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.