This is a Q & A on training techniques with veteran trainer Nafzger from 1993, previously published in DRF.
Q: Nobody’s likely to say you race your horses to death. Do you have any particular philosophy about the number of starts a horse should make?
Nafzger: No, I leave that up to the horse. If a horse is really trying to run, running hard, the more you put out in the contest, the less times you’re going to be able to start, and a horse that’s just a nice $25,000 horse, you can start him a little more. But the player that goes out there and gives you 110 percent, he naturally is going to take more time to fill his tank up. Unbridled started 24 times in three years. We don’t set any policies of when our horses start. Our horses tell us when they’re ready to start and we start.
Q: Do you do anything special for a big race? Sometimes your horses don’t win the lesser events but run big in the main event.
Winning races doesn’t count. Winning the right races is what counts. A good example this year: I don’t think we were even in the trainer standings in Chicago [by number of races won], but when you look at the money earned, we were in the top 15. And we also had won stakes in other places, won the hundred thousand at Ellis and some places like that.
[Jockey] Craig Perret got suspended for saying this. They made a big issue out of Craig up there, but I used the same quotes when I was training Unbridled. Horatio Luro said never squeeze the lemon dry; you cannot squeeze that lemon dry every trip without damaging that lemon. And you don’t take a horse over there (to the track) and just say, “I’m not gonna win with him today,” but you take him over there and you say, “This horse is ready, but he may not be tight enough. Just get the horse to do things right, relax, and if he can get there, get there.”
But you know, you don’t go out there and crank one down in :59 every time he’s gonna run, get him sharp as you can, because you can only hold that edge so long. A football team builds all year. So do horses. They’re athletes, And you’ve got to tune them like athletes.
I think a horse should be developed. You’ve got to let the horse develop himself. I think that Shug McGaughey is the greatest at sitting there (waiting for the horse to develop and tell you he’s ready), and his horse don’t make mistakes.