SportsRace to the Derby


What does it take to make it to the Kentucky Derby?

Posted at 9:19 AM, May 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-03 13:39:34-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — The horses that make the cut to run in the Kentucky Derby have more than a good pedigree and training; according to a Rood & Riddle surgeon, they have a bit of luck too.

"Those 20 Horses have been preparing since October of their yearling year. That's about 18 months they've been training for this fight," said Rood & Riddle Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Larry Bramlage.

He said it is a meticulous process from breeding to training to ensure there are not any missteps.

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"If you over train them at any spot in that 18 months to where they miss training, they're not going to make the first Saturday in May," explained Bramlage, "So, these horses that you'll see in the starting gate, they're both great athletes, they've got great trainers, and they're lucky, you know, they've avoided all injury."

Mill Ridge General Manager & 'Horse Country' non-profit Board President Price Bell said before anyone can dream about training a horse, they have to think about how they are raised.

"Horses that don't play; that don't run or run around outside that are just kind of in a stall so they don't, they don't lay down the same strength of their skeletal system, as those that do play and do run," said Bell.

Dr. Bramlage agreed saying playing and then training builds a horse's athletic body.

"The skeleton they race with they build as their training," said Bramlage, "That's why it takes 18 months to get the horse to the Kentucky Derby. Because, every time you overload that skeleton a little bit, the horse is going to over repair it, make a little stronger."

Bramlage treats horses with all kinds of injuries but also sees horses for regular surgeries to help them maximize their potential.

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"It's all aimed at preserving that athletic career," explained Bramlage. "You know, horses have more problems with their joints when they're growing than we do, because they grow 20 times faster...You want their skeleton to be perfect, so that's our job."

He said his job also requires dealing with the horses' personalities.

"For me, that's the fascination, the fascination of working on horses, is that they are so fit and they so love what they do that they--people refer to it as jumping out of their skin," said Bramlage, "They have so much energy that they, what they need to do is go out and run."

For farm managers like Bell, the longing for a Kentucky Derby win, place or show keeps them watching their horses run with a close eye.

"No one can tell you with 100% certainty, 'that horse will be a champion.' 'That is the Kentucky Derby winner.' You know? No one can do that," said Bell. "And the pursuit of that keeps it-- wakes us up every morning. And it's like, it is the greatest elixir in life."