Getting ready to run – Bone Development

As we ramp up the work with the more forward two year olds at Sarsen Farm, we lay the foundations for them to win races. Equally as important is that foudations mean they have long successful careers. One of the critical structures is bone. The slide below shows a microscopic slide of untrained bone (a) and trained bone (b). B is much stronger than A. Racehorse bone needs to be strong. It has to withstand the force of a 500kg through a single leg at 40 miles per hour. Part of training young horses is developing the untrained skeleton from a to b. Here we outline the process we use.

Bone Adaptation

Bone is a living tissue. It responds to training through adaptation (sometimes called remodelling), in a similar way to the way muscle does. If we want to get big guns, we head to the weight room and start doing bicep curls. The “stress” creates micro-damage which the body responds to “healing” the micro damage. The “burn” you get from lifting the weight is the micro-damage. If enough of the building blocks (proteins, minerals and the like) are available to it the body “realises” that it needs to do more than just repair itself but grow more and better tissue. So over time your biceps builds up, this is an adaptive response.

Now if you go the gym and start by trying to lift massive weights, you will probably injure yourself. You should start with a small weight and gradually increase the weight over time. Increasing the number of times you lift a weight over a few sessions before moving up to a bigger one. You can also train too often, not giving enough time for the remodelling to occur. This leads to the micro-damage becoming proper damage!

Exactly the same principles are at play in developing the bones of young racehorses. Most horses are capable of running very quickly from birth, they needed to be to survive out on the plains. Teaching them the speed isn’t the complicated bit. It is building the bone density to withstand the forces of carrying weight over a distance that we need to get right when developing winners.

The Sarsen Farm Approach

At Sarsen Farm we use a protocol that we have based loosely on research carried out in the US by Dr. John Fisher and Dr David Nunamaker. They developed various programs based on their research. Once young horses have cantered consistently for a few weeks and are ready to do more with them (see this part 1 & part 2 of when will they be ready to run for more on this). This means we introduce some very gentle speed work.

Typically racing pace is around 11-13 seconds per furlong in flat racing. A normal canter at home would be around 20 seconds per furlong. When we introduce speed it is initially the final furlong in around 15 seconds twice a week, this is done at the end of a five furlong canter. After a few weeks we transition to the final couple of furlongs at speed. The next step is to increase the speed of the final two furlongs over a period of weeks until we are near to racing pace. Our team of excellent riders are very good at hitting their target times. The science relies on high quality horsemanship to be effective.

At this stage we will have elicited a strong response in the bone and it should be remodelled to withstand the forces of training and racing. We can now start galloping. Bones are the slowest part of the body to train. In most cases, the cardiovascular system and soft tissues are prepared for the stress of racing before the bones. It won’t be long before we are at the races.

Proof it works

Outgate winning a valuable Class 2 Handicap at the Chester May Festival under Ryan Moore.

The process is worth it. Outgate passed the notoriously stringent vetting process for sale to Hong Kong have won 4 of his 9 starts and over £100,000 in prize money by June of his 3 year old career. Other demonstrations of the durabilty and quality of Sarsen Farm horses include Chitra who won seven races at 2 & 3. She was the winning most three year old of her generation in Great Britain and Ireland. Helm Rock who aims for the Lincoln, who we bought as a yearling in 2019 from Book 1 is another example. He is one of only 9 horses from the catalogue of 550 horses to have won five or more times. Only 6 horses from the sale have run more often. Don’t Tell Claire will aim for black type and Royal Ascot again this season as six year old, she has won five races from twenty six starts.

If you’d like to be at the races as an owner and follow the process of developing a two year old into a racehorse take a look at our Diskovery Partnership.