“The more stable a horse is mentally, the more apt they are to be able to do that,” he added.
The best way to keep a horse mentally stable is not to overwork him, said Shug McGaughey, 67, the Hall of Fame trainer of Orb, the 2013 Kentucky Derby winner. If horses begin to show “nerves,” McGaughey said, it could mean that their mind-set has changed. “They might get a little bit hesitant to go to the track, get a little sweaty.”
Thoroughbred training is built on routine. When that routine is breached, it has meaning. The trainer’s job is less about making a horse greater than the sum of its parts than it is about discovering the sum of those parts. “We cannot make them run faster than they can run,” McGaughey said from his barn at Belmont Park during a telephone interview.
On that Friday in mid-April, when Brisset took Quip for his first gallop following the Arkansas Derby, the horse climbed the quarter-mile dirt road from the barn to the racetrack in the company of his stable pony, Jonas. It was just past daybreak, and the sun was creeping over the grandstand. When Quip stepped onto the track, he didn’t buck, which, as a young, aggressive 3-year-old colt who is typically eager to run, he often did. Brisset took note.
Quip set off down the backstretch on his mile-long gallop, comfortably hitting each furlong in about 18 seconds, his normal galloping pace. (In breezes and during races, he’ll usually run them in roughly 12 seconds.) As the weekend progressed, though, Quip still didn’t exhibit the energy Brisset wanted from him. After consultation with WinStar, Quip’s majority owner, Brisset withdrew the horse from the Kentucky Derby and instead pointed him toward the Preakness, on May 19.
After Justify, another WinStar horse, won the Kentucky Derby and became a Triple Crown threat, the decision to run Quip in the Preakness was revisited. WinStar officials decided to enter him in the field.
“With five weeks’ rest,” Brisset said, doing the math from the Arkansas Derby to the Preakness, “the horse will be fine.”
“My job is to get the horse to the race sound, fit, relaxed and ready to run,” he said. “After that, it’s up to the horse and the jockey.”