LQHBA Insider - By Martha Claussen June  20, 2024


The first 2-year-old schooling races of the year in Louisiana will take place on Friday, February 12 at Louisiana Downs. The racetrack will conduct 220-yard heats for 2-year-olds who are paid into the Mardi Gras Futurity (RG2). The unanimous sentiment from trainers is that these races are an essential building block in preparing horses for their racing debut.

Jimmy Cordell has served as the starter at Louisiana Downs for 15 years after working as an assistant starter at several racetracks including Fair Grounds, Sam Houston Race Park and Oaklawn Park. While no two horses are the same, Cordell explains that there are several important steps involved as the year gets underway.

"It all starts with morning work," explained Cordell. "Beginning in the second week of the season, we offered 220 yard works out of the gate. Some horses had done their early training on a farm and others right here on the racetrack. Running fast is what comes naturally but adjusting to a starting gate and running against multiple horses requires practice."

Thatís where Cordell and his assistant starters play a pivotal role.

"We try to get them to relax; first by hand opening the starting gate; several times if need be," he said. "Once they are more comfortable with that process, the load, standing in the gate, hearing the bell and the break from the gate is added."

"The bell has little to do with it," according to Cordell. "Itís the movement in the gates and of horses beside them that can be unsettling."

In his tenure at Louisiana Downs, its hard to come up with a total number of Quarter Horses who have entered the starting gate under his watchful eye. He has seen his share of troublemakers over the years, but did not hesitate when asked if there was one standout he remembered in schooling races.

"One horse that comes to mind is Tf Shez Jess Dashin," he replied. "You could just tell that she was all business and total class."

Ned Goutierrez,III trains the filly by Sir Runaway Dash who began her career two years ago with a win in her trial for the Mardi Gras Futurity and victory in the Lassie Futurity (RG1) at Delta Downs. He was not surprised to hear that Cordell remembered that.

"Stevie Gillum worked her and told me right away that she was special," said Goutierrez. "She was super-fast, but her success as a 2-year-old came once she learned to relax."

Goutierrez worked the gates prior to training and added his insight.

"Thereís no tension during morning works," he said. "But come race time, there is way more noise than in the morning and a stricter schedule. The stress affects the people handling horses and they can feel it."

His experience as a member of the starting gate crew has been a plus for Goutierrez as a trainer. He has nine horses paid into this yearís Mardi Gras Futurity.

"You have to know which of your horses need more attention," he added. "Some are calm, but the nervous ones need additional time and schooling races can really help."

Trey Ellis won both the Delta Downs and Evangeline Downs training titles last year and he has respect for Cordell and his crew.

"When you are breaking babies, itís all speed," stated Ellis. "As you prepare them for racing, you have to get them focused and relaxed when it comes to entering the starting gate."

He shares that most horsemen will know early on which horses have some behavior issues and will need more schooling than others.

"Jimmy and his assistants do a really good job, but when I know I have a difficult horse, I will call or text Jimmy that morning," added Ellis. "Every bit of the experience matters. The walk to the saddling paddock, breaking from the gate and dealing with the noise all play a part. You know right away which of your horses have talent and which ones will need more work."

This is an exciting time of the year for 2-year-olds and their connections at Louisiana Downs as they prepare for the first "official futurity" of the year. Schooling races for the $100,000-added Mardi Gras Futurity (RG2) will take place on February 12, followed by trials on March 6 and the final set for Saturday, March 27.

Louisiana Downs will also offer schooling races for the $75,000-added Harrahís Futurity on February 19, with trials set for March 13 and the final on April 3.

The hours of training and experience of schooling races will, no doubt, reward the connections of these 2-year-olds at Louisiana Downs and throughout the 2021 racing year!

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The LQHBA Insider is a monthly feature written by Martha Claussen for www.lqhba.com. She served as publicity director at Sam Houston Race Park for ten years. She continues to be active in writing, fan education and Quarter Horse racing publicity in Texas, Louisiana and other regions in North America.