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The Rural Gym

At all levels of sport, professional athletes have a coach, support team and a range of equipment, technologies and scientific research to aid them in their quest for sporting excellence. Thoroughbred racehorses are no different.

In the same way athletes increase their fitness routines until they peak at the right time, trainers must do the same with their charges. As a general guide, a racehorse comes into work after a spell (read: holiday) and starts their training preparation with 4-6 weeks of base conditioning called pre-training. This will include walking, trotting, cantering and perhaps swimming to increase their fitness.

From there, workouts increase in intensity and the horse will usually have a number of jump outs and trials to aid in barrier and race practice before being raceday ready. Of course each horse is individual, their fitness levels and abilities are different and their programs will differ slightly whether the animal is a sprinter, middle distance or stayer (long distance). If aiming for big feature races, trainers usually have a specific race program plotted out, however the majority of preparations for your ‘every day’ horse are of a much looser scenario.

On the weekend, I took a drive up to Ballarat Turf Club (BTC) to see why some of Victoria’s leading trainers, including Darren Weir, Dan O’Sullivan, Henry Dwyer and Pat Cannon have chosen this venue as their training base. English imports Archie Alexander and Matt Cumani have also made Ballarat home in the last few years.

The BTC was established in 1854, making it one of Victoria’s oldest racing clubs. Located just over an hour north-west of Melbourne, it is also the state’s largest regional Training Centre (by number of starters generated) with world class facilities in a truly picturesque setting. It features a unique synthetic uphill training track, grass and synthetic circular tracks, sand track, jog track, irrigated schooling lane and bull ring for jumps practice, and an equine pool. New stable complexes and horse stalls have also recently been constructed. Plus there’s video and timing links to the training hut so trainers can see and time their horses at all points along the track which is especially handy when the trees obscure the view. As well as all this, there’s a local private water walker, and each trainer has their own walking machines and / or treadmills. With such a wide range of facilities, it really does resemble a very well-equipped gym!

As well as the physical training, there’s a range of remedial therapies that, once confined to human use, have become standard in the racing industry to support the animal’s progress. Think chiropractors, masseurs, magnet therapy…. But I might save that for another post!

All the horses I saw at Ballarat looked fit and relaxed, and whilst it is very peaceful, it’s nothing short of a very professional set up. If I have to find one negative, it’d only be the cold! No doubt the variety that can be incorporated into training regimes, coupled with Ballarat’s rural setting, has a positive effect on horse performance. Surely it has to be one of Darren Weir’s secrets to his success?!

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