Yesterday was Derby day. I rarely miss watching the Kentucky Derby. I used to work with trotters and pacers and have retrained several ex-race horses to be jumpers and dressage horses. So I was excited to see that Michael Matz had a horse in the race. For the non horsey, Mr. Matz was one of the US Equestrian Team's top jumper riders and trainers and a couple of years ago he made the switch to thoroughbred racing horses.
I have long wondered what would happen if a top show trainer started trainer top flight race horses. Show riders generally are also the trainers of the horses the ride so they develop a truly intimate relationship with their show animals. They get to know them very well and develop a deep trust with each other. This is a very different relationship that goes on with thoroughbred racehorse trainers who never ride their horses and therefore never develop the kind of trust a show rider will have and therefore looks at the training of a horse differently. It is a lot like the difference between how an organic farmer looks at the farm and an conventional grower looks at a farm. Both work but in very different ways. The organic grower and the show horse trainer tend to operate holistically and the others tend to operate linearly
Because the show people tend to take this more holistic outlook in how they do things I have long assumed that if one of these guys were given a stable of top flight horses they would quickly climb into the top ranks because they would add things to the training regimes that trainers who do not ride would not know about. I do not know if Michael Matz takes his horses and trots them up and down hills at his farm but it would not surprise me at all and this sort of work would give a race horse a nice edge in that they would improve their balance and endurance and this is work most jumper, 3-day event and dressage trainers would do with their horse to get them fit and keep them happy.
I do know from working on both harness tracks and show barns that the race trainers do not know about a lot of techniques that show trainers use. For example, the idea of teaching a horse how to extend and collect their gait is foreign to most racing people but I have noticed the great race horses know how to do this naturally. This leads me to believe any horse taught collection and extension would be an improved racehorse. And there are many other training techniques that the show people use that would improve any racing performance.
Yesterday it was proven to me with Barbaro's impressive win going away from the pack in a virtual hand ride that Mr. Matz is likely including a lot of ideas from what he learned in his decades of working with show jumpers in the training of his race horses and it is working. I believe we are seeing the beginning of a stellar race training career. And we just might see a triple crown winner this year as well