A Look at What Goes Into Training a Horse for the Kentucky Derby

Seeing a thoroughbred gallop across a racetrack is quite the invigorating sight – a sight that Richard D. Schibell has loved seeing for over 35 years.  One can only imagine what it is like to own a horse that races in the Kentucky Derby, often dubbed the most exciting two minutes in all of sports.  Even if you do not have millions of dollars to spend on thoroughbred horses, you can still raise a horse that is competitive with the elite bloodlines.

Training a Horse for the Derby

It all starts with a dream.  The process of preparing a horse to compete in the Kentucky Derby is a true challenge yet those daring to dream are the only ones who stand a chance to make it happen.  Most of the horses racing in the Kentucky Derby are young.  A ton of work is jam-packed into a couple years preparing the horse to race on the biggest stage of them all.

A horse is permitted to race in the Kentucky Derby if considered to be three years of age.  This means the horse must have had a single year or possibly less, of racing.  The question is how to prepare a horse to hang with the best of the best in the ultimate race of them all.  Preparing a thoroughbred for this type of pressure and distance is not easy.

The Basics of Raising a Legitimate Race Horse

The initial step in training a legitimate race horse is getting them familiar with being handled by a jockey/owner and being tacked up.  The filly or colt will have to become used to the saddle’s weight, the feel of the girth tightening, the bit in the mouth and the rider being atop.  The horse will also have to practice working on the process of loading into the race start gate, remaining still while the gate shuts and rapidly breaking into stride.

The challenges detailed above are easy to talk about and difficult to master.  Training your horse to complete each of these steps will prove difficult.  Do your best to understand your horse’s unique personality and you will find training proves that much easier.  Continue to study your horse during the maturation process to gauge mannerisms and tendencies so you can respond appropriately across posterity.

Progressing From the Second Year to the Third Year

As soon as your horse reaches the second or third year, it is time to hit the track.  Trainers typically find they get the best out of their colts between the early morning hours of 6 and 10.  The horse should be brought out to the track every single day for gallops or routine jogs.  The trainer will ultimately dictate the total distance the horse runs each day.  Furthermore, the trainer will be responsible for managing the horse’s speed during training sessions.  The upcoming race dictates the level of work and the speed at which the rider keeps his horse.  As an example, the Kentucky Derby is 1.25 miles in length so a horse trainer considering entering such a race will have to keep his colt up to this distance during training sessions.

Some training sessions will bring the horse right on up to a rapid gallop to gauge speed and athletic ability.  This type of session is referred to as a breeze or work.  Such workouts are eligible for timing by the track’s clocker.  These workouts can be published in track programs as well as industry documents so prospective buyers and those interested in wagering on horses can gauge performance prior to actual races.

Consider the Environment

Horse racing is about more than timing and conditioning.  Horses must be exposed to racing environments including cramped starting gates and areas in which other horses are closely positioned.  Horses will inevitably bump against one another during races and before and after races.  Consider training some of your horses alongside one another so they understand what it is like to be surrounded by other horses on a racetrack.

Richard Schibell Racing and owner Richard Schibell have had the honor of racing in two separate Kentucky Derby’s. First in 2012 and then again in 2013, the team took the trip down with Let’s Go Stables and their thoroughbreds El Padrino and Verrazano.