Millie Ball: You currently train last year's California-bred Champion Three Year Old Turf Filly, Mucho Unusual, who appears to have come back in good form in 2020. How has she been training?
Tim Yakteen: She's very sharp right now. We've been really happy with her since the Buena Vista (Stakes) in February.
Millie: You were planning on running in the Grade 2 Royal Heroine but with the temporary cancellation of racing at Santa Anita how do you approach keeping a racehorse sharp for when racing resumes?
Tim: Without a target date to train toward, you have to stay in a holding pattern until you know when the race date is determined. This is unchartered territory for us trainers to a certain extent. In this case, trainers will lighten up on their horse's training. That means go easier on works, spread the works out, you are lifting your foot off the gas a little. Fortunately, in the case of Mucho Unusual, she's always been a very easy filly to train, very accommodating. Some horses are more willing than others to tolerate what's being asked of them right now. It's much harder to back off on a razor-sharp horse that's aggressive to train than one that's not. You want to keep them happy, keep them enjoying their training.
Millie: Mucho Unusual works consistently with company and on the main track at Santa Anita. Why?
Tim: I work the majority of my horses on the main track (at Santa Anita) and you'll see turf horses working in pairs more often than not. You can keep a horse more competitive when they have company and this helps to keep turf horses up against the bit, or in the bridle. Turf horses tend to be more comfortable when you have them collected and they can stay more balanced while running off your hand versus running free and off the rein. Whenever there's an opportunity to work Mucho Unusual on the turf, like Del Mar, I'll have her work on that and she travels much easier on grass so she goes by herself.
Millie: We see a large number of turf horses working on the training track at Santa Anita. What advantages can the training track provide?
Tim: Correct, a number of trainers at Santa Anita that have turf horses in their barn tend to work them on the training track. The belief is the training track surface may be a little bit tighter than the main track, turf horses are looking for ground that is tighter, more like a turf course and will be less comfortable on deeper tracks where the ground is breaking away from them. It's 'horses for courses'.
Millie: You had the fortune of working as an assistant to one of the greatest turf trainers of all time, Charlie Whittingham. What advice would Charlie have given you regarding training in the current climate?
Tim: He'd have said, "When it comes to campaigning horses, remember it's a long year with no turns..." meaning, have patience!
Tim Yakteen & Charlie Whittingham. Credit: Bob Benoit