Jérôme Reynier is one of the first and most loyal users of EQUIMETRE in France. After a breathtaking victory of his horse Skalleti, Jérôme Reynier agreed to come back with us on the history of this horse, his training, his daily challenges. The trainer, from Marseille, also shared some of the EQUIMETRE analysis methods he used to monitor his performance on a daily basis at the Calas training center.
Arioneo: Hello Jérome, first of all, congratulations for Skalleti’s victory in the prix Exbury! How did you feel about this race and how do you analyze his performance?
Jérome: Skalleti is a 6 year old horse with whom we have come a long way. He started at Nîmes where he showed good means. As a young horse, he was quite complicated, so we took our time at the beginning of his career by giving him easy tasks for which he always responded well. Winning his first three races convinced us to take him out into the open and test him in a Listed race. That day, during the Grand Prix de la Riviera at Cagnes-sur-Mer, everything went wrong. First while we were walking him, a horse was let loose and got on his nerves. He was then very anxious at the parade ring and his test canter was not optimal. In the starting stalls, he completely lost his patience, during the race he pulled and ruined his chances. But despite that, even if he had done it all wrong, even if he had not been able to oxygenate himself during his run, I had never a horse finish with such action. I was very impressed with his final strides.
After this experience, we had to reassure him and to start all over again. Fortunately, the horse fully proved us right as he won a condition race at Chantilly and then confirmed at Longchamp with a great performance while he had unshod a foreleg! After that, the 4-year-old gelding
won the Grand Prix de Marseilles Vivaux, then the Prix Jacques de Brémont, the Prix Quincé, the Prix Dollar and he won the Prix de Roma in Rome to finish the year. All this with a month and a half gap between each race to make sure he came down in pressure before gently bringing him back up.
In 2020, when he was 5 years old, as we all know the year had its difficulties and lockdown kept him from racing for more than 6 months. Skalleti came back on shorter distances because we knew he was going to be very fast and that’s what he showed on day 1. But his comeback race was nevertheless very complicated despite the fact that he was quite calm before the race. Indeed, when the stalls opened and he was on the turf, he wanted to take it on too fast. Pierre-Charles chose to respect him and only pushed to the finish line. Skalleti had pulled and consumed a lot of energy during the race, but still finished by moving forward to make a beautiful straight line. We knew that the day we would be able to have him relaxed, he was going to be a completely different horse and that’s what he showed by winning the Prix Gontaut-Biron, in front of Scottsass after which he won again with the Quatar Prix Dollar. We attempted the adventure in England, in the Champions Stakes, and he did very well by taking a second place.
Then we got a bit carried away, we wanted to try the adventure in Hong Kong and it’s true that we relived the Cagnes-sur-Mer disaster over again. We had a 30 minute truck ride before the race and we lost him, he was very annoyed and anxious. The parade ring is impressive in Sha Tin. The track was very firm, and he missed his start. We came across a very slow-paced edition run so he pulled and, at that level, it doesn’t forgive… He was not able to deliver his full value and his finish was quite disappointing. Unfortunately, it was not a good experience, neither from a sporting point of view, nor from a human point of view because the conditions were so particular. It was just one of those things we immediately wanted to forget about for Skalleti! Yet, it remains in our memories, but he reassured us yesterday by proving that he had already forgotten about it by getting back to the Skalleti we all know!
A: What a career! His stress seems to be a pretty key factor, fundamental to his performance. How do you deal with his nervousness on a daily basis? What are your biggest training challenges?
J: He was much more stressed when he was younger. I had to set up a certain routine that was not to be broken. He has his own walking ring. We have three walking rings we use before we go up to the gallop and it was imperative that he had his own or he would get upset. It was also crucial that he went out on the track amongst the first as seeing other horse going out before would unsettle him. So, we always did everything to help him keep calm in this routine which suited him very well. As he got older, he became calmer. Today Skalleti is able to go out on the track at any time without causing any trouble. He can also walk with others on the same ring despite he doesn’t necessarily like it very much, but he manages to control himself better than before. As he became more manageable, I wasn’t too worried about his comeback race on 2000m (10f) when he turned 6. We feel that he has matured and actually behaved very well yesterday. Thanks to Arioneo, we notices he’s like a metronome. He always has the same stride length and recovery. He manages to give very similar training data. As the months and years pass, he remains the same Skalleti which gives us confidence to return racing, despite a few inactive months including a very much needed spelling period after Hong Kong. You can really see it in the data: we prepare the horse with great regularity, no quick work, just maintenance gallops which remain nevertheless quite thorough. And after three or four months of inactivity, he comes back and be THE Skalleti we know.
A: A real metronome that needs consistency. So you use EQUIMETRE data to confirm your feeling about his regularity, especially when you have a deadline in mind. Can you describe his data on a typical training session and explain how you organize the data collection for Skalleti?
J: We have different tracks on the Calas training center. On Saturdays, like the workout of March 6 prior the Exbury, it’s a very selective and interesting track we use. The effort is made on a false flat. To have a comparison, I use the same track to have the same references. As we are on a sand track, depending on the weather, the depth of the sand varies a little bit and I know that the conditions aren’t exactly the same as we aren’t on a flat and very fast track but rather quite deep and uphill.. We rarely go over 60 km/h (37,2 mph) but during these trainings he at almost a minute per kilometer over 600/800m (3/4f) which is enough to keep him in shape and maintain him over the weeks. We increase the intensity gently over the weeks. When he reaches an excellent recovery, being a heart rate bellow 100 BPM 15 minutes after the main exercise, and we see the horse is rising with his gallops physically and mentally, we are reassured.
A: Indeed, here his recovery data is excellent, he reaches 218 BPM, his max HR (Maximum Heart Rate) at the same time as his peak speed. And as soon as he starts to decelerate, we see immediately that his HR drops at the same time. At the very moment he comes down back to walk, he is almost back below 100 BPM. This is really the recovery of a group horse. I also notice that often his recovery at 15 minutes is less impressive, how do you explain it?
J: Yes, it’s actually an environmental issue. When he finishes his work, he’s still in the context of the training track, he doesn’t come right back to the stable as It’s a long walk back. When he’s walking and he sees the other horses going through the gallops, it can put pressure on him and he doesn’t really let himself go until he’s back in his walking ring. He stays pretty much on alert after his gallops and until he’s back at the stable and knows he’s going back to his stall.
A: Comparing the data with your feeling on the ground is always the most interesting part of the data analysis. Indeed, we can see that as soon as he arrives at his stall, the heart rate drops and he immediately returns to 50 BPM, his resting heart rate. If you look at a longitudinal analysis of his data, his “metronome side” is obvious! Can you comment on this?
J: His rider knows him by heart, it is always the same rider who rides him. We have a very specific training routine with him. The rider really has a clock in his head, because he knows his horse. He asks him to repeat the same training, continuously, when we test him. It is certain that I do not put EQUIMETRE on him to do small canters or hack canters, it does not bring me much for a horse like him. On the contrary, for the two-year-olds, I test the progression on small canters at 45-50km/h (28-31mph). But here, we have a horse with an optimal level of fitness and it’s only by pushing him further in the red that we can test him to see how much he has recovered. It is true that his rider is clever enough to be able to repeat the same training continuously to have comparable data on which we can refer. Comparatively, it’s quite exceptional to find that consistency over weeks, months and years.
A: His consistency is indeed impressive! For example, we see the trainings of March 6, 2021 and March 7, 2020 are exactly the same, they render word for word, it’s extraordinary. The best times are exactly the same
J: This year we were preparing him for the Exbury. Last year we were preparing him for the Prix de l’Edmont Blanc, over 1600m (the mile), but unfortunately with the lockdown we couldn’t run which was quite frustrating because we thought we had the horse pretty much ready. I was afraid that the 2000m (10f) at 5 years old would be too long and so I wanted to make sure he wouldn’t pull for his comeback. The prize was to be run just after the start of the lockdown so unfortunately, we couldn’t run him. We thus waited a little more to have group races on 1600m (the mile) in June.
A: That’s a shame. The interest of keeping records of training sessions is that you have a photo of the data at a given moment establishing the horse’s fitness that you can correlate with the results of the following race. The March 6, 2021 training data gave the performances we know on the Exbury race and hence the target data for all the next races in these conditions. You know the data your metronome needs to attain to achieve racing results.
J: Oh yes, absolutely. It’s definitely a training value that we can rely on especially since some of the parameters have changed. We changed his shoeing; he went from nailed shoes to glued shoes. We saw for example that there was a small loss of stride length between 2020 and 2021 but that’s normal, he is getting a little older and he doesn’t have the elasticity he used to have. However, he manages to compensate and keeps his performance level.
A: We can see that comparing his maximum stride lengths he has lost 10 cm (3,93 inches) since last year but it is not necessarily a problem because he compensates it by increasing his stride frequency. After such a race, how do you balance his training? How do you organize your trainings, between races, to ensure an optimal recovery and get back to a good fitness level?
J: Most horses race about once a month which leaves time for a week or ten days of deep recovery. I usually keep them on trotting and cantering sessions until they want to get back to work. As long as they haven’t recovered by themselves, we wait for the gallops. Training is usually resumed within one week or ten days later, depending on the horses. For Skalleti, who has the target Prix Ganay race on May 2, we have one month and a half. We can thus enjoy two whole quiet weeks of recovery. However, I know that he will very quickly have an energy accumulation and will ask to go back to galloping. By listening to him, we’ll take him slowly back. To conclude, I really rely on what the horse tells me, his mindset, his physical condition and his stride quality to indicate the need to go back to more intensive work. He will then do two strong gallops per week. On Wednesdays and Saturdays. On Saturdays, I like to equip him with Arioneo’s Equimetre to have data to support his rider’s opinion and of my gut as I am starting to know him quite well since I’ve been observing him for several years now. It is very useful to be able to refer to figures and confirm what we think of the horse.