Stroll through Michael Matz’s shedrow and you’ll undoubtedly come across Iain Holmes. He’s the only hotwalker who speaks English fluently – which is what you would hope, since he comes from that side of the pond.
Holmes traveled to Saratoga via Boston from Los Angeles (also spent some time in Colorado), previously went to University in his native country, was a student at Harvard, had more success on the polo team there than he did in the classroom, got the job with Matz after playing polo with the trainer’s son, and has plunged headfirst into the wonderful world of racing – legwraps, icebaths, feed tubs, and all.
“Are you going to write that I have perfect hotwalking form?” he asks.
Then another question pops into his head: “Is there perfect form?”
Yes, Holmes. Hang on to the horse and don't let it get away.
“Hotwalking is easy – learning how to rake was the hard part. They don’t teach you those things at Harvard.”
Here is what most people may not know – Holmes may be a hotwalker today, but he will also be the trainer of the Kentucky Derby winner in 2015 (or somewhere around that date), if all goes according to plan. He’s hoping the current career will lead to bigger and better things.
Until then, he’s making a lot of left-hand turns.
At the end of the shank today is “Bella,” a 2-year-old who won’t run at Saratoga due to recently-detected issues with her ankles. On the starting roster for this afternoon is La Menina, a “really sweet horse who tries really hard and does as she’s told,” Holmes said. Race four, Edgar Prado in the saddle, if you’re looking for a tip this afternoon.
Hotwalking may be monotonous, but it gives the walker plenty of time to contemplate the fate of the universe, says Holmes. Under consideration this morning: how to chill water for ice baths.
“One theory I’ve developed while hotwalking is that salt added to the water in a cold water wrap would make the water at least three degrees colder,” he said. “The only problem is figuring out how to reverse the drying effect that salt has on the skin. And you have to figure out the different dynamics, such as how much ice and how much water and how big the bucket is, because all of those things contribute to how much colder the water would get.”
Matz’s Saratoga shedrow is quiet and maintaining a low profile at the meet. There’s no “big horse,” and the trainer is spending most of his time at Fair Hill, where Peter Brette remains with the rest of the stable. This morning, the horses tread their dirt circle uninterrupted, accompanied by Spanish grooms and perhaps one of a few hotwalking alumni in the history of Harvard.