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The Process of Training a Race Horse for the Kentucky Derby

Posted by Jaclyn Harris on Fri, Jan 23, 2015 @ 09:00 AM

There is nothing more exciting than watching a thoroughbred race around the track. From the speed at which they breeze past spectators, to the thundering sound of their pounding hooves, to the shouting as their jockeys urge them to excellerate, to the final stretch where these equine athletes leave everything they have on the track, horse racing provides adrenaline unlike any other sport.


But, training a horse to race is not an easy process. Even more so when your eye is on a prize like the Kentucky Derby. For outsiders looking in on the process, it's important to understand the colts you see running in the Kentucky Derby, or the fillies running in the Kentucky Oaks, are young. Really young.

To be eligible to race in the Derby, a thoroughbred must be considered a three-year-old, which means they've only had a year, maybe less, of racing under their belt. These colts are green, not seasoned at all. It's for this reason, and many more, that horse racing can be incredibly dangerous for jockeys and horses alike if training is not done carefully and correctly. 

So, the question remaining is how does a trainer get a horse ready to race in the caliber of horse racing that is the Kentucky Derby? How do you prep a thoroughbred for that kind of pressure and distance? 

Well, I've done a little research for you! Take a look at the process behind training a race horse and then, learn how you can see the three-year-olds compete for the roses in the 141st Kentucky Derby!

Bringing Up a Race Horse

The first step in training a race horse, or any horse really, is getting them accustomed to being handled and being tacked up. This means, getting the colt or filly used to the weight of a saddle, the tightening of the girth, the feel of the bit in their mouth, and then, eventually, the added weight of a rider.


It is at this time the youngsters will begin working on loading into the starting gate, standing still as the gate shuts and then breaking from the gate.

This is a learning process for both horse and trainer. Similar to people, horses are unique and are motivated in different ways. Their personalities are different and, therefore, no training program is the same for every horse. One colt might need a gentle hand while another might need a more firmer approach with more challenges.

It's imperative that as a colt is maturing, trainers study their behaviors and manorisms carefully to learn what they are picking up, and to ensure bad habits are not being learned. Once these youngsters are at the track, they will need to be keen, alert and professional, and "spooking" is not an option.

Second-Third Year

Once a horse hits its second or third year is when the colt really hits the track. Customarily between the hours of 6-10 a.m., trainers get their horses out on the track with an exercise rider or jockey for routine jogs or gallops every day. The trainer determines the distance the horse will run and what speed the rider should work them at.


A session bringing the horse to a fast gallop to test its speed and fitness is called a work or breeze. These workouts can be timed by the track's official clocker and are permitted to be published in industry papers and track programs. This allows potential buyers and people placing wagers to see how the horse has been performing leading up to a race.

The amount of work and the speed the rider keeps the horse at is directly related to the upcoming races the trainer and owners are looking at entering in. For instance, if a trainer is looking to put their horse in the Kentucky Derby which is 1 1/4 miles long, they're going to want to work their colt up to that distance in real time.

Besides from just conditioning and timing, works are important for getting horses used to racing against each other. It is not uncommon for a farm to train their horses together on the track in the morning. This allows the horses to get used to getting bumped by other horses and the dirt flying up in their face, and allows them to learn to be guided to the rail by their jockey.

On Jan. 1, when horses turn three, they are eligible for the Kentucky Derby. In order for an owner or trainer to get their horse admitted into the "Run for the Roses," they must enter their horses in a series of qualifying races called the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

If the colt is then one of the top qualifiers in the series for the Kentucky Derby, they'll be a part of the field on May 1!

Learn about the Road to the Derby, and see the schedule and points standings here>>

How YOU Can Attend the Kentucky Derby!

Through Derby Experiences' Official Partnership with Churchill Downs, a one-of-a-kind experience at the 141st Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks is awaiting you! Official Ticket Packages essentially include everything your heart could desire at this epic weekend.

Churchill-Downs-Derby-Experiences-QuintEventsFor example, in addition to your tickets for both days of racing, packages include access to an exclusive in-track hospitality area where you'll find a plethora of complimentary gourmet food options, a premium open bar and meet-and-greets with celebrity jockeys. 

Then, there are a variety of add-ons you can select to include such as invites to official Kentucky Derby parties, luxurious accommodations in Louisville, and transportation to and from the track each day.

Learn more about official Kentucky Derby parties>>

Sound like the Kentucky Derby experience you're looking for? Then what are you waiting for? May is only going to continue getting closer and the longer you wait, the less package options you will have to select from. 

Call 1-888-384-7088 to speak to a Derby Experiences' representative or visit Derby Experiences' website by clicking the button below to learn more about package options. Then, you can fill-out the form on the website to be contacted!

Where will you be when the next potential Triple Crown contender is named?

CHOOSE YOUR DERBY EXPERIENCE!

Join the conversation on social media using the hashtags #DerbyVIP and #KyDerby!

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Topics: Kentucky Derby

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About the Bloggers

Kristen Doolan

Kristen Doolan was born and raised a Florida State Seminole. Making her way from Florida to North Carolina, Kristen achieved her B.S. in Business Adminstration, Marketing at The University of North Carolina Wilmington. She is an avid traveler, college football addict, beach bum and loves spending time with her family and friends. 

Jazzy Morgan

Jazzy Morgan is originally from London, England and a die-hard Manchester United Fan. She grew up in Connecticut and made the move down south in 2011 where she attended Winthrop University and received her B.S. in Family & Consumer Sciences and a minor in Marketing. Jazzy enjoys traveling, working out, reading her monthly Vogue & Cosmo and keeping up with fashion trends.

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