|By Danny Hall
SATELLITE navigation system in our cars increasingly bear the responsibility for getting us more promptly from A to B.
But using GPS to help racehorses run faster?
That novel concept is being adopted in the historic racing village of Shrewton in Wiltshire and if recent results are anything to go by -- three winners in September alone at prices of 16-1, 10-1 and 9-1 -- then all trainers may be like Jeremy Naylor one day.
A trip to Dr Jeremy Naylor's 20-horse yard at Elston on the edge of Salisbury Plain is in many ways to journey back to Olde England.
The Wadworth Brewery dreys still trundle through the streets of nearby Devizes.
You'll bump into any number of horses and ponies on the roads. I even passed a sulky, that near relation of the carriage in which Rhett Butler might have wooed Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind.
Naylor's rural yard itself is steeped in history. It was from here in 1902 that Sceptre earned her place among the pantheon of great racechorses when she won four of the five British Classics for her infamous trainer Bob Sievier. Her box is now the study of a private house.
And yet, behind the gates of Naylor's Cleeve Stables, the centuries-old methods of training Flat and National Hunt racehorses have been turned on their head by the appliance of science.
When Naylor's horses go on to the gallops they are wired to heart-rate monitors which record how much effort they are putting into their work.
Radio signals from the work riders' wrist-watch receivers beam to satellites which plot how fast they are galloping.
A hidebound trainer of the old school might issue vague instructions to come up his gallops at 'half-speed' or a 'steady canter'; Naylor's directives tend to be more specific -- 'Go two furlongs at 31/32mph, quickening to 37/38 for the last three furlongs'.
Riders check their pace against the 'speedo' on their wrists.
Post-gallops, the data is downloaded from each watch to the trainer's laptop and a picture of how each horse coped with the work is recorded for posterity.
Naylor is the only trainer in the country using these methods. From just a dozen horses to run this Flat season he has sent out nine winners, a strike rate to compare with the best.
"Shouldn't every trainer be interested in the speed at which their horses are exercising on the gallops?" he asks incredulously.
A qualified vet, who worked for two years at Martin Pipe's yard and even rode as an amateur jockey for the champion trainer, Naylor has a PhD in equine exercise physiology earned after three years work at Washington State University.
His American wife Enid now runs the veterinary practice at one end of the stable block dealing with the lame dogs or cats who may have used up some of their nine lives.
"It's invaluable to use Enid's laboratory if I need to blood test a horse and our owners therefore have a vet on site, which cuts down on expensive call-out fees," said Naylor.
The cap and gown may have been traded in for the trainer's panama hat but academia has not been dismissed entirely.
Naylor set up the Jim Joel Equine Sports Medicine Centre at Bristol Universtity and still lectures there occasionally. He will also be reading a paper on 'The use of speed and heart rate data in the training of thoroughbred racehorses' at a high-powered conference in France next summer.
And then there are the fledgling racehorse trainers who must sit through his lecture on the science of training in Newmarket before being given their licence. Recent pupils include Walter Swinburn and Pat Eddery.
"If I ran a Formula One racing team I'd expect to have a smattering of knowledge about the workings of the internal combustion engine, so I'm surprised, for example, at how many budding trainers don't seem to know how a horse's muscles work," said Naylor.
"When I started training I wanted to see if there was room for a bit of science in it -- to bring some consistency and objectivity to the training programme of 'How far, how fast and how often'.
"My concern is as much about improving the longevity of the horse's career as improving its performance.
"We're a small yard and our owners don't have big cheque books. Our purpose is not just to get the horse to the racecourse fit enough to win races, but well enough to come back and do it for several years in a row."
His three most recent winners are a testimony to his unique skills.
Mustang Ali had won just one race in 28 outings with its previous trainer only to win first time out for Naylor; Desert Island Disc was on a long losing run until the transfer to Shrewton stopped the rot, and Serramanna defied even former champion trainer Henry Cecil but has won two of her five starts from her new home.
"We are not saying this is the only way to train racehorses, in fact we are trying to marry the traditional with the new," said Naylor
"We have horse-walkers, an indoor school, grass and all-weather gallops and there is always room for horsemanship -- how a horse looks, feels and moves.
"But considering that the principal cause of a horse getting fatigued at the end of a race is the accumulation of lactic acid in its muscles, it makes sense to know about the level of lactate in our horse's blood."
Next on Naylor's wish list is an equine treadmill on which his horses could gallop flat out.
"If I could find a backer who liked the idea of the science of training, it is the first thing I would buy," he said.
"It's not an alternative, you still have to teach horses to work upsides and be competitive, but you can do much more controlled exercise on a treadmill by eliminating the variability of riders
"And it is only on a treadmill that you can do strength training with a racehorse. If you got them pulling against weights, that could have a real benefit for sprinters."
Not all new-fangled ideas meet with Dr Naylor's approval, however.
"I saw a picture recently of a guy in Canada who had attached a large metal frame to his pick-up truck. He tied four horses to it, drove along and trained them that way. I don't think I'd go that far."