Barrel racing is a timed event, but as quick study of an Interval Timing Report shows, the less time you spend in the turns, the faster your run will be
Karen Little’s winning run aboard Shezagoldendash at the 2008 World Barrel Racing Production’s Barrelnanza didn’t look as fast as it was. Neither did Sherry Cervi’s second-place run aboard PC Frenchmans Hayday (“Dinero”). But both runs were very smooth, with little hesitation, or “hang ups,” in the turns.
By Tanya Randall
Perhaps the difference was the ground, with Little running first in a drag just 10 before a big drag and Cervi running third just 23 behind a big drag. Or maybe it was simply Cervi had trimmed Dinero’s muzzle whiskers?
Their runs of 15.120 and 15.127 were only thousands of a second apart, but Jerry and Diane Kendrick’s Interval Timing USA shows just how different the runs were. Using strategically placed timers, interval timing breaks down a run into segments.
“It breaks your run down into segments so you know exactly where you’re losing time and gaining time by giving you all your straight-aways and all your corners,” Diane Kendrick says. “But it also gives your total time in turns. Say you have dynamite first and second barrels, but slip at the third. You could still have the faster total turns than the winning horse.
“Turns are everything,” she says. “You can ride the fastest horse in the world, but if he can’t turn, it doesn’t do you any good.”
Here, we take a look at the interval times of the Top 10 finishers at Barrelnanza, held November 2008 at the Heart of Texas Coliseum in Waco, Texas. There’s only a difference of .176 seconds from first to tenth, but it’s clear at this race that racehorse speed is no match for quick turns.
Shezagoldendash out turned the competition by a country mile. The un-raced 9-year-old daughter of Sour Mash Dash and out of Hustler Golden On, by Smashed Hustler, spent just 4.501 in her turns. She had the fastest first and second barrel, 1.599 and 1.501, respectively, and the second-fastest third barrel, 1.401.
The mare really gets into the ground in her turns and uses her hindquarters. Little drives her up into the turns as far as she can to keep her momentum going for a snappy backside. At their second barrel on this run, she snapped back hard enough to rock the barrel a little.
The closest thing to Shezagoldendash was Cindy Wheeler and Recent Release (“RR”). They spent 4.850 in the turns and 10.369 in the straights. RR turned the fastest third barrel of the top 10, clocking 1.24.
“That’s so funny because it used to be my problem barrel with all my horses,” Wheeler laughed. “Both of my horses would do it, so I know it was me.”
Wheeler tried looking at the ground instead of the barrel, but it wasn’t enough. She found that looking between her horse’s ears helped her stay in position.
“He’s got so much feel and is so cued into me that if I make the slightest move, he’s stepping in just a little going in and has no choice but to step out coming off,” she says. “It’s not that big of a mistake, but when you’re talking hundredths of a second, it is. I tried not looking at the barrel and looking at the ground, but what I found works for me is to look between his ears. When I get to my spot and see the barrel in my peripheral vision, I sit and melt and look at his outside ear. Just that little bit helps me hold my position.
“I really worked on that,” she says. “Where you look is where your horse goes.”
RR, an 11-year-old gelding by Light On Cash and out of Parr Pas, by Citation Bars, ran on the track and earned an 87 speed index at 350 yards. He was trained to run barrels by Women’s Professional Rodeo Association World Champion Carol Goostree.
Wheeler described his turning style as “very correct.”
“He motors on all four around a barrel,” she said. “He’s always grabbing for ground and pushing with his hind end. He never drops his shoulders. He’s just very correct.”
No one will be surprised that Kenna Squire’s Fire And Flit (“Little Bit”) gets classified in the turner category. The 9-year-old gelding is by Fire Water Flit and out of My Easter Flame by Flaming Jet after all.
“I have to ride him every step of the way,” Squires says. “I about caught the second barrel on that run.”
Squires holds to the straighter-longer philosophy of approaching and starting her turns.
“My deal is I want a horse to run as far into a turn as they can, and then stick it,” Squires says. “I think it makes for a better faster turn.”
The slowest portion of their run was between the second and third barrel, but their turn and run home was among the fastest five.
“He has a tendency not to be very free going to the third,” she says with a laugh. “It’s like he leaves the second thinking about turning the third. Like he thinks it’s the very next jump!”
She was surprised to learn that he was one of the faster horses on the run home. She conceded that it was possible that the lack of speed to the third meant that Little Bit didn’t have to slow down as much for the turn, and since he was able to carry that momentum through to turn he was able to hit full speed sooner than the rest of the field.
All in the Family
Dinero, another barrel-bred cross of working and running blood, made a super run at Barrelnanza. Among the top 10 horses, he was about mid-pack among the turners and the burners, and as a “barrel bred,” that’s exactly what he was supposed to do — have both the run and the turn.
“I thought he made good run,” Sherry Cervi says laughing. “He really turned well and was really running. If anything, he probably needed to stick his nose out a little more!”
Her run aboard his daughter, MP Meter My Hay (“Stingray”), was just .013 seconds slower.
“I thought she made a good run too,” the two-time WPRA World Champion says. “She tends to get bogged down when the ground gets deep. I feel like she wasn’t as snappy in her turns because the ground got a little deep for her.”
There’s no denying that Stingray is fast. She was the third fastest horse in the straights, spending just 9.97 seconds between the barrels and on the run home. Stingray was the fastest horse between the first and second barrel.
Although naysayers have often criticized Dinero for his lack of speed, it wasn’t showing in Waco. He was right behind Stingray on the straight speed with 10.085.
“They’re all pretty gritty horses,” Cervi says. “We think that Dinero’s colts get that grittiness from him, and they can all run.”
While most of his colts are out of speed-bred mares, many are more foundation run than the current rulers of the racetrack. Stingray, a 7-year-old mare that Sherry’s parents bred and raised, is out of Miss Meter Jet, by Bar Tonto Jet.
Jymmy Kay Davis’ Fuzzy Talk, an 8-year-old mare, by Straight Talker and out of Queen Size Bed, by Beduino (TB), was the fleetest of foot. On the track, Fuzzy earned her 92 speed index at 250 yards. Not surprisingly, she had the fastest cumulative time in the straights—9.767.
Fuzzy clocked 1.238 (22.03 miles per hour) for the fastest run to the first. She was the second fastest between the first and second with a 2.434 (23.81 mph). She had the third fastest trip to the third, 2.877 (20.14 mph). Fuzzy had the second fastest trip home, 3.218 (27.54 mph).
Libby Swenson’s Friscos Col George (“Tonka”) lit the pattern up in the straights, too, clocking 9.927. Apparently he didn’t read his pedigree. Tonka, a 9-year-old gelding, is by Jose Bar Siesta (Colonel Remington out of a Gay Bar King daughter) and out of Friscos Royal Lady, by King Frisco and out of a Gay Bar King daughter.
You have to go back to the third generation to Gay Bar King, a son of Three Bars and out of a daughter of King, to find a horse with a speed index. Gay Bar King’s was 75. You have to go back to the fourth generation to find a horse with a register of merit, which takes a speed index over 80.
“He’s pretty quick,” Swenson says. “He usually clocks the fastest going to the first and third barrels. His third barrel is his money barrel.”
At Waco, Tonka was the second fastest going the first, fifth fastest between the first and second, fastest to the third barrel, 2.708 (21.49 mph), and ninth fastest coming home.
“He could have been a little snappier in his turns,” says Swenson, who was six months pregnant at the time of her run. “He was a little sluggish on the backside of the second barrel.”
Swenson got Tonka as a yearling. He was used on the ranch until he was 5, when he started his barrel training. She says Tonka, who is more wide than tall, is a tail dropper when it comes to turning style.
“He really drops down and gets to the back side and snaps around a turn,” she says. “When it’s time to finish that turn, hold on because it’s going to be there.”
Swenson’s used timing reports in the past to improve her runs.
“I think they’re really handy,” she says. “I’ve gotten reports in the past and found where I need to improve, and it’s nice to know where he’s rocking and rolling.”
She also noted when it comes to barrel racing, the speed between them isn’t near as important as the turns.
“If you have three awesome turns, you don’t have to have near the horse if you have one with a lot of athletic ability in the turns,” she says.
A faster horse between the barrels may have to slow down more to have a fast turn, while a horse that’s a little slower won’t have to slow down as much. Lower speed heading into each transition generally makes for a smoother, faster run.
Brittany Pharr’s French Covergirl (“Cosmo”) had the fastest run home, 3.181. The 4-year-old daughter of Saintly Fellow, a Frenchmans Guy son and out of American Proof, by Extra Proof, covered the straights in 10.085. Pharr’s always admitted that Cosmo is one of the fastest horses that she’s ever ridden, and Cosmo’s speed is a fast, quick speed to boot.
The slowest horse in the top 10 runners was Little’s Shezagoldendash with a straight time of 10.619. In fact, all of the top five horses were slower than Fuzzy and Cosmo.
How it Helps You
After years of watching runs and manning the computers, Kendrick says it’s clear that smoother is always faster.
“Generally, the winning horses look just effortless,” she says. “The reason they do is because they’re so smooth.”
And that’s the goal behind the common saying, “You have to slow down to go faster,” because slower sometimes equals smoother.
“Every time you move your hand or move in the saddle, it costs you time,” Kendrick says. “If your hands move enough that a horse’s head comes up, you’ve lost valuable time. If your hands move soft and smooth, your horse works the same way.”
Her advice is to relax, have fun and take each run an interval at a time.
“Don’t try to change the world in one day,” she says. “Take one segment at a time. Take your slowest segment and try to improve it. Generally, when you improve that one, it sets the other ones up to be better.”
About the Kendricks
Interval Timing USA was created by Jerry Kendrick for his wife, Diane, a professional barrel racer and trainer. Jerry, a self-professed geek, has been working with computers for the past 30 years. He started KCI Arena Management Software about 12 years ago.
Arena Management Software comprises several programs that encompass the computer needs for all sorts of equine sports. It tracks everything from entries and stalls to payouts and results.
Jerry has also designed software for other agriculture entities. Basically, if you need a computer program, he’ll figure out how to design you one.
The couple is based out of their ranch near Omak, Wash., during the summer, but can be found at barrel racing events across the southern half of the country during the winter months
Tanya Randall is an avid barrel racer and regular contributor who resides in California with her husband, Matt, and young son, Colton. E-mail comments on this article to