With horses arriving every day at Churchill Downs for next Saturday's Kentucky Derby, all the chatter is about workouts. How is a contender adapting to the track? Who will clock the fastest time? Who is strong enough to handle the distance?
If you're not a regular railbird, a lot of the workout lingo can be tough to follow. Here's what it all means:
■ A workout is a speed drill, similar to a wind-sprint in track-and-field training, intended to get a horse "just right" for racing.
A horse works when it exercises at a speed faster than a regular gallop. Horses going through these speed drills work alongside the inner rail while horses galloping will exercise farther out on the track.
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Workouts usually are timed by stopwatch and cover various portions of a mile, such as 4 furlongs (half-mile) or 5 furlongs (five-eighths of a mile).
■ A breeze is a form of workout when a horse drills faster than a gallop but is still under rider restraint. In other words, the horse is not at full throttle as he would be in the latter portion of a race.
■ How do you judge the value of a workout? Time is not the only significant factor. Watch how the horse finishes up: Is it going faster or slower at the end? The latter is not a good sign. Does it look happy and eager to run, perhaps tugging at the bit? Is it traveling evenly on all four legs?
■ The standard for a solid work is 12 seconds per furlong for a good horse. This means a respectable 5-furlong workout would be timed in 1 minute. However, many good horses work that same distance much faster. Whether faster is better depends on the horse — and the trainer's intentions. Successful handicappers learn to recognize the patterns of each horse and trainer.