CT: The evaluation of a racehorse can begin early in a horse’s life, in particular at a sale of yearlings or two-year-olds. You have had great success purchasing bargain horses that become big moneywinners, what are your criteria when you go to a sale?
RB: Conformation is number one. In a lot of cases at a sale, the owners I train for give me a list of horses to look at. I want an overall, pleasing look of a horse; I won’t discount a horse on one minor issue, say, like a club foot on a hind leg.
I am looking for a horse that walks well, no swinging legs but a long and easy stride like a country boy coming home from school. He’s eager but taking long, efficient, smooth strides.
Number two is the veterinarian check-up before I buy a horse, in particular the throat scope. I want a big, wide throat that looks like it will function well.
CT: Are there particular conformation issues that do not bother you? Which ones will you stay away from?
RB: I bought a horse, Cool N Collective, after a two-year-old sale for $60,000 (Can.) and he toed out badly. I didn’t worry about it, I thought when he got bigger his chest would fill out and help that. He won the Elgin Stakes for me and owner Earle Mack [editor’s note: Cool N Collective raced until he was 13 years old for various owners and won almost $700,000 (US)].
As long as that toe-out rotation of lower legs starts at the shoulder, it’s usually okay. If it starts at the knee, I don’t go near it.
I don’t mind smaller horses; I have had success with them. As long as the overall horse looks like an athlete, is racy, with a long, sloping shoulder and a longer neck, it gives the impression of athleticism.
I’m not keen on offset knees or toeing in, those can lead to physical issues later.
CT: Once you get a horse into the racing barn, what are the first things you are evaluating as it prepares for race training?
RB: You have to take the position that you are looking for a horse that enjoys his job. You don’t want to be too hard on a horse that has some bad habits around the barn, be careful not to pre-judge. Bad habits around the barn don’t mean they are not top racehorses. Conversely, I trained (champion and millionaire) Bear Now and she was just a little brown horse that just stood around in the barn, looking, at best, like just a decent sprinter.
CT: You have said that paying attention to a horse’s eating habits is key, how so?
RB: Well, all horses will eat up when they first start light training. But after the horse works his first three furlongs and then does not eat for a couple of days after and can’t handle the stress, you might be looking at a claiming horse.
CT: Once your runners begin serious training, how do you evaluate the abilities of each one?
RB: Their first couple of easy workouts, say at three furlongs, I will send them alone or sometimes with a stablemate. I don’t ask for speed at this time, I just want to see how they handle it. It is when they get into the second five furlong workout, and from the gate, that I want to see some speed.
We are lucky because we have a big barn so we can have ‘mini races’, four or five of them working from the gate. This way, they get bumped around, dirt in their face and that is when the real racehorses show up. Smaller stables can do it, there are always other people’s horses in the gate, but it’s a bit easier to see how the horses stack up when they are with your own horses.
How each horse handles the paddock and saddling enclosure will also give you an idea of what kind of heart the horse has.
CT: What is your strategy once it comes time to enter the horse in a race?
RB: If you want to play it safe, you can run any horse in a maiden allowance event. But you don’t want to get into a situation where you continually run a horse in that kind of race and soon they are 0 for 8. I have played it safe even if I am not 100% convinced about the horse’s ability. I have also run horses for claiming first time out and sometimes you can get caught jumping the gun, but that is seldom.
CT: Overall, what would you say the key is to evaluation of a racehorse once he begins his career?
RB: To understand what is important and what is not important for a racehorse to be top quality. If a horse has a minimal amount of traffic trouble in his first race, the handicappers tend to overreact to it the next time the horse runs when, truthfully, it didn’t mean that much to his finish. You don’t want to get caught listening too much to jockeys after a race either. Trust your own analysis of the race.