SCHOOLING QUALITY ROAD

Obviously Team QR is going to school Quality Road in the morning and the afternoon as they look to get their star back on track and (literally) in the gate.

Getting this all straightened out will be difficult for two hard to resolve reasons: 1) Quality Road is a live animal and unpredictable by design, and 2) conditions like he faced at Santa Anita for the Breeders Cup Classic are hard to duplicate for the purposes of schooling.

Luckily, his next start won’t be in a situation that is as pressure-packed as Breeders Cup day, but such a day on that same big stage is hopefully in his future and preparing his for that is a big challenge.

Big race days have a different feel. Anybody who has attended a Breeders Cup, a Triple Crown race, the World Series, the Super Bowl or a Presidential inauguration understands how these events have a different look and feel. Big events have a “vibe” all their own.

My biggest memory of the Kentucky Derby was how the place literally buzzed when the horses came out on the track. The hair on the back of my neck stood straight up and if I could feel that “electricity in the air,” you can bet the horses and riders could as well. Not to mention the fact that everybody around those animals on a big day like the KY Derby or Breeders Cup is nervous at some point of the day (whether they want to admit it or not!)

So when those horses go to the gate for the biggest race of the biggest event in American horse racing every carbon-based life forms’ nervous system is on RED ALERT. In that situation the horses are likely to do anything, and I’m always amazed more of them don’t act up prior to these big pressure-filled races.

Needless to say, that same excitement, pressure and nervous energy makes all the people involved (jockeys, gate crew, etc.) more prone to make mistakes as well. All of that is part of the game at the highest level. Add in TV cameras and helicopters and who knows what other distractions and you have a recipe for disaster that is difficult to replicate for the purposes of schooling a three-year-old horse which has made but seven previous starts.

Simply put, in the morning, you can school your horse in the gate until the proverbial cows come home. You can spin him around, back him up, put him in alone, put him in with others, play loud music, pipe in crowd noise, ring bells or set off firecrackers and doing so in the morning won’t get him ready for what happens on Breeders Cup afternoon. It’s just different.

And if your horse is claustrophobic (which it appears QR may well be), you might be stuck waiting for those bovines.

The only way to school a horse for the pressure-packed atmosphere of the Breeders Cup is to school him at another big event such as a Triple Crown race…Now imagine how that would go.

Dear NYRA:

I’d like to school Quality Road from the gate on Belmont Day since that will be the only time we can closely approximate the conditions he will face on Breeders’ Cup day.

Sincerely, T. Pletcher.

The reply:

Dear Mr. Pletcher:

You’re kidding, right?

Just in case you aren’t kidding – NO.

Sincerely, NYRA.

Seriously, what racetrack management team is going to allow you to school your horse from the gate on a big day? My guess is none, and that is what QR probably needs. His trainer, the starter, the gate crew and everybody involved will do their best to figure it out, but it will be difficult to duplicate those same relevant circumstances on an ordinary afternoon.

We hope they figure it out because on his good days, Quality Road is very very good.