Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Teach You Tuesday: A Crash Course in Thoroughbreds

Title shamelessly stolen and tweaked from Sprinkler Bandit.

I'm a little bit obsessed with Thoroughbred pedigrees, and I used to be a little bit obsessed with all things racing. In fact, I actually have a degree in Thoroughbreds, if you can believe that's even a thing. I have all this useless knowledge stored in my head, so I thought I'd do a post that shares some of the absolute basics about the racing industry, from breeding to winner's circle...or in most of our horse's cases, the back of the field.

unless you're red, and winning at saratoga is what you do.

There are a lot of bloggers out there with OTTBs, so I hope you guys get a little something out of this. If anyone else wants to chime in, feel free and I'll add it on!

(All poor quality photos are courtesy of me before I got a digital camera. You are welcome.)


Your horse is by the stallion and out of the dam.

You only own a half sibling if both horses are out of the same dam. Having a horse with the same sire as another horse does not count. If it did, your horse would have thousands of half siblings. For instance, my last horse--Red--is out of a mare named Releasure. He has a half brother standing at stud named Quinton's Gold. He is by the sire Boundary. Boundary is also the sire of Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Big Brown, but Red is not a half brother to Big Brown.

one of bobby's half brothers: out of nobody's angel, but by oratory.

A breeder will often look at a mare's pedigree and nick it with potential sires. What's nicking? It's when you look at potential crosses of two horses' pedigrees to see how successful the cross is. Since Tracy just found out the exciting past of Miles, let's use him as an example.

Capitalist is by Congaree out of a Tabasco Cat mare. When you generate a nicking report for him, you can see that there are several graded stakes winners...but not on his exact pedigree cross. In fact, Miles scores a poor D for his specific cross. If we were to breed Miles's dam with a different stallion from the same stud farm, Cosmonaut for instance, Miles would instead receive an A++ rating and might have raced well enough to not be the Miles we all know and love today. Want to be confused about how he got those grades? Explore nicking further.

Want to know what the Dosage Profile (DP), Dosage Index (DI), and Center of Distribution (CD) mean? Well click here because I certainly couldn't explain it any better.

Common names you'll likely find in every Thoroughbred's pedigree:
  • Secretariat
  • Northern Dancer
  • Mr Prospector
  • Bold Ruler
  • Damascus
If you and your friend's Thoroughbred both have Northern Dancer in their pedigrees, they are not long lost cousins. Not unless you want to count the ten thousand other horses with Northern Dancer bloodlines as their cousin, too. 

Your Not-So-Baby Racehorse

Your baby racehorse is not going to sit around and wait until his knees close. He's not going to be lightly backed at three and finished at four. By the time he's a long yearling (eighteen months) he should know about being saddled, bridled, and tack walked. He might even be walking the shedrow by himself by now. He will have been taught to pony. He might know how to longe, and most likely he knows how to ground drive. He should know how to be tied to the back of his stall and stand quietly. 

bobby getting longed as a long yearling. he's already totally comfortable in tack,
being ponied, and has been introduced to a rider on his back in his stall.

When the baby racehorse enters his two year old year, he's going to start with canters or slow gallops in company where he'll get bumped around a bit and learn to be sent ahead or rate back. He should be taught his lead changes. He'll learn about walking in and out of a starting gate. He'll gradually start working harder and faster until he's ready for his first race. Some horses will be pushed along more quickly to prepare for two year old sales where they have to breeze one to two furlongs.  Some baby racehorses (cough Bobby) aren't mentally ready to start as a two year old, and it's not uncommon for them to start at three instead. 

On the track

A typical schedule for a racehorse on any given day is as follows:
  • 3:45-5:00 a.m. Your horse is fed and his stall is mucked out. If he's going out to work in an early set, he'll get tied to the back of his stall.
  • Most tracks are open from 5:30-11:00 a.m. Your horse will go out to either jog, gallop, or breeze at this time. If he's breezed the day before, he's usually only hand walked the day after.
  • 12:00-12:30 p.m. Lunch time.
  • 3:00 p.m. Most barns will take your horse out for another hand walk or at least a graze at this time.
  • 5:00-5:30 p.m. Dinner time. 
spirit of gulch hangs out waiting to be wrapped after a work.
(and also begs for cookies.)

Things from around the track:
  • Draw reins are common for galloping a strong horse.
draw reins and a large dropped pad for a horse that gets rubs from the rider's boot.
  • Standard tack for a horse is a bridle with no nose band, a simple snaffle nose band, a flash, or a figure eight; a martingale called a yoke; a closed running martingale attachment called rings; a no slip pad or shammy goes on first followed by a simple saddle cloth in the trainer's colors and a thicker pad or half pad that the top half of the saddle cloth is folded over. If a horse gets rubs from a rider's boots, a larger pad will go under the saddle instead.
shammy (the bit of red you can see by the rider's hand), saddle cloth, thick pad. 
  • Bits aren't usually specific for each horse. The most common bits on the track are a simple dee or eggbutt snaffle and a ring bit. Bridles are hung on a wall in the tack room and are grabbed at will for each set unless a particular horse has specific problems that need a specific bit. Bobby, for instance, trained in a Houghton bit which is for a horse that lugs out. 
  • When the horse is done on the track, the exercise rider will pull the tack him/herself in the horse's stall. As the groom or hot walker puts his halter on and prepares to walk him out, the exercise rider will dunk the bit in the horse's water bucket and set their tack either outside the tack room for a groom to grab, or on the stall guard of a horse that is going out in a set soon. 
  • Pin firing is when an injury (usually a splint) is treated with a caustic chemical. It can also be done on clean legs as a preventative measure. In theory it's supposed to promote blood flow and speed healing to the site of the injury. You can identify pin firing by several lines of tiny dots on your horse's cannon bone. It's not a cause for concern when buying your horse. Bobby is pin fired in both fronts, and Red was pin fired all around. 
see the white dots on red's legs?


The best part about having an ex-racehorse is that it's a fucking ex-racehorse, baby. Looking at your horse's past races can show a lot of insight into what his life at the track was like. Since I stole Aimee's title, I'll steal her horse as an example for reading a race chart:

courage's first race

The big block of text in the upper corner are the conditions of the race. This was a MSW (Maiden Special Weight) which means that only horses that had never won a race could enter. This race was restricted to two year olds and was run at four and a half furlongs on the dirt. You can see the purse amount; only California bred horses are eligible for the extra $9,000 from the CBOIF. Next is the payout, what the weather was that day, how the track was (fast, sloppy, good, firm, etc), what time the race went off, and how poor number five started.

Under the Last Raced column, you'll see that only two horses in the field had started previously. The line through means this was the first start for the rest of the field. Pgm is the horse's number in the program; 1 and 1A means there was more than one horse racing for one trainer. Obviously the horse's name and jockey's name (yeah, Courage, getting some Joel Rosario action!) come next. Wgt is the weight the horse carried. M/E is Medication/Equipment. All horses raced on Bute and Lasix, and the small b means three horses wore blinkers. PP is the post position; notice that 1 and 1A did not start next to each other as their program number might indicate. 

The next three columns are how the race was going at that particular point on the track. Let's focus only on Courage. 1/4 mile in, Courage was in fourth position by one length. Coming into the stretch, he was still in fourth position by two lengths now. He ended up finishing in fourth place two and a half lengths behind the horse in front of him. The comments show that he was crowded while racing and had to be steadied, but looking at the footnotes reveals a little more.

Courage had a rough start, getting bounced around in the early stages, but he finished up like a pro. Go, Courage!

where were you, courage?

Looking at your horse's lifetime starts can also show you a lot. For instance, Courage had more than a year long break between races. This is usually indicative of an injury and might help explain a soundness issue your now off the track horse has. In Courage's case, Aimee was able to find out that he was likely recovering from knee chip removal surgery.

Look for a horse that raced for a long period of time without a long period of doing nothing. Or, look for a horse that raced over a shorter period of time, but started frequently. Be cautious though because the latter isn't always a good thing. Bobby only raced over one year and was run often. His legs are clean and sound, and he was only retired because of a bleeding issue. However, at the lower levels of racing, a horse could be getting passed from one trainer to another to get every last check out of him. Look for a horse that hasn't switched barns every race. 

Back to pedigrees

Now that your horse is off the track and in your hands, let's look at his pedigree for a sport horse prospect. 

Names that are known for passing on good jumping skills:
  • In Reality
  • Alydar
  • Buckaroo
  • Private Terms
  • Roberto
Notoriously bad tricky temperaments: Halo and Storm Cat. Powerful shoulder and big front end: AP Indy. Beware unsoundness: Unbridled's Song. Wonky knees: Too much Mr Prospector

massive rib cage: mighty magee.
bobby is a carbon copy of his sire.

Does that help anyone out at all? Hopefully it at least lets you have a little more knowledge when exploring your OTTB's past, and you can have fun looking at his (or her) pedigree and how it might relate to your discipline. Keep in mind that this is a totally remedial post that doesn't even begin to cover everything, and if anyone else has anything to add, comment away!


  1. This is awesome! I just learned oodles I never knew before. Great post!

  2. Aw! Love this!! I love looking at Guinness (Logic Lane)'s racing history. Being bred in and raced overseas makes it really interesting! I always wondered if his long break was due to being imported to the US, or if. It was injury based. The only apparent racing "injury" he has is a bone chip in his front right fetlock. Luckily, that chip doesn't cause any issues. Any idea how long a horse would be off for being shipped to the US?

  3. That was REALLY interesting!! I don't have a ton of knowledge about the racing world or TB's, so this post was wonderfully educational! Thanks!

  4. Wow that is really cool information. Thanks so much for sharing, I just learned a lot!

  5. "Your horse is by the stallion and out of the dam. You only own a half sibling if both horses are out of the same dam." THANK YOU JESUS for saying this. As a breeding nut it's a giant pet peeve when someone says their horse is out of so-and-so stallion. That's physically impossible.

  6. This is very informative! Interested about the half-sibling part. It's different in the dog breeding world - we still consider dogs with the same sire to be half-siblings (or at least more so than with horses). Interestingly enough, Fiction has a lot of Halo in his bloodline (both sides, great-grand on sire's side, great-great on dam's side) but aside from being too smart and stubborn for his own good, he is a great horse. Also Mr. Prospector as a grand-father on the dam's side, but beautiful knees. I lucked out haha! Also Fiction raced once a month for nearly a year, so he falls under that short and close together category....but during his career he also had a bone splint in his front leg, came off bleeding, and had tieback surgery (admittedly the tieback could have happened after he stopped racing and then they decided to retire him). It helps to be friends with the Trainer & prior own on FB haha

    1. It is an interesting fact that in the horse world the term half brother or sister is terminology or how things are said. Technically and genetically if your horse has the same sire/father as another they would be half siblings.

  7. First, thanks for the shoutout! I heard when talking to previous owners that Miles may have been bred more as a sporthorse than racehorse, so I wonder if that explains his nicking score?

    Anyways, I learned a TON! Thank you so much :D

  8. This is the best article. I have been gong to the racetrack for some time and I know the basics, but because I am the only person who rides, people always ask me questions I don't know the answers to… until now!!!

  9. thanks for putting this together - really informative here! am definitely bookmarking for my eventual foray into OTTB shopping :)

  10. Wow, super awesome post! I just learned more about TBs and racing that I ever knew. Thanks!

  11. Fantastic post! I need to dig a little deeper into my ottb's racing history.

  12. I'm going to have to reread the section on race reports. I am such a dunce at this. Yay for including Courage!

  13. Here's a stupid question for you.. what's the difference between galloping and breezing?

    1. Galloping is what the horses will usually do for their normal morning workout. Some are slower gallops than others, while when a horse goes out for a breeze, the pace is quickened and the horse is "worked" without being pushed. A normal work includes asking the horse to be even faster without much of a hold and move out at a given length, and is usually timed.

  14. LOVED this! Thank you. I just learned TONS about life at the track!

  15. Good clarification about how horses are related, or not. No - they aren't all sisters, brothers and cousins people. It's more like a baby daddy situation lol. ;D

    Thanks too for the pin firing info. Val was pin fired on both fronts. I did a little research, and comparing pictures, it seemed like his were from splints rather than bows - preferable since we ride on (sometimes really deep) sand.

    Awesome post!

  16. Helps a ton. I would love to bribe someone (aka you) to pour over Simon's pedigree. I'm kind of an idiot when it comes to that stuff.

  17. Great post. I would add Princequillo and Nashrullah - good for jump and gallop!

    Storm Cat - quirky but also SOUND as hell!

    PS. I still count Archie as half brother to War Emblem because they have the same dad. :p

  18. thanks!!! And now I know why my OTTB is tricky....thanks Storm Cat! :P But do love her weirdness....some of the time.... worth the effort??? So far... ;)

  19. Holy Moly I had NO idea...this was such a cool read, I def learned a ton. Now I will have to dig through both of my boys records!

  20. *brain explodes from all the knowledge*

    Thank you for this post. The horse I had as a teenager was an OTTB and this post will help me make more sense of his racing record. My henrymonster is like 1/8 TB so I can poke around in there too.

  21. Great post! I read a lot about racehorses but some of this is new to me.

  22. Excellent post! OTTBs hooray!

  23. Love it! I even learned a bit more, which I can never say no too. Awesome post! It is so fun to be on the "other" side of the track.

  24. Very interesting! Might have to steal this idea and do a Lipizzaner one!

  25. I also love racing, and thanks for making this post I feel like half the time I meet H/J people who "rescue" ottbs the horses need in turn to be rescued from them. They essentially think racehorses are unbroke, unruly messes at the track.

  26. The US racing world has always fascinated me, thanks for explaining some of the things that have long confused me ☺

  27. Very interesting - thanks for sharing!!!!

  28. Wow, I learned a lot, and I even worked at a racing stable all through high school and had my grooms' license in Illinois and Indiana. Thanks for posting!

  29. Carly, this post is awesome and needs to be shared on every fucking OTTB rescue site where I am continually annoyed by ignorance.

  30. Thank you so much for posting this. It was very informative, and now I'm going to use it as a reference to check out my mare's history!


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