The world is revving up for the 139th Run for the Roses—that first Saturday in May when greatness is sought and horses again hold the nation’s attention for a few heart-and-ground-pounding minutes.
Last year, TSB featured author Kerry Thomas’ analysis of the 2012 Derby field, when he and his HORSE PROFILING: THE SECRET TO MOTIVATING EQUINE ATHLETES co-author Calvin Carter successfully pinpointed I’ll Have Another as a standout in the herd of competitors. Prior to that, the pair saw and named the champion potential in Animal Kingdom.
As we count down the hours until Saturday’s starting bell, we again ask Kerry and Calvin to share their thoughts on the Kentucky Derby field.
Kerry Thomas: Patterns of Motion Analysis
“There’s this guy from Pennsylvania who has picked the last two Derby winners, both longshots, and he did it in a most ingenious way,” writes Mark Coomes in his February InsiderLouisville.com article about Kerry Thomas entitled “‘Horse Whisperer’ beats handicappers, uses behavior profiling to pick last two Derby longshots.”
“He used no speed figures, no class evaluation, none of the traditional handicapping tools,” Coomes goes on. “He used behavioral profiling. That is, he examined the way horses behave during a race, and by applying hard-earned, grassroots knowledge of equine psychology, he identified the horses that possessed the mentality and temperament required to win the wild, 2-minute stampede staged at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.”
“The one thing I can say about this year’s field of competitors is that I truly feel there will be some rather tenacious space battles and herd dynamic communication going on throughout the entire race,” says Kerry. “There are several horses with very closely related communication styles in the field at the top levels, and seeing how this plays out in their patterns of motion over time and distance should prove fascinating.”
You can read Kerry’s full Patterns of Motion Analysis of the 2013 Kentucky Derby field at www.brisnet.com/derby. (Scroll down and look for the link to the Thomas Herding Technique.) Here are some of the qualities he looks for when analyzing racehorses (and read more about his methods and techniques in his book HORSE PROFILING):
Behavioral Overcompensation: This occurs when one sensory avenue, either by physical limitation or psychological aberration, is overcompensated for its inefficiency by the use of another sensory avenue.
Buddying-Up: This occurs when a mid-level herd horse seeks the comfort of movement with another horse. “Buddy-up horses” are dependent on another horse for safety, direction, and rhythm of motion.
Emotional Conformation: The mental and emotional psychology of a horse that makes up who he is. It includes the way the horse communicates, interprets stimuli, as well as almost everything he actively does, including competing on the racetrack.
Group Herd Dynamic (GHD): This is a horse’s awareness of the group around him. It goes hand-in-hand with the ability to interpret multiple stimuli. A horse with a good group dynamic can see/feel the big picture and where the horse himself fits into that picture. A healthy group dynamic is integral for a horse to run well through traffic or come from far back in a race. Many horses with a strong Group Herd Dynamic will prefer to be near the back of the field early in a race in order to read the other members of the group’s intentions. They are in fact “sizing up the field” and determining where they want to go. The U.S. champion mare Zenyatta is the classic example of a horse with a big (“strong”) group dynamic (she also had a big individual dynamic, which she could turn on when needing to fight for space and pass horses).
Herd dynamic: This is a general term we use to describe a horse’s overall herd level (his Group and Individual Herd Dynamic combined).
Individual Herd Dynamic (IHD): This is the dynamic that involves just the self and a singular target. Example: A horse engages in a pace duel with one other horse, not thinking about the rest of the field, the length of the race, or anything else but that one-on-one struggle. Horses that rely too much on Individual Herd Dynamic will get lost if they have too much stimuli to interpret. Front-running horses that only run their best races when they are near the front of the herd, where there are limited stimuli, usually have a very high Individual Herd Dynamic. A high IHD is integral to being a good racehorse, but the best horses are strong in both IHD and GHD. When you’re only operating on one dynamic, it’s easier to have the rug pulled out from under you. And when things don’t go their way, individual dynamic horses tend to fall apart.
Egg: The horse’s “egg” is an invisible area of space surrounding the horse and varying in actual foot-distance from him—this is the comfort zone of space around the horse. Shaped much like an egg is shaped, with the more pointed part being forward, owing to the area of binocular vision, the “egg of comfort” is the area where stimuli are efficiently interpreted by the horse in any direction. It is directly related to the herd dynamic (that area around the horse that is managed by him—see above). Some areas of the horse’s egg can be rigid, hard-shelled, absorbing/cushiony, or soft-shelled.
Space infraction: This is when one horse infringes upon another horse’s comfort zone. Picture an invisible “egg” of space surrounding each horse (see above). The size of that egg is dependent on the individual horse. Some horses shy from space infractions, some feed off of close contact.
Principles of Adaptability: This is when physical change is necessitated by environmental conditions and stimuli. Mental interpretations of these happen prior to the physical response and are in place so a species can survive, learn, and evolve. Ultimately, associations evolve into perceptions, which precede anticipation, shortening the time between action and reaction.
Anticipatory Response: Principles of Adaptability allow associations to become perceptions, which can be seen as anticipation and leading to an anticipatory response prior to actual physically or emotionally driven stimuli. In a properly functioning sequence, this allows for learning and social/psychological growth; in an improperly functioning sequence, this allows for aberrations.
Calvin Carter: Numerical Scoring System
Since 2009, intensive study of Thoroughbred pedigrees and the late Federico Tesio, a world-renowned owner, breeder and trainer of Thoroughbred racehorses, has had a tremendous impact on how Calvin Carter, co-author of HORSE PROFILING, determines if a young colt has star potential. Calvin’s research has helped him pick the classic champions I’ll Have Another, Animal Kingdom, Pour Moi, Super Saver, Lookin At Lucky, and Summer Bird. Last year, all five horses he profiled in his Kentucky Derby blog finished in the top five.
“Like an intricate puzzle, the pedigree contains many secrets of what champions are made of,” explains Calvin, “and Tesio was the master at putting all the puzzle pieces together. In addition to pedigrees, past performances and the horse’s behavior, will to win, are also important factors I look at.
“Tesio was keenly aware of the importance of behavior in determining champion Thoroughbreds. In HORSE PROFILING, Kerry Thomas and I wrote that the horse’s Emotional Conformation, his will to win, is the final piece of the breeding puzzle.”
You can read Calvin’s Classic Champion Thoroughbred Profiles, a numerical scoring system, for the 2013 Derby field on his blog CLICK HERE.
HORSE PROFILING: THE SECRET TO MOTIVATING EQUINE ATHLETES is available now from the TSB online bookstore.