Prettyfamous “best I’ve seen presented”, says race-caller

After Prettyfamous won impressively at the Gold Coast’s Metropolitan race meeting on Saturday, race-caller Steve Hawkins said,

“She was pick of the yard.

“I’ve been around for a long time, and I’ve never seen a horse presented as well as Prettyfamous was today”.

Trainingthoroughbreds caught up with trainer Mario Caltabiano and asked him how he had his charge looking so good.

“Well she’s a really lovely mare.

“She’d had a good break, she’d done really well and she was feeling great. She had ten days or so in the paddock after her last run in Brisbane.

“She’s always raced well fresh and she’d done really well since she came back in so I was expecting her to race accordingly,” he said.

“She had a soft trial during the week and came through that in very good order so we were quite confident going into Saturday’s race.

“I have good staff who look after her – she gets a lot of dressing in the stables, and we give her a little bit of extra corn in her feeds.”

Caltabiano’s long-time owner Roy Levy purchased the daughter of Fast ’n’ Famous as a yearling in New Zealand for $55,000, and so Caltabiano has always trained the mare and knows her very well.

“I had her when I was training in Sydney and we worked out early that she preferred to be kept fresh,” he said.

Aided by a well-judged ride by three kilogram apprentice Travis Wolfgram, Prettyfamous worked forward from barrier six to settle just off the leader, before kicking clear in the straight to score strongly by a length.

Saturday’s metropolitan win took the mare’s earnings to more than $189,000.

Asked what advice he would have for young trainers starting out in the industry, Caltabiano doesn’t hesitate.

“Find good owners.

“You need good owners. That is the most important thing,” he said.


How To Improve Your Strike Rate


The Australian Stud Book registers thousands of new thoroughbreds each year. Of these, many never make the racetrack. Of those that do, most will never win a race; the average racehorse is “slow” in comparison to the average race winner.

The problem for beginning trainers, is that in accepting, educating and racing every horse that is offered, he or she is likely to end up with average results and a poor strike rate.  This is irrespective of how well-designed the training program is, and how talented a horse-person the trainer is.

Some argue that every horse can be improved by a good trainer, and that even naturally slow horses can be made to win races if given the appropriate work.  A friend of mine says that anyone can train a good horse.  Good horses will tend to win races in spite of poor training techniques and mistakes in stable operations.  Average horses are much harder to train, as work and feed regimes need to be carefully modified to suit the individual.

Some of Australia’s leading trainers have winning strike rates in the vicinity of 25% (winners to runners).  That is winning a race every four starts.  A scan of the recent runners and results for these trainers sees a list dominated by trial results.  These trainers trial their horses – sometimes eight and ten times – before they race.  They tend to only start their horses when they are trialling well enough to be highly competitive.  Some of their horses never race, because they never trial to the satisfaction of the trainer.

The problem for smaller trainers, and particularly for those starting out, is that owners invest in a horse in the hope of it winning races, and at a minimum, of seeing their horse race.  A young trainer needs to convince owners that he or she can educate horses to race competitively.  By getting a horse to the races they achieve this.  The irony is that in doing so with every horse that they are given to train, it is impossible for the trainer to avoid a very ordinary strike rate, even if they have some talent as a trainer.  In addition, it costs nothing to start a horse in a race, whereas trialling can become expensive, with no chance of a financial return – this is an added pressure on trainers to race horses rather than to trial.

Placing horses in races that are suited to their ability is a critical skill for any trainer.  Trialling rather than racing, whilst managing the expectations of owners, is a challenging strategy, but an essential one for a trainer seeking to improve their strike rate.


Customer Service for Racehorse Trainers

with James Curtain

The most successful racehorse trainers are invariably good at dealing with people. Owners need to feel valued. Mark Horstmann and Michael Auzenne, of Manager Tools, identify three critical elements of good customer service:

1. The Customer is Always Right
2. Be Nice
3. Over-Communicate

The first of these is the time-honoured maxim of salespeople around the world. It is the second two that are too-frequently missing. It is not hard to “be nice” – a welcoming smile and expressing interest in the other person usually goes a long way. Communication is something that can be more difficult. Racehorse owners want to know how their horses are going – What does the trainer think? What did the trackwork rider say? How’s the horse eating? Any problems? When are we racing? Where to next?

A good trainer preempts these questions and provides owners with frequent, high-quality information in relation to their horse. Many trainers’ websites now have a “log-in” function for owners where they can access information that the trainer has posted about their horse. While this is a useful tool, it doesn’t show sufficient respect to the owner. Reports should be emailed or posted direct to each individual owner, and the owner should be addressed by their name in these communications. The managing owner should be contacted by telephone in the event of anything significant happening – an injury, an opportunity to “pay up” late for a big race, a jockey needing to be replaced.

Without owners, trainers don’t have an income. By valuing owners and applying the principles of good customer service, more trainers will develop relationships with owners for life, which should be the ultimate goal.

You Get What You Train For

It may seem obvious, but it’s amazing how often this simple tenet is overlooked. If you’re training a staying horse to run distance races, fast work should tend to focus on longer gallops. The fast work of a sprinter should be shorter, faster works.

The problem with this approach is that you literally get what you train for. By concentrating too much on longer, slower gallops, you tend to end up with a slow horse. Too much focus on half mile breezes will result in a horse that goes fast for a while, but that may not be able to finish off it’s races.

The answer is a combination of the two. Author Tom Ivers used to talk about a “tapered series” of gallops, whereby, targeting a 1200m race, you might first work over a mile, then three days later work a good strong 1200m, then three days after that work a “fluffy” 5/8 – not too hard – then go racing. With this sort of work, you develop the ability of the horse to stay, without compromising too much on speed.

I can’t recommend Tom Ivers’ books strongly enough – particularly The Fit Racehorse II (see my review here), and The Complete Guide To Claiming Thoroughbreds. The Complete Guide focuses on claiming races in America, but the training principles can be applied anywhere.

When to use Blinkers on a Racehorse

Generally, blinkers are used to assist a horse to focus in its races. Blinkers can help a horse to race genuinely. A horse that is “field-shy”, or that runs about while racing, will often improve with the addition of blinkers. Other horses may simply lack zest in their races, and may be too relaxed. Blinkers can often help these horses to “switch on”.

I have also seen blinkers used to help horses relax, both in their morning work, and in races. Shutting out part of the busy-ness around them seems to assist some horses to settle down.

Care should be taken when considering the application of blinkers; they can have a dramatic effect on some horses, and they can be dangerous if the horse hasn’t had a chance to become accustomed to them. They can also cause problems for some horses at the start of races – because visibility of other runners is restricted, horses that tend to jump as they see other horses jumping, may start coning away a bit slower.

Used judiciously, blinkers can have a dramatic effect on performance.

It should also be noted that some horses will improve when blinkers are removed. An improvement in performance regularly occurs when blinkers are removed from a horse that has carried them in its races for a long time.

Many, many trainers have explained form reversals solely through the application of blinkers. They are a critical tool in the kit of a thoroughbred trainer, and, used judiciously, will help to win races.

8 Ways to Get Your Horse to Eat Up

Good horses are invariably good eaters. A racehorse that won’t eat up will tend to go backwards quickly. When trainers talk about horses that “don’t need much work”, they’re usually talking about horses that they can’t work properly because they’re not eating up.

A good doing horse is one that continues to eat even with a high workload. All thoroughbred racehorses should be gaining or maintaining their weight during racing campaigns. The more that a trainer can keep weight on a horse, the greater the chances of the horse racing consistently well.

So how do you get your horse to eat up? Here are some ideas:

1. Make sure your horse’s teeth are in order. Horses should see a dentist regularly. It is critical that the dental work is performed by someone qualified, such as graduates of the College of Equine Dentistry Australia. Often, neglected teeth are the reason for a horse failing to do well.

2. Get back to basics. With the enormous range of equine vitamin and mineral supplements on the market, it is easy to feel that if you’re not adding numerous powders to your horse’s feeds, you’re not giving yourself every chance of winning. The one critical thing in the diet of a racehorse is carbohydrates. If your horse isn’t eating up, cut out all the additives and fancy concentrates and processed feeds, and try feeding oats and corn with some chaff, and nothing else. It makes sense to feed extruded (processed) grains from a scientific point of view, but if your horse won’t eat those feeds it’s better to go back to raw grains than persist with processed feeds that your horse doesn’t like.

3. Reduce feed sizes. Horses have small stomachs and should be fed frequent, small feeds. Modern stable management tends to dictate that only one or two large feeds are fed each day, and some horses become overwhelmed with the volume of feed presented to them. If you temporarily reduce feeds to 1-2 kg grain with some chaff, these horses will start to finish off their feeds again. You can then gradually increase the volume.

4. Experiment with sweet feeds. You can try using a commercial sweet feed, though I’d suggest using one of the base feeds, such as Hygain’s Powatorque, to which you can add raw grains. This way you are assured that your horse is getting the vitamins and minerals that it needs, without the variation inherent in feeding “complete” feeds in different volumes (depending on how much eat horse can eat). You can also add your own sweeteners to raw grain feeds, such as blending molasses with bran and mixing it with feeds, or by adding a small quantity of apple cider vinegar to each feed.

5. Monitor the quality of hay and grain. Hay and chaff can be extremely variable in quality, affected by things like seasonal factors, growing conditions and storage time. Hay or chaff that is musty, mouldy, dusty, discoloured, sour-smelling or overly dry should be returned to the feed merchant. Many horses are put off their grain feeds by poor quality chaff. White chaff such as oaten and wheaten chaff should appear clean and crisp, and lucerne chaff should be full-bodied, and rich in colour, with a strong, sweet smell.

6. Treat your horse for worms. Intestinal parasites are common causes of poor condition in horses. Ensure that you frequently drench your racehorse. Rotational use of worming products is generally recommended, and you should ensure that worming drenches and pastes contain both ivermectin and praziquantel for broad spectrum effectiveness.

7. Experiment with supplements. Sometimes, increasing a horse’s vitamin-B intake will stimulate appetite. Another proven approach to stimulating appetite is using low doses of arsenic, such as that found in Naturevet’s Jurocyl.

8. Ensure access to plenty of hay and fresh water. Many racehorses have been found to suffer from gastric ulcers, due to a combination of highly acidic feeds, stressful regimes, and insufficient access to good quality roughage. Horses with ulcers tend to be poorer doers, and quickly go backwards, struggling to hold their condition. There are products available to treat ulcers, but prevention is the best cure.

Do you know of other ways to get horses to eat up? Please leave a comment below.

How To Ride a Thoroughbred Racehorse – Part II

In Part I, I wrote about a couple of techniques to assist with riding racehorses, including bridging your reins and holding one rein firmly on the wither and the other rein loose. Here is another technique:

Keep at least one finger under the breastplate strap at all times.  One of Australia’s leading jockeys gave me this tip when I was riding trackwork at Randwick, and it has saved me several times.  If you’re riding short in an exercise pad, and your horse shies suddenly, it’s very difficult to stay aboard.  By holding the breastplate strap, you have an anchor.  You can actually gather the breastplate strap and hold it with your bridged reins, as you see jockey Jeff Lloyd doing here at Rosehill in Sydney:

Jeff Lloyd Jockey

Jeff Lloyd Riding Trackwork at Rosehill Gardens - Courtesy The Daily Telegraph

How To Ride a Thoroughbred Racehorse

When it comes to horse racing, a competent exercise rider is critical. There is a huge difference between riding a horse in almost any other discipline, and riding a thoroughbred racehorse.

Thoroughbreds learn early, to get “on the bit”; they naturally love to run, and most racehorses, once they know what they’re doing, will be keen to get to work as soon as they hit the track. The role of the exercise rider is to stay balanced and restrain the horse to the required tempo, and usually, while exercising, this is a steady canter. Even during fast work sessions, most trainers like their horses to be kept “on the bit”. It is rare to see horses pushed out a the end of a breeze.

So how do you ride a racehorse? They key is to maintain control at all times, and it is more about technique than strength. Older thoroughbreds often have a hard, or “dead” mouth, from years of pulling riders around the track. I’ve seen the strongest riders struggle to hold these horses because they’re simply pulling against the horse.

Here are two simple techniques that will help you to hold your horse:

1. Cross your reins to form a “bridge” and hold it tight on the horse’s neck – not high up but down low closer to the saddle. A tractable horse will flex it’s neck while working, and it ends up pulling against its own neck. I have held the strongest pullers with one hand in this manner.  You can see the world’s fastest racehorse, Black Caviar, being worked in this way here, with jockey Luke Nolen aboard (picture courtesy The Daily Telegraph):

2. Keep one rein tight on the wither and hold the other rein loose. As the horse quickens, put pressure on the loose rein to bring the horse back to the speed required.

It is inevitable that, as you’re learning, the odd horse will run off on you. As a friend of mine says, there’s no end to a circle. So, assuming that you’re working on a circular racecourse (and you shouldn’t be anywhere else if you’re not absolutely confident that you have full control of your horse first), don’t panic. Just keep steering the horse around the track and it will tire. This won’t happen once you learn how to hold your horse properly.

How much should I feed my horse?

The quantity to feed a racehorse is a common question.  Most trainers concur that you should feed enough that a handful is left by the horse from each feed.  This ensures that the horse is getting all it needs.  However, this assumes that the horse is being worked to its capacity.  William Day, in his book of 1880, The Racehorse in Training; With Hints on Racing and Racing Reforms, speaks of horses being fed in this manner, but he also outlines a conditioning protocol that sees each horse worked for some three hours each day.

Today’s thoroughbreds are generally on the track for no more than 10-15 minutes each morning, with a swim or a walk in the afternoon if they’re lucky, so to feed the same volumes as horses that are worked three hours per day is likely to be folly.  A problem with feeding less than all they can eat, is that small, high energy feeds with periods of no feed seem to result in gastric ulceration in a lot of cases.  Ad lib pasture/meadow hay may assist here.

Ultimately, horsemanship is the key; the ability to feed your horse in proportion to the work that it is getting.  Some horses need more work than others, and these need a higher carbohydrate intake.  There is no exact science to working out the specific energy needs of a particular individual, and the art of training comes to the fore.  Using available tools like scales, and nutrition calculators like Feed XL will certainly help, but there is no substitute for the astute trainer’s eye, and for knowing your horses’ individuals needs.

If you’re looking for a very comprehensive book on equine nutrition, you can’t go past Don Wagoner’s Feeding to Win II, available via



RSPCA On The Wrong Track

In Australia, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has been making a fuss about jockeys over-using the whip during races.

To call jockeys who are upset about the new whip rules “rednecks” reflects the ignorance of the RSPCA in relation to this issue.

The new padded whips have been compared with “feather dusters”; they clearly do not hurt a horse, and yet the RSPCA maintains that the animal suffers unnecessarily.  The integrity of racing is at stake here.  Owners and trainers need to be sure that their horse has every opportunity to win the race, and the use of the whip helps to ensure this.

More importantly, punters need to be certain that every horse is racing on its merits.  Gallops racing is preferred over greyhound racing because there is a human influence during the running of the race; whilst a greyhound may opt for a lazy day, a jockey can maintain a horse’s focus with the gentle encouragement of a cushioned whip.

The RSPCA would do well to mobilise its energy and resources towards addressing real issues of concern, cases in which animals are truly suffering unnecessarily.  The organisation is on the wrong track completely in its arguments against the use of the whip in racing.