You Better Work!A Primer on Workouts
By Dana Byerly, Hello Race Fans Co-founder
Work patterns are one of my favorite angles. In between races a trainer will “work” or exercise their horses. Works can have a any number of goals from simply keeping the runner fit to addressing a specific issue or preparing to try something new.
The Data Points
If you’re not already familiar with works, here’s what you’ll see on a past performance:
Where the work happened, here’s a handy list of track abbreviations, which does not include training tracks such as the example above, the Palm Meadows training track. Palm Meadows is known for it’s deep and tiring track. This means that a horse training at Palm Meadows could have a bit of a fitness edge. If the track is a turf or synthetic surface, you’ll see an indication right after the track abbreviation.
Works can vary in distance and are typically from three furlongs to seven furlongs with four or five furlongs being the most common. You’ll occasionally see a shorter work for a 2-year-old or a longer work, such as a mile. Seven furlong and mile works are not that common.
All the standard surface conditions apply, this is sometimes good to note depending on the condition of the surface on race day.
Without knowing the intention of the work it’s sometimes hard to make a judgment about how to interpret the time. For example, sometimes a blazing fast work could be a detriment if the horse peaked in the work and not on race day, or a work that seems slow might be designed to keep the horse in it’s routine and save his or her best effort for race day.
You’ll see one of two comments for a work, B or H. B is for “breezing” or “breezed” which means that the horse was not under any strong urging and H is for “handy” or “handily” meaning the horse was asked or handled. When you compare horses trained in California to horses trained elsewhere you’ll notice that the majority of works in California are noted as handled. This is apparently due to clockers in California being stricter in their interpretation of “being asked”
as Dan Illman of the Daily Racing Form explains in this blog (apparently this post is no longer available).
There are a couple of other designations you could see after the B or H: “g” which indicates that the work started from the gate and “d” which indicates the work was around “dogs” or temporary cones placed on the track. The dogs ensure that the runner goes wide around the track (not on the rail) and is more typically used in turf training. Times are generally slower for works with “dogs up” as you’ll see it referred to. As for gate works, if the horse had trouble leaving the gate in a prior start, seeing a few gates works might be an encouraging sign.
This notes where the horse ranked among all the horses training at the same distance over the track. 2/47 means the horse had the second fastest work of the 47 horses who trained at the same distance. A bullet, or the fastest work at the distance, is additionally noted by the dot at the beginning of the work.
Viewing Them in Context
This information only tells you part of the story. You certainly can derive useful information from the recorded works, particularly when directly compared to the prior races. How were they working before each race? Do any patterns emerge with distance, for example if the horse was stretching out to a longer distance in their last race did the trainer give them any endurance works? Do they tend to fire a bullet prior to a good or bad effort? Trend spotting is the handicappers friend.
Here’s an example:
I’ve underlined the works that were prior to Endorsement’s most recent races. If you look at the work pattern before his Feb 20 race where he broke his maiden, you’ll see that both works were nothing special. But the work right after that race was a few seconds faster followed up two longer works with marked improvement. Whether he just came to life on his own after his maiden win or his trainer designed the works to push him harder, it wasn’t hard to see that this was a colt on the improve. That doesn’t always translate into a win or even a good performance! Like everything else it’s only one piece of the puzzle, but in combination with other considerations it can help determine who’s ready to step-up or or not.
A Little Extra Help
It’s not always easy to figure out what’s going on with a horse based on their works. Some trainers, such as Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen, Nick Zito and Bill Mott, tend to give all of their horses the same work every time. This makes it difficult for a handicapper to determine if there’s any improvement or regression. Fortunately there are a few times of year when one can avail themselves to extra-special information, the kind of information that unlocks a part of the puzzle that raw data alone could not. What is this extra-special puzzle unlocking information? It’s clocker’s reports!
Clockers are the folks who officially time the workouts, and as the first-hand witness of the work, are able to tell a whole lot more than you or I are going to be able to derive from the above screen shot. For example, did the horse have a work mate, (also referred to as working in company), did the horse have to be asked or did they work willingly? How was the gallop out? What were the splits?
If you’re an early bird who lives by a track, you can find these answers out yourself by going to the track to watch morning works, but for us working stiffs (who have a hard time making to the office by 9!), we have to rely on others.
During the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup there is plenty of information to be had. The Daily Racing Form used to provide free clocker reports for the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup but have moved it behind their DRF+ paywall. If you buy their PP packages or subscribe you can access this excellent feature but it’s sadly no longer available for free. You can still get some insight from following clocker Mike Welsch on Twitter.
For Derby season look for the Churchill Downs communications department to make great use of Twitter to report on Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks contenders as work at Churchill Downs.
Keeneland provides free daily clocker reports on their site during their meetings and occasionally provide videos of workouts. Check your local or favorite track sites to see if they provide a clocker’s reports, and if they don’t it might not hurt to ask!
Twitter Accounts that Post Workout Info
Twitter is your best source for free clocker information and insight and the following accounts are great sources of information:
@DRFWelsch – from the man who brings you the Daily Racing Form’s semi-annual clocker reports
@DRFGrening – additional DRF clocking info from New York tracks
@Racingwithbruno – account of professional clocker team covering major circuits
@ClockersCorner – the one, the only Santa Anita clocker hangout
@Racehorsetimer – Santa Anita updates from the Racing with Bruno team
@derbymedia – updates from Churchill Downs media team – must follow for Derby / Oaks works
You can also follow them all by using our handy list!
Keep in Mind
Clocker’s reports generally don’t tell you the intention of the trainer, so a slowish work that may seem uninspiring could be part of a trainer’s bigger plan. Lucky for us there are a couple of times of year when there’s an exhaustive amount of information about workouts, both in terms of the appearance and intentionâ€¦ enjoy it!
Where to Watch Workouts
Churchill Downs – updates, overviews and workouts
HRTV Live Derby Works – offering live streaming workouts
Official Kentucky Derby site – Videos of contender workouts
Live morning works from Churchill Downs – from 8-9am ET