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.