Monday, July 27, 2009

Life After The World Cup: Well Armed Ready To Flex Muscles

Many horses returning from competing in the Dubai World Cup never seem to recapture the form that got them there in the first place.

So do you chalk it up as a bad thing overall?

No way, says Eoin Harty, trainer of the reigning World Cup champion Well Armed. “Many times, the horses coming back have been sort of near the end of their careers and didn’t do much afterward. But Well Armed went a year ago [finishing third in 2008] and came back and won the San Diego Handicap here and finished second in the Pacific Classic.”

And now he comes from victory in the World Cup to run again in Sunday’s San Diego, with a long-term goal being the Pacific Classic again. His spectacular, 14-length World Cup victory netted his WinStar Farm owner and breeder purse money of $3.6 million.

“Curlin won last year and came back to win the Stephen Foster [Handicap at Churchill Downs] and become Horse of the Year for a second time,” said Harty. “Silver Charm came back and won the Stephen Foster, too, and Street Cry won in Dubai a few years ago and came back and also won the Stephen Foster. So you can’t let some of those other things tarnish the experience by saying that horses don’t do well after running there.”

Harty speaks from experience, having been with 1998 Dubai winner Silver Charm while serving as assistant to Bob Baffert and having trained Street Cry as a juvenile as a private trainer for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, along with his two sojourns as a public trainer with Well Armed.

However, it’s not an easy task, and Harty will tell you that. After all, the horse does have to go to the other side of the world, almost 9,000 miles away, enter a foreign environment that includes racing at night and take on all the seemingly best horses in the world.

But he also will tell you it’s a matter of preparation for the horse and his connections and the normal regimen of training toward a race – any race.

In the beginning, Harty says, “You have to get your horse fit and have

him well hydrated [with IV fluids] in preparation for the long flight. Then you put him on the plane and let him go. Well Armed is an easy horse to ship. It doesn’t take much out of him.

“You don’t have any choice about when you ship. You go when they [the Maktoum family, which puts on the race] tell you to go. We had 10 days before the race.”

Asked about whether having been there with Silver Charm and having trained there in the winter for Sheikh Mohammed gave him any sort of advantage, Harty said, “Actually, like anything you’ve done once, whether it’s going to race in Dubai or in Stockton, you know what to expect. You know the lay of the land and you know how to get around. But, you don’t have any advantage if you don’t have the horse.”

Harty said the key to success in preparing for the race is to have the horse fit and ready to go. “You can’t play catch-up after you get there,” he said. “You train like you always do and keep fit till race day.”

As for racing at night, Harty said he called on his time with Baffert for guidance. “When I worked for Bob he had quarter horses for many years and they trained in the daytime and raced at night. He never did anything special. And it worked for him.”

Getting to the race and running means the final piece of the puzzle is the return to the United States and the eventual return to racing. The timetable depends on the horse, according to Harty. In the case of Well Armed, the gelding came back to Harty’s barn at Santa Anita and then was shipped to WinStar Farm in Kentucky for a short breather.

“He was at the farm for about three weeks where he could graze on the grass, relax a bit and be a horse,” the trainer said. “He enjoyed himself and then he came back to the barn to get ready for the San Diego.”

Harty says Well Armed is “a tough customer. He’s a very strong and aggressive horse and you have to have a strong rider when you gallop him. He’s calm in the stall and calm in the barn, but he’s aggressive on the racetrack.

“That’s the way we like them.”

As for his fitness for the San Diego, a smiling Harty said, “We don’t think he’s lost a step.”

And that’s not good news for those who think the 6-year-old could be vulnerable after his World Cup experience.

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