Corrective shoeing, no shoes, the best bourbon and more

December 7, 2017

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by Ron Gurfein

Jimmy Bernstein asks: A pacer bowlegged behind crossfires. How would you shoe him behind?

Only you would come up with a question like this. You have a better chance to get hit by lightning than find a bow-legged standardbred. However, I will not dodge the question. If the colt is truly bowlegged he must toe in behind and almost has to crossfire as he is aiming at his front feet. Raise his angle to as close as you can to 58 degrees and lower him to the outside with the shortest toe possible. Use a victory plate for the shoe and if you can’t get his angle high enough there is a 3-degree victory plate available that works well. If this doesn’t work than add knee spreaders that will surely solve your problem.

David Raber asks: How do I shoe a trotter off his right hock and left knee?

If you get him off the hock chances are he will no longer hit the knee. This is a very usual scenario. When a horse hits himself behind it changes the way he carries his foot forward and often will cause him to hit a knee. But I will give you a cure for both. Raise your hind angles as much as you can and take the horses head up a couple of holes. Try a wide web flat aluminum shoe. If that works, fine. If it gets him off his hock and he still hits his knee try a queens plate in front and diamond the toe of the right front foot.

Nick Salvi asks Basil Hayden or Blantons?

This one is a lot easier. Basil Hayden without question. I find it’s the best go-to Bourbon, available in almost every restaurant and is more than delicious. Soft smooth deep flavor. Blantons is a bit too harsh for me as is Knob Creek they both have a very high alcohol content — 93 proof — whereas Basil Hayden is 80 proof. I have found many little known Kentucky bourbons that are great. The best of which is Hirsch. It is 92 proof but it is 21 per cent rye whiskey and seems more delicate than the other high alcohol bourbons.

Joel Kravet asks: Do you pamper, use caution or put your best grooms on 1st night purchases vs. your barn filler yearlings. What do you do to protect the investment of the owner?

I will answer the second part first as I feel it’s a loaded question. If you are considering a trainer and have to ask or even think about what he does to protect the owners’ investment, you have the wrong trainer. All good trainers do the best they can, as there is little money in winter training the money comes with racing, selling, etc. If you destroy the product before the start of production you hurt yourself as much as the owner. As far as best grooms on first night horses go, most of the time we break yearlings in a group. Everyone helps and when they are jogging I let the caretakers with the most experience select the ones they like and go from there. I don’t pay much attention to other trainers, but I can honestly say that I have rarely had a bad caretaker in my employ. Some are a bit quirky but they all know how to take care of a horse and keep him or her happy.

As far as barn filler yearlings, in my barn there is no such thing. I rarely buy indigenous horses and could care less about their programs. In the years I was training a full barn of horses, anything I would buy to me was a potential world champion. I won the Hambletonian with two $100,000 horses and a $40,000 horse. I wouldn’t consider Victory Dream a barn filler nor Vernon Blue chip at $17,000. It is also important for you to know that there is no extra pampering or caution on what you call first night horses. There is pampering and caution on ALL horses.

Steve Mattox asks: A lot of Europeans are racing with no overcheck. You have raced a boatload of trotters, any with no overcheck?

I have but not that many. Basically I race 90 per cent of my horses with no overcheck because they race with a leather chin strap and a very loose check. Many of my horses when you sit behind them, all you can see are their ears. In the earlier years, I tried a few times to qualify one without a check and I found most drivers were reluctant to sit behind one without a check. Looking back at the situation, it was probably them thinking, ‘What is this jerk doing, is he’s trying to get me killed?’

Paul London asks: Have you ever raced one of your trotters with no shoes? I have been following Swedish and French racing and they put a major emphasis on the horses racing shoeless or not. They even have lines in the program showing what shoes were worn in a previous race. It seems in the big races trainers prefer no shoes. I saw Yannick’s interview after Hannelore Hanover’s win at the Meadowlands and he mentioned she might go to Sweden and race shoeless.

This question was so multifaceted that I left half for another day because I could probably write a book on this subject. In answer to the first part, yes I have raced horses with no shoes and was arguably the first to do it on a grand scale. As a matter of fact, I had a few very good horses that were useless with shoes on. Gallantly, a son of the famous European stallion Varenne — who also raced barefoot — set the track record at Maywood in the Galt with no shoes. Honkin Hanover won many big races barefoot for my barn. I would say that there were many fillies I trained that lowered their record as much as four seconds time trialing barefoot at the Red Mile. There is a caveat here. The tracks in Europe are much more barefoot friendly than the surfaces we race on in the United States and Canada. The Red Mile and the Meadowlands would be the best to try. Most of the tracks are too hard and you can do serious permanent damage to the horses. The European horses that race every race barefoot have had their feet treated with a toughening agent over long periods of time that, in a sense, protects them. Both Hannelore Hanover and What the Hill raced barefoot for Ronnie Burke. But I really don’t feel that racing shoeless is wide spread enough to put it on the program. I do remember an instance at Sportsman’s Park when I was warming up Imperfection for the three-year-old filly American National and she lost a hind shoe. I took her to the blacksmith and he was fumbling and fumbling and she was getting antsy so I said to just leave it off and take the other one off. About five minutes later, I hear a page: Mike Lachance to the paddock judge. Mike came out laughing and said the judge told him that I had pulled the shoes, was that okay with me. He said it was fine. She won the race and the next night we had Baltic Striker in the colt division and I pulled his hind shoes also. I went in and told the judge myself and the colt won and the judge and I became good friends. He lives in Pompano now.

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