Better With Age: How Breeders’ Cup Veterans Stay On Top Of Their Game

This Breeders’ Cup weekend, many race fans are looking back on their favorite memory from the history of the series. For some, the throwback is far, reaching into the 1990s, but many are still captivated by American Pharoah’s dominating career finale in the 2015 Classic at Keeneland four years ago. That fall day in Central Kentucky now feels worlds away (due, in no small part to the anxiety over safety heading into this year’s races). But some of this year’s Breeders’ Cup contenders were in the entry box at the same time as Pharoah and just kept going.

It’s not uncommon to see a handful of older horses in the Breeders’ Cup. This year there are a number of 6-year-olds, a few 7-year-olds and even an 8-year-old in Pure Sensation. Although the presence of “older horses” isn’t atypical, it does raise the question – in a world where horses are hustled off to the breeding shed earlier and earlier, how do you keep an older horse going at the stakes levels?

“It’s funny, with any kind of horse that people ride in non-racing activities, they don’t really enjoy a horse till it’s nine, ten years old, so to have these guys have to do everything right, right now when they’re three; it’s impossible,” said Laura Moquett, assistant trainer to her husband, Ron.

Moquett has been at Santa Anita this week overseeing 6-year-old Whitmore, who is back for his third career Breeders’ Cup appearance, hoping to avenge last year’s runner-up effort in the Sprint. Moquett said that for the big chestnut, longevity is about maintenance. Whitmore enjoys PEMF, laser, vibration plates, and saltwater spas, and is on a regular course of Adequan and Legend to preserve his joint health.

“Is that the magic? I doubt it, because we’ve had other horses who didn’t run this long,” Moquett said. “I really think it’s just him. And it’s about listening to him when he needs a break. When he’s ready to rock, you let him roll.”

Whitmore’s only significant challenge has been his feet, which are managed with glue-on bar shoes applied by podiatrists from Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital.

Trainer Peter Eurton echoed Moquett’s vote for therapies. Giant Expectations, who will enter the Dirt Mile at age six, gets routine acupuncture and chiropractic treatment every two weeks. Eurton said most of his horses see the chiropractor, but he finds older horses demonstrate the greatest improvement in comfort after an adjustment.

For Eurton, an older horse running at this level can also be improved by finding the perfect training schedule. Giant Expectations has made five starts this year, because Eurton said he seems happiest when he gets extra time between races and is able to switch to light work for a few weeks before gradually ramping up to racing fitness again.

“We don’t work him for three or four weeks after last race, just to where he’s salivating to do something,” said Eurton. “If you’re going to go from four weeks to five weeks or four weeks to six weeks, that type of timeframe you really have to stay on. I’ve tried with him to take the foot off the pedal and at seven weeks he’s just not tight enough.”

One of the benefits to keeping a horse going longer is that their mental maturity, which enables trainers to establish a routine. Moquett remembers a time when Whitmore would simply refuse to train.

“When we got him as a 2-year-old he wouldn’t go around the racetrack — forwards or backwards — so the fact he’s dragging me around and bucking and playing, that’s a good sign,” she said one morning earlier this week as Whitmore led her around a patch of grass in the barn area.

Eurton, who also has 8-year-old stakes horse Ashleyluvssugar, agrees that demeanor is a major tell with horses at all ages and levels, but it definitely helps him decide when it’s time to retire an older horse.

“That’s the fun part about coming back in the afternoon and seeing how they are about 3 o’clock when the feed tubs start to rattle,” said Eurton from his shedrow on Wednesday. “Like Draft Pick there, he’s probably the loudest. You look for changes on the track as well as in the stall.”

Moquett says Whitmore is especially intelligent, which makes him both challenging and rewarding.

“Horses can’t speak English, but he almost speaks English,” Moquett said of Whitmore. “I think I could teach him to drive a truck. We could go around the country together. He’s got above average intelligence, that’s what makes him hard. But it also makes him great.”

The post Better With Age: How Breeders’ Cup Veterans Stay On Top Of Their Game appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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