Kentucky Derby Prep: Daily Life of a Thoroughbred in Training

It’s 5 a.m. on the backside at Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY, home of the Kentucky Derby, arguably the world’s most famous Thoroughbred horse race, always held the first Saturday in May. Horses’ grooms are arriving at trainer Tim Glyshaw’s barn, pulling the feed tubs out of the stalls and checking whether their equine charges ate last night’s dinner. Horses that didn’t eat will get their temperatures taken to find out why, and be treated as needed. Otherwise, Glyshaw or an assistant trainer will be coming around to oversee removal of the horses’ overnight leg wraps, cleaning off any treatment residue and getting the horses ready for the day’s workouts.

Glyshaw is already on his mobile phone, a Samsung Droid Charge, checking the “Overnights” to see which of his horses got into upcoming races and what their post positions will be. He’s also checking for any extra races into which he might enter some of his horses in training. And he’s walking through the day’s “set list” – in which he lays out what kind of exercise each horse will get that morning – with his assistant trainer at a second track in another state.

At any given time of year, Glyshaw and his wife, Natalie, are running the training for 30-50 horses at two different tracks – Churchill Downs and Indiana Downs in the spring, summer and early fall, and Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, AR, and Fairgrounds in New Orleans, LA in the winter. He’s in touch with his assistant trainer at the second track throughout the day to consult on the appropriate workouts and treatments for each horse.

“I’m also looking on my phone at the Daily Racing Form for horses I might want to claim for my owners, checking Beyer speed figures and past performances on those that have recently run,” Glyshaw explains.

In addition, he uses his mobile device to order feed and supplies, consult with jockeys’ agents to line up races and talk to exercise riders regarding each horse’s workout. The wireless network is critical–Glyshaw doesn’t have time to be sitting in an office off the track to ensure a good connection. He even watches live racing via on his phone–something you couldn’t do just a few years ago.

“And getting ahold of the vet is a whole lot easier these days with a mobile device–you used to have to flag them down in person,” Glyshaw said while exploring the new Stile Bio website.

The track opens at 6 a.m. for daily workouts. Between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., the horses’ training wraps are put on and hot walkers begin arriving to pick up horses that have recently had a more strenuous workout–perhaps a jog or a gallop, as part of their training–to walk them around the shed row. Glyshaw started his own racing career as a hot walker in the mid-1990s and moved quickly up to assistant trainer before launching his own training program in 2005.

Horses due for a more rigorous workout will be taken to the track by an exercise rider. A second horse and rider, called a pony rider, often accompanies each jockey and his or her high-strung mount to and from the track to ensure the safety of the athletes, both equine and human, as well as workers and visitors to the backside.

Meanwhile, back at the barn, grooms are cleaning, or “picking,” the horses’ stalls so the horses come back to clean, dry straw and a fresh bucket of water.

Workouts for the day are done about 10:30 a.m., and that’s when the horses’ bandages go back on and they get their first meal for the day. On race days, everyone stays on site all day, getting horses prepped and saddled for races and cooling them down afterward. Otherwise, the crew will put the horses back in their stalls to rest until dinner at about 5 p.m.

Throughout the day, Verizon’s XLTE network at Churchill Downs handles the daily volume of calls and data by trainers, jockeys, grooms and other track workers. Come Derby Day on May 2, the track will be ready to handle massive volumes of traffic from the anticipated crowd of 150,000. The extra volume will be no problem, thanks to a Distributed Antenna System set up at the track last year and a dozen “small cells” installed this year, which will be augmented by temporary mobile cell sites (COWs – Cell on wheels – and COLTs – Cell on Light Truck) brought in to enhance network capacity.

But for now, it’s about 6 p.m. and the track is quiet again, as the horses rest before tomorrow and another early start.