Kerry Thomas had identified Thunder Snow's vulnerabilities

May 9th, 2017

Continued from Part I, "So what happened with Thunder Snow?"

My discussion of Thunder Snow’s high level of form is typical of much pre-Derby analysis: the arguments revolve around the physical dimension of performance.

But the mental side of the game is another prerequisite, which we often don’t get enough of a reading on, unless the horse in question has really transparent problems. And even then it might not be on point.

Equine behavior expert Kerry Thomas, the founder of THT Bloodstock, fills this important gap in knowledge. With his eye for the subtle cues, Thomas had zeroed in on the fact that Thunder Snow probably wasn’t going to be mentally ready for the challenge of the Derby.

Thomas has pioneered “emotional conformation profiling,” whereby he discerns how the horse functions as part of the “herd dynamic.” On the basis of these insights, THT Bloodstock assesses the potential of equine athletes for its clients.

Thomas, and his THT colleague Pete Denk, also evaluate the Derby hopefuls according to these principles. The THT “Patterns of Motion Analysis,” available via prior to the Derby, sums up their approach:

“In essence, the mental capacity of the equine controls the physical output of the athlete.”

Elite contenders can be distinguished by “The Big 3: natural tendencies, sensory soundness, physical ability. Handicapping with the Herd Dynamics is all about getting a picture of inclination and stress management.”

Since Derby horses by definition have the physical ability, their natural tendencies and sensory soundness emerge as the decisive factors:

“Natural tendencies are vital,” cannot be taught or erased, and play an “essential role in processing emotional stress…Tendencies can anchor the horse under stress or free them forward through the herd, through the jumbled mess…

“Athletic tendencies without sensory soundness to support them are good tendencies with no room to move. The sensory system is the horse’s surveillance system, the info-superhighway from the environment to the psyche, from the psyche to the body; an action or reaction, offense or defense, kind of thing. The sensory system feeds the psychology information, the psychology determines and processes, the body reacts (or not), the natural tendencies give direction to the inception of motion.

“In short, the sensory system, like a blocker in football, clears the path for the body to flow through; the tendencies determine the manner and direction of the physical energy of the body. It’s about emotional energy distribution; it’s cooperative teamwork. The herd dynamically sound, elite horse, has no or few potholes in this sequence, thus manages and processes emotional stress without the aid of the environment, including other horses.”

Thunder Snow had a few glitches in this sequence, so the THT report ranked him near the bottom of the Derby field, 19th of 22 (including the also-eligibles).

Thomas offered the following pre-race verdict:

“There are times when he is a little out of synchronicity, mind to body, and he can at such times struggle to get connection and drive into space…

“Floating through the transitions [i.e., those times when his mind and body appear disconnected] compromises optimal physical efficiency regardless of how physically talented a horse is…

“These little potholes in the Herd Dynamic sequence make Thunder Snow vulnerable to high level Herd Dynamic horses, especially those with strong, sustainable IHD [Individual Herd Dynamic] drives. He is a fine upper Herd Dynamic horse with solid physical talent, there is no denying that, but things will be different than the usual in the Kentucky Derby, and I am fearful in this case that the physical ability will trump the mental agility; he can run a nice physical effort, but up against some of the aggressive U.S. competitors he may come up a bit short.”

So now that his prognostication was verified before they’d hardly gone more than a handful of strides, I asked Thomas for a follow-up view:

“Of course I can only surmise from what I see studying video footage because we are not intimately acquainted with the horse, but from what I was able to ascertain, Thunder Snow had, in my opinion, some well-hidden secrets in his psychology. These were rooted in what I call his ‘sensory lead changes’ [the process of transferring and interpreting stimuli in an efficient manner]…

“The reason we ranked him where we did on the herd dynamic scale in the Derby field was because we felt there was going to be a cap on his ability to filter the stress of the environment, the build-up leading to the gates being opened.

“When there is a pothole anywhere in the tendency-sensory equation, the filtering of stress is compromised and the release valve of all the internalized pressure comes out the body in some expression. When in motion the filtering is less notable, and I felt that these otherwise small sticking areas where interpretation and environmental filtering take place in Thunder Snow, an obviously very capable athlete, were going to be a lot to manage…

“The Kentucky Derby experience is far more than just the race as we all know, and there are certain naturally occurring tendencies and sensory efficiencies that a horse must have in order to elevate and be able to optimize their physical ability. This is what we look for when evaluating the field each year and of course what we look for when scouting talent for clients.

“Physical aside, the root of all evils and the root of all hope, can be found within the psychological athlete. When the playing field is pretty even, and the athletes all extremely capable physically, the differences then can be found in the other areas of the horse.

“Stress management, dependent upon an efficient sensory system and athletic tendencies, is the inherent golden key.”

Because this is a highly individual trait, Thunder Snow’s weaknesses in this regard can’t be taken as a cudgel to beat future international runners in the Derby. Indeed, our American-based competitors vary across the spectrum in their capacity as well.

You can still get a copy of the 2017 THT Derby report by requesting one from the THT Bloodstock website,

And make an early reminder for Kentucky Derby 2018: check out the THT “Patterns of Motion” analysis on Brisnet!