Stakes scheduling, the secret to life and curing tie-up

by Ron Gurfein

Barry Lefkowitz asks: On the subject of staking, what is your general feeling on the way tracks and states schedule stakes? As a trainer, how do you go about the staking process? Do you like the conflicts in the staking schedule? What about stakes close together like four or five days? In the case of dual eligible horses, should the schedule accommodate the dual eligibility?

The race secretaries meet every December in Florida and do the best they can to solve this puzzle. Conflicts with indigenous races and Grand Circuit races are bound to happen especially now with expanded slot money in the Midwestern states there are home to more sires stake races than ever. Unfortunately there are not enough days of summer and fall to accommodate all the races in an orderly fashion.

Dealing with trotters it is a lot easier to plan a stake schedule than with pacers. Trotters, with exceptional ability are far more evident at stake time for two-year-olds than are pacers. With a pacer, you are lucky if you know after the first start. I personally always made stake payments to Sire Stake races, but as my entire barn would go west to Springfield and DuQuoin right after the Hambletonian, any owner who would want to skip the Grand Circuit and go the sires route would have to give the horses to another trainer. I truly miss the Midwest swing. If it wasn’t for the demise of Illinois racing I would still be training horses. My relationship with Doc Narotsky and his family and Phil Langley will always remain a bright spot in my life.

Back to your question, there is nothing hard about staking. It is almost rote. In an outfit where you are buying expensive yearlings, if you don’t stake to the Grand Circuit you can’t get out. The money is only there if you stake. There is no worse feeling than looking over a stall door at a top horse with no place to race.

Conflicts in staking are great for you if you have a good horse that can’t beat one or two others. You can duck them and may win somewhere else, but these conflicts are very rare especially at the age of two.

As far as stakes being four or five days apart, I have not seen that much at all. You would have to show me a situation like that on the Grand Circuit for me to understand. It would be highly unusual. It would be more common for state-bred races to conflict with Grand Circuit races.

I think with few conflicts, the powers that be have done a great job with the dual eligible races. There have been some close ones but the finals were all separated.

If you don’t want to blanket stake horses I suggest you do a little research. Take each individual stake, add up all the payments you have to make to go behind the starting gate in the final, divide that number into the amount you will race for and you will get the percentage of the purse you spend to race. You may be shocked at the findings, but there are some great value stakes out there and some horrid ones.

Dave Briggs asks: What is the secret to life?

My editor asked three questions, all of which were good. This was the first and I found it to be fascinating, and therefore will answer it first and save the others for a later date.

My first inclination was to say the golden rule (do unto others etc.), however I found it wasn’t nearly enough. So, my answer is two fold — Karma, and the power of positive thinking. I sincerely believe that if you go through life with love and kindness to all you meet along the road and believe in yourself that you can achieve any and all goals you set in life.

Unfortunately it wasn’t till I had a wonderful family of my own did I come to this realization, so in actuality, my good life started at 40 years of age, and I credit my family for educating me in this area. But what they say is true, better late than never.

I can well equate these comments to my career at the Meadowlands. I was one of the first through the gates in 1976 and along with the Remmens, maybe the last to leave. I knew every caretaker, security guard, maintenance man, kitchen helpers etc. in the place for 30 years. I never said no to a request, whether it was “Ronnie could you please go a trip with a horse?”, or “Gurf can you spare $20 till payday.” Over the years, my relationship with the fans and the horsepeople kept growing in a very positive fashion. I started out racing garbage, and when it started to turn the fans were with me.

You all know what home field advantage is in sports, that is caused by Karma. When I was in a big race I knew at the Meadowlands I was the one to beat because the grandstand was on my side.

If you have been to a casino, think back, you rarely have a great run in the afternoon when the tables are basically empty, but at midnight with crowds screaming and cheering when you pick up the dice, you had the best night ever.

If you learn anything from this piece I want it to be don’t make enemies. There is no purpose or place in you life for negativity, all it does is diminish the power you have within you to compete at the highest level.

Mark F Sosovicka asks: Any recommendations on racing tie-up horses? Would you use Lasix on a tie-up horse?

I have my own theories on tie-up horses and my own way of dealing with them. I have trained for breeders my entire career and have had four fillies for every colt, forever. Therefore I have had toooooo much experience on this subject.

I equate a tie-up horse with a human being that gets muscle cramps running, swimming etc. basically the same thing. When this happens to us, do we double jog the next day? Absolutely NOT. We rest.

So this is my first point, when a horse ties up give him a chance to rebound. Leave him alone for a couple of days in the stall. No grain, no rich hay, lots of water, bute and some dmso jugs and vitamin E. When you resume normal routine change some things. I know no one walks horses anymore, but after exercise I would be sure to leave the horse in the stall for about 20 minutes before bathing to let the body cool down. Then when you bathe her, do NOT use cold water. If a horse is going to tie-up, the worst thing you can do is put cold water on her when she is hot. The reason I say her is because although medical record show tie-up occurs 65 per cent of the time in fillies, it is my experience that it is more like 90 per cent.

Under no circumstances use Lasix on a tie-up horse as it will aid in removing much needed electrolytes from the system and most certainly exacerbate the situation.

Bill Bigler asks: I recently bought a well-bred trotter with lots of speed. The problem is that he hits his shins, which throw him into his knees. He seems better on a wet track. Please help.

The trouble with the new breed of very fast trotters is they all hit their shins. It’s hard to find a Cantab Hall that interferes, but Muscle Hills and Chapter Sevens seem to be more inclined. If shoeing and equipment changes don’t help, trotting hopples will. Somehow trotting hopples narrow the trotting gait in front and lessen interference with the shins.

I hate trotting hopples, so let’s try and fix him with other methods. The only way you can accomplish this is to lighten him up in front and do the same behind. The first thing I would do is try four aluminum combo shoes. I realize that there are few tracks you can race with shoes like that, but we can always add borium nails. Also, take his head up a bit. If this cures the problem for the time being, great, because he will almost definitely get better as he matures and muscles up. The fact that you say he is better on a wet track also makes me feel that he is slipping. The combo shoe has a lot of natural grab as it is porous aluminum and will act like a wet track. I know you are in Florida and of the three tracks near me Pompano, Sunshine Meadows, and South Florida training center, they are all way too loose for a trotting horse and although I hate to put grab on a baby, it could be necessary. One more possibility is that he likes a sloppy track because his feet hurt him. Put hoof testers on him and if he says ouch, try a flip flop with a queens plate insert for a couple of months.

Steve Katz asks: I have observed you spend less time than anyone watching each yearling perform in the paddock. Why is that and what do you look for? While on the subject can you expound on your thoughts on the importance of yearling videos.

To me there are two kind of trotters: ones that like to trot and ones that cant or don’t.

What is the purpose of chasing a horse for 10 minutes? I see many successful trainers do it so I can’t say it’s wrong, just not my style. I would be happy to love three of every 100 yearlings I look at. When they enter the paddock, I like to see them take off on the trot and trot most of the time.

Paddocks have square corners so when I see one make the turn at the corner and still stay trotting I am loving it. Speed is also very important. If a yearling doesn’t show a few bursts I am not inclined to be a buyer. To all you young trainers out there, don’t waste your time having the farm manager chase a colt for longer than you need because you don’t want to insult the guy. He knows his horses and doesn’t expect you to like them all.

As far as my opinion on yearling videos, I find them a valuable time saver. However, here is my most important rule, NEVER buy a yearling because you like a video. The colt must have pedigree and be correct. I see so many colts with no pedigree and fabulous videos enter the ring and bring six figures and train like gorillas and can’t beat me when the go behind the gate.

To quote Joe Holloway who was obviously quoting someone else, “don’t try to reinvent the wheel” when he saw me looking at a horse in Harrisburg with a pedigree he didn’t approve of.

Use the video to eliminate a horse from consideration not to buy. Remember the farm has all the time in the world to show you the best that a horse can perform in one minute. The colt could be in the paddock for 20 minutes and if they can’t splice together enough good stuff to fill the one-minute slot you don’t want him.

There are other things you can see clearly on the tape like if a horse has no extension (goes up and down in front rather than reach out past his nose), you can see if he wants to hit a knee, a shin, or an elbow. All these things make the video invaluable. But please remember to look at the horse on the floor.

I am sorry if I haven’t answered your question yet I am trying to space them out so I don’t answer too many at one time. They are answered basically in the order I get them. Next week will feature a great question: What one horse do you wish you had trained that you didn’t train and why?

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