Your OTTB's First Career: Part 1
Posted on October 10 2017
We are delighted to have Chris Campitelli as our guest answering your backside related questions! Due to your overwhelming response in questions for Chris, and his informative answers, this will be a two part entry.
Julie: Chris tell us a little about your background in racing, college, and what you are doing now.
Chris: I was born in Baltimore, MD and pretty much raised on the race track. I was in my first win photo when I was two weeks old. My mom grew up on a farm outside a small town in central Wisconsin named Anitgo (the same home town as famous trainer D Wayne Lukas who learned a lot about the horses from my grandfather). She has three brothers, all of whom are trainers at Penn National Racecourse near Harrisburg, PA, and two sisters, one who has a ranch in Ocala, FL, where they buy young horses, break them (teach them to be ridden), and resell them at auctions around the country (this practice is called Pinhooking). My dad is a first generation horseman. They met on the track, got married, and together run a training operation based out of Laurel, MD.
I have helped out around the barn since the time I could be put on the end of a lead rope, grooming and walking horses during the summer, on the weekends, and before I would go to school in the morning. After high school I attended Cornell University in Ithaca, NY where I got my Bachelors of Science degree in Animal Science. During my time at Cornell I was able take a variety of classes on horses, in addition to some business courses, and even got the opportunity to TA some equine classes at the Cornell Vet School and large animal hospital.
After college I returned to Maryland in order to help my parents with their operation rather than going to work for a bigger outfit at a track away from home. During the summer, when I was attending college, I would work as an Assistant Starter on the starting gate in MD. After graduating I continued to work on the gate while helping my parents at the barn too. Working on the gate has given me a great opportunity to work with a number of very experienced hands. My goal is to eventually train horses like my parents and working on the gate has taught me many invaluable lessons. (#1 Lesson: No matter how much you think you know, there will always be a horse that comes along and proves that you haven’t seen it all)
While helping my parents with their operation, we began training a horse who was a very bad bleeder. EIPH or bleeding occurs when the capillaries (small blood vessels) in the lungs burst and blood seeps into the lungs and respiratory system during intense exercise or racing. This clearly inhibits performance and is not healthy or sustainable for horses that race. So I began looking for something to help our horse heal her lungs and prevent EIPH from occurring. I found an herbal product called NB 50-30 manufactured by Ron Fields Nutrition in the UK. Mr. Fields sent me some samples and the results were fantastic. The horse went on to win multiple races and enjoyed a fine career without bleeding. Since then I have begun to distribute NB 50-30 and a few other equine products offered by Ron Fields. They include; Remount, a liver cleansing supplement, UlcerEx, a product to help cure and prevent ulcers in the fore and hind gut of the equine digestive system, and Silent, a calming supplement for horses. Ron Fields also carries all natural botanical products for many other animals, including dogs and cats, which I will begin distributing this year.
Julie: Do you feel TBs have to be born with the desire to race, or can the desire be trained?
Chris: Horses in the wild are animals of prey. They are born to run and their bodies have evolved to accommodate such behavior. Having the desire to race is another matter. In picking out race horses at auction you take into account many things including bone and muscle structure, natural gait, and general disposition. There is however one trait that you cannot account for, that is their willingness and desire to race. Some horses are naturally faster than others but sometimes they are not always the ones to win the race. Many times it is the size of a horse’s “heart” that determines how good of a race horse they become. For the most part, all a trainer can do is to keep his or her horse healthy, happy, and have them in good athletic shape. There are certain techniques and strategies used by trainers to make horses better runners and more likely to win races, but ultimately if a horse doesn’t want to do something, they won’t.
Julie: How do you prepare them for the commotion, noise, crowds, etc. that they will experience come race day?
Chris: Some horses are naturally more rambunctious and prone to spook from noise, crowds, etc.: for others, nothing fazes them. Sometimes, especially for the really good horses in big races and for those that the trainers know are predisposed to acting a little crazy, a trainer will school a horse in the days leading up to race day. This could involve walking around the paddock during morning training or walking over from the barn area during the races and touring the paddock filled with people and horses. This helps horses to get familiar with their surroundings especially if the race is at a track the horse isn’t used to.
Julie: What techniques are used to “control” a hyped up racehorse on race day?
Chris: Sometimes horses are given calming supplements or vitamins on the day of the race to help them deal with the excitement of race day. If a horse is especially sensitive to loud noises, a trainer will put cotton in a horse’s ears to reduce the sensitivity to such noises. However, the best tool for controlling these hyped up horses on race day is the lead pony that accompanies each horse during the post parade. Horses are naturally herd animals and the presence of another horse close by often times serves as a security blanket for them. A good lead pony can be crucial in making sure a hyped up horse doesn’t expend too much energy before the race, leaving them dull when it comes time to run.
Julie: What is an average non-race day like on the backside?
Chris: The routine on a non-race day is much the same as any other day at the track as it pertains to the life of the horse. The day begins early for most horses, 4AM or sometimes earlier. Depending on if a trainer feeds twice a day or three times a day, a horse may get a small breakfast when the grooms arrive. Each day water buckets and feed tubs are pulled out of the stall and cleaned. Horses are brushed off, feet picked, and mane and tail brushed. If a horse is slated to train, the groom or exercise rider saddles the horse and it goes out to the track and trains. During that time the stall is cleaned and prepared with fresh bedding (usually straw or wood shavings). Following training, the horse returns to the barn where they get a bath on days when it is warm enough. After about a 20 minute cool down and walk around the shed row, their feet are cleaned and they are returned to the stall with fresh hay and water. After their legs dry, the horses are again brushed, groomed, and bandages or any special treatments are applied to the legs or other areas of need. At around 10AM the horses are fed lunch and their dinners are prepared. At around 3:30 or 4, a few employees return to give the stalls a brief cleaning, top off water buckets, and feed dinner. Obviously, this routine differs from trainer to trainer and sometimes horses are grazed, or turned out in a round pen for a bit.
**Didn't see your question answered? Stay tuned for Part 2 of this informative entry! In the meantime check out Chris Campitelli's page NB 50-30, or follow him on twitter at Campotres.
xoxo Julie and the Equestrianista Team