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.


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.

Mobile Racehorse Trainer

Roush Technologies has designed a vehicle that allows racehorse trainers to work their horses themselves.  The Mobile Racehorse Trainer reportedly allows the trainer/driver to precisely control the speed of the animal, and presumably to closely monitor all possible variables as the horse responds to the exercise.  One can only wonder at the cost of such a contraption, however technology such as this should ultimately lead to better-designed workouts that are tailored to the specific requirements of individual horses.  Trainers should have a greater opportunity to assess the impact of training on the horse and to learn how to improve exercise regimes as a result.  Clearly, fewer injuries should be the ultimate result of such (literally) close monitoring; a dramatic change from leaving it all to the discretion of the work rider in the early morning darkness.

Racehorse Trainers Need to Improve Diagnostics

Tragic news over the weekend of the demise of another talented racehorse in America’s premier event, the Kentucky Derby. The filly, Eight Belles, was euthanased after breaking both front legs post-race; having run second in the race. The incident once again raises questions as to the adequacy of racehorse trainers’ diagnostic systems. As technology progresses, the well-being of horses, jockeys and exercise riders can be maintained through diligent screening for niggling injuries and pre-cursors to potentially fatal tragedies. As The New York Times reports:

John Ward, a third-generation horseman who trained the 2001 Derby winner, Monarchos, says the industry must continue working on technologies that can screen horses more closely before they go into competition.

He told a story of a 3-year-old filly who was promising as a 2-year-old but had not seemed to be her best. An early set of X-rays did not show any injuries. When Ward sent her to the Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital for more sophisticated full-body tests, veterinarians found she had microfractures in three of her ankles.

“She was a catastrophe waiting to happen, and she had never spent an unsound day in her life,” Ward said. “We have got to start examining these animals at the molecular level, and protect them.”

Clearly, the increasingly widespread availability and accessibility of such technology makes it incumbent upon trainers, and possibly racing boards, to monitor and screen horses for pre-existing injuries prior to competing, particularly horses with any prior history of unsoundness. A number of diagnostic tools, ranging from small non-contact laser thermometers to infrared thermography, ultrasound, x-ray and bone density scanning, are available at lower and lower costs to trainers. When lives are at stake, why not engage all possible preventative measures in the interests of preserving not only the reputation of racing in the eyes of the public, but also the lifeblood of the industry: the horses and jockeys at centre-stage?