Barn Notes 1/24/24

Oaklawn reopened for traditional training Wednesday morning after arctic temperatures, snow and rain had closed the track since Jan. 14.

The 11-day break – the track initially shuttered for training Jan. 13 because of freezing temperatures – triggered a massive surge in activity at the Equicizer, Oaklawn’s enclosed round pen/ceiling-mounted mechanical horse walker located in the barn area, just south of the 6-furlong chute.

Paul Holthus said Tuesday morning that volume has been approximately four times higher, with around 150 horses daily using the Equicizer. Holthus, a retired trainer, books appointments and runs the Equicizer, which opened for the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting.

Demand has been so great that the Equicizer’s normal hours of operation – 5:30 a.m.-9:30 a.m. (Central) – were expanded to 4:45 a.m.-1 p.m., Holthus said. Horses have made more than 1,500 trips to the Equicizer over the last nine days.

“Normally, we’ll have 30-40 on it during a day, under normal circumstances, a quiet, leisurely morning,” Holthus said. “Right now, we’ve been busting our butts for eight hours straight.”

The Equicizer can accommodate eight horses. Holthus calibrates the machine’s speed, with normal sessions lasting 11 ½ minutes. Horses in the rotating gates cover 2 miles during that span, Holthus said, adding the Equicizer’s circumference is a little over 100 feet.

“We have eight coming on and eight coming off every 20 minutes,” Holthus said. “You want them to jog, not gallop. High as you can get them going without breaking into that gallop.”

Holthus said the Equicizer is more than just a bad-weather outlet. Trainers, for example, can use it instead of taking a horse back to the track for the first time after a race to jog. A horse that is a tick off physically, Holthus said, might be better suited for a “couple of days of light training” on the Equicizer.

“Remember how we used to pony a lot of horses?” Holthus said. “This, in my eyes, is similar to when you used to pony one. You send them down here now to jog them.”

Among the trainers who use Oaklawn’s equicizer are Hall of Famers D. Wayne Lukas and Steve Asmussen and Ron Moquett.

“If we want to lightly train a horse, we can keep the weight off of them,” Moquett said Tuesday morning. “If you have a rider not show up or something, you’re always able to get a horse some exercise. It’s a safe alternative to shed rowing and/or walking when the weather’s going on because they’ve got this energy. They’re fit athletes and they don’t understand why they’re not getting to go to the track. So, mentally, it’s good. Physically, it’s good. It’s not to replace every other training (method), but it’s definitely a tool that you can use with other stuff.”

There is a $10 per-horse fee to use the Equicizer, with all proceeds going to the Arkansas Thoroughbred Retirement Program and Rehabilitation Foundation. The foundation is a collaboration between the Arkansas division of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and Oaklawn. Oaklawn’s equicizer was manufactured by German-based Kraft Company, which has a branch near Lexington, Ky., the country’s Thoroughbred capital. Kraft has served several top Lexington-area farms, according to its website.

“The HBPA bought it and paid for the machine,” Holthus said. “Every dime this thing raises goes toward Thoroughbred aftercare.”

Holthus is the son of the late Bob Holthus, a nine-time Oaklawn training champion. Paul Holthus retired from training in May 2022.

Finish Lines

Oaklawn’s $250,000 G3-Bayakoa Stakes for older fillies and mares closed Jan. 20 with 31 nominations. The 1 1/16-mile race is Feb. 2, a day earlier than originally scheduled after harsh winter weather disrupted racing and training and led Oaklawn to revise its stakes schedule. … Bayakoa nominee Misty Veil recently returned to trainer Mike Maker’s Oaklawn barn after selling for $210,000 at Keeneland’s January Horses of All Ages Sale. Misty Veil, who was entered as racing or broodmare prospect, sold Jan. 10, four days after winning Oaklawn’s $150,000 Pippin Stakes for older females at 1 1/16 miles. She was purchased by Resolute Bloodstock. … Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel is scheduled to have his first mount this season at Oaklawn in Sunday’s seventh race, a starter-allowance sprint for older fillies and mares. Borel is named on Izeonpoint for trainer Renay Borel, the jockey’s wife. Izeonpoint exits a Dec. 29 victory at Oaklawn, the 4,000th in the North American career of jockey Luis Quinonez. Borel was Oaklawn’s leading rider in 1995 and 2001 and has 977 career victories to rank third in Oaklawn history. Borel is based this winter at Delta Downs in Louisiana.