cut my teeth in California, and there was no better horse to learn from than Zenyatta. She had the ability to do just enough in morning, much to the dismay of her trainer, John Shirreffs. She would draw alongside her workmate—often The Green Cat or El Vino—get in front in upper stretch and then idle as if her job were done. She needed to multi-task; one horse was not enough for her. One horse bored her.

John Shirreffs, in his own brilliance, gave her what she wanted.

Shirreffs would send two workmates to deal with Zenyatta; one would make her work early. She would go after that one into the turn, but if allowed to stay on course, she would put away that mate and idle and get nothing out of her work, so, Shirreffs, threw a second workmate to jump into the work at the quarter pole and make her focus again and work hard to the wire. Even that sometimes wasn't enough as she would get lead in deep stretch and then idle out.

Zenyatta also became a better horse because of the ability to multi-task and gained fitness and mental soundness.

I experienced a different level of focus this past summer at Saratoga where the horses on the Oklahoma Training track are so close you can actually see the 'whites of their eyes'. The training track area is used for overflow parking, and on the weekend it fills by 9:30 AM, which is also the last training break of the morning.

A team of Chad Brown horses—Deanaallen's Kitten and Can't Catch Kate—worked right at 9:30 while cars were parking on the grass next to the stretch run from about the furlong pole to the wire.

I could easily see through my binoculars that Can't Catch Kate was following the cars parking with her right eye and completely lost focus of her job at hand. Deanaallen's Kitten had the benefit of also having Kate block her from seeing the cars and hustle and bustle of early morning arrivals for the races and was much the best in the lane and galloped out five or six in front. Kate didn't regain her focus and looked lost late.

Kate showed immaturity, lack of focus, and disability of being easily distracted. One wonders if that had anything to do with her taking a long time to win her first start. She may have had the talent, but the not the mind to go with it. Unlike Zenyatta, who had the ability of handling two workers at a time, and later in the afternoon, ability of multi-tasking through full fields of top horses, that's the difference class can make in a horse.

Not even two minutes later at Saratoga, the reigning queen, Royal Delta, comes through the lane; again, cars are being parked, people moving about, she watches with her right eye, follows a car for a few seconds as she went through the furlong and 16th pole. But she never lost focus, and went about her business finishing strongly without missing a beat.

What I learned from that experience is that cheap horses seem to lose focus quickly and for a prolonged period of time, failing to maintain high rate of speed.

The good horses—stakes performers or simply multiple winners with heart and desire—have the ability to maintain focus and concentrate on the task at hand while traveling at top speed.

Coincidentally, that is the main attribute of any professional athlete; the ability to hold that focus and determination is the stuff superstars are made of like Jordan, Brady, Manning, McEnroe, Sampras, Gretzky, etc.

This brings us to a January 9 work at Palm Meadows: Empire Road, a Corinthian colt trained by Brian Lynch, out of a Storm Cat mare I purchased for our Galen Ho'o Stables, worked in company with another Racingwithbruno Bloodstock purchase, Ellie's Prince. Empire Road is farther along than Prince, but both have talent.

Empire Road had made an impression on me that he liked his head in front in the stretch, almost like he goes out of his way to get it. Young horses are very much like that, they grow confident when in front, in control.

Empire Road and Ellie's Prince went quick early in 11.4 and 23.4; Prince, inside had a head in front, and on cue Empire Road began his move to get a head in front inside the 3/16 pole, but this time he had a curve thrown at him when a Kiaran McLaughlin runner, Kate Greenaway, ranged up three-wide two off Empire Road's right flank.

I watch and record works from the third floor of the employees dorm building at Palm Meadows between the 3/16th and 1/8th pole, so I see a lot of horses turning for home and their mannerisms, and how focused they are (or aren’t).

Empire Road, in full stride after a split of 23.4, actually took a peek behind him; you could see his right eye following the McLaughlin runner ranging outside. Empire Road was now forced to multi-task to keep an eye on Ellie's Prince and manage the late run of the Darley runner.

I don't get too many chances to observe a horse multi-task in the morning unless something like this happens.

Empire Road's rider sensed Road's re-direct focus and went to a hand ride, thinking the horse needed it, but I thought Road was just fine processing what was happening. Meanwhile Ellie's Prince, inside of Road, never saw the Darley runner and his sole focus was on 'Road and was well within self, I wonder how he would have multi-tasked.

McLaughlin’s runner never got by either one so Empire Road's first multi-task work was a success, and it was a close match between Empire and Ellie's Prince at the wire in :48.3 on my watch.

You hear riders comment on how they “didn't see the winner until too late.” A great example is Will Take Charge's late run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November at Santa Anita that fell short by a nose with Mucho Macho Man winning by that slimmest of margins.

Will Take Charge got by Declaration of War, and then you could visually see him gather himself and go after Mucho Macho Man. Some horses rely on their sight to establish moving targets, and at times the leader is out of line of sight. A horse like Will Take Charge relies on his ability to see his foe and re-establish his focus.

Empire Road was a case study in multi-tasking in the morning and seemed to handle it well; a more experienced rider may have attempted to regain 'Roads focus on Ellie's Prince, but all in all, it proved to be a nice experience for myself and the horse.

One simply learns every day, and sometimes it’s at the least opportune moment, which helps us all to learn to multi-task. Thanks to Zenyatta I got to see a terrific dynamic in horses and feel I am so much better for it.