Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

What a bunch of babies

Two-year-olds receive special attention at Assiniboia Downs

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They're affectionately known as the babies, and just like any child, these two-year-olds need a lot of tender loving care, patience and education if they are to make it in the competitive world of thoroughbred racing.

They're just like any other kid. They can behave as good as gold one day, but the next day they can be totally unpredictable. No one is ever quite sure how they'll behave the first time they break out of the gate.

One thing is for sure, however. Just about everyone loves to see the babies run.

"Babies are a lot more rewarding, to me, to win a race with," said Chad Torevell, who trains Cactus Cut, the roan colt that carried Mark Anderson 41/2 furlongs to the winners circle on Saturday, in front of Quick Caper (Tyrone Nelson), and UR Burning Daylite (Janine Stianson). "It takes so much work from everyone involved, including the owners (Barry Arnason and El Mingo Stables). They have to sit and wait until the horse is perfectly ready to run."

The process is lengthy, said Torevell. While still a yearling, they begin breaking the horse in the fall. At that stage, the horse is learning the basics, such as to stop, steer, go forward. By the end of February, when the horse is two, they begin preparing it to race. "You have to be patient, and let them develop as they want to," Torevell said.

"Lots of (gentle) miles is best for babies, in my opinion. It's just so they can develop physically and mentally. You can't push them too much, otherwise they tend to crumble on you. A horse that is not mentally prepared will turn into a real scatterbrain. A horse that is not physically ready will get injured."

Around April, the babies are introduced to the gate. "The first day we'll walk up to the gate without even going into it. Just to let them see it, and know there is nothing to be afraid of. The next day we'll put them in it. From the time they are introduced to the gate, until they are ready to race, is about eight to 10 trips."

At two, a horse is still developing, which is why babies begin racing at four-and-one-half furlongs. "You don't want to get them exhausted the first time," said Torevell. "A horse gets injured when it gets tired. Four-and-a-half furlongs is a good distance for their first race.

"As the season progresses, so can the distance."

"On Saturday, Cactus Cut ran like a horse that has done it many times," said Torevell.

"He was a bit of a difficult horse to manage in the beginning. When things would scare him, he would buck, so everything we did with him, we had to do it several times just to get him used to it. We basically put that horse through every race scenario that he could possibly be in, to prepare him for that race."

That first race can also be difficult for the jockey, says Anderson. "Everything is new to babies, the paddock and going with the ponies (escorts to the gate) for the first time. They are often a little bit reluctant, and shy away.

"As riders, we do a lot more work with the babies than you would with older horses. A lot of short work, the first breezes in their life, and a lot of gate work."

Anderson says he never knows what will transpire in that first race. "You want to get a good break, and hustle them away from there (the gate).

"If they don't have enough speed to go with the leaders, then you want to teach the horse to sit behind and take the dirt. It's more like a schooling race, so that they understand. Then you make a run at the leaders late, and see what we've got."

The first baby stakes race goes today with the 5 1/2 furlongs, $30,000 Debutante Stakes for fillies. Neither Torevell, Anderson or Cactus Cut will be involved this time around.

"We're looking at the Graduation Stakes (Aug. 12) for Cactus Cut," said Torevell. "We have a couple of other horses in the barn, and we'll see how they perform as well, but at this point I would say that as long as he maintains the training regimen he is on, without any injuries, we'll probably point to that race."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 16, 2010 C5

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