How great was Self Possessed, does winter training negatively impact young horses, more great food and good movies

by Ron Gurfein

I was going to use a question from Art Zubrod, who as well as managing Brittany Farms is also on the board of the EDRC (Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council) about the WEG/Gural new rules regarding positive tests etc. However I have decided to wait until the new version is unveiled to make any further comments. I will temporarily put the topic on the back burner. Please stay tuned as Mr. Zubrod has brought up some interesting points that have never even been approached in the uprising that this subject has created. One of the most important dilemmas facing the New Rules is “many of the numbers for withdrawal times for the RCI/RMTC (Racing Commissioners International/ Racing and Medication Testing Consortium) are not upheld by science, and therefore cannot be upheld in court,” said Zubrod.

I personally feel that proper implementation of this new idea will be wonderful for our sport, however we must be very careful not to approve of a system that will cause collateral harm to the innocents. As soon as they publish the updated version I will discuss the questions you have on the subject.

Bob Marks asks: We all know Self Possessed was a great colt. How great was he and when did you know?

Great is a strong word, especially for a horse that had some issues that sorrowfully showed up at inopportune moments like the Beacon Course and the Breeders Crown. Therefore, I would change the word great to very fast. He definitely had some wonderful moments and to me and Michel Lachance could easily been the first sub-1:50 trotter. When he won the Hambletonian in 1:51.3 he was on idle and had never really been asked to trot. All that occurred before the Meadowlands became a speedway, the surface then was much like Vincennes in Paris which is the finest surface I have ever seen, but too heavy to promote fast times, and he raced in a wooden bike to boot.

Bob, you may not remember but after his most awe-inspiring race you sent me a videotape that I must have watched 20 times. On June 24, he qualified at the Meadowlands in 1:53 winning by 23 lengths that precipitated a phone call from the late Curt Greene, a good friend and very knowledgeable horseman. “Have you and Mike gone crazy,” he said. I told him he did it on his own and he was well within himself. The following week is when I really took notice of how amazing this colt was. It was a three-year-old open at the Meadowlands and Self Possessed drew the 9 hole. There were a very formidable group of colts in the race including Angus Hall and CR Renegade. Mike (Lachance), and I discussed the race and decided to race him from off the pace as all the big stakes were coming up and we didn’t want to stress him so early in the season. What followed was nothing short of amazing. When the man said go Mike took the colt back to ninth. He was officially timed :30.1 at the quarter about a dozen lengths from the top horses. My reaction was, he will race another day, because there is no chance he will even hit the board from where he was situated. Then he started to move and pick up horses like they were walking. He trotted the last three quarters of the mile in 1:22.1 a feat unheard of at that time winning easily in 1:52.2 last quarter in 27 seconds flat. That race showed me and all that saw it, we had a special colt.

If there was any chance he could have really achieved greatness it would have been as a stallion, however that was not meant to be either. After producing Cantab Hall from his first crop, he fell into the Valley Victory infertility syndrome and spent his final stud days in Italy with limited success.

For sure, he had the opportunity to be a great horse but somehow I really don’t think he achieved that status.

James Grosse asks: Like to get your opinion on two topics that have been troubling me the last four years. I have had numerous yearlings in the harsh winters of Indiana. My yearlings have shown some talent but have been affected by landing on the hard ground.. So I have wondered about farm track training in the cold winter months. Also, I would like your opinion on shipping during the winter months. I am thinking about changing trainers to one based in the south.

Horses are cold weather animals they prefer the cold to the heat. I am not saying the weather that you have had in the past few weeks in the north is ideal because it has been uncommonly severe, but a normal winter will have no deleterious affect on a healthy standardbred. As far as hard tracks, we have such a wonderful variety of shoes available today that you can literally bring your track with you. Some version of a flip flop will provide the cushion you need.

Good trainers are harder to find than warm air or soft tracks. Training in the south is more important to the trainer’s comfort than that of the horse. I have trained in the tundra called Monticello and sunny south Florida and believe me there is no question the decision to be south was based on my desires not the horses. If I find one plus to the south it would be the ability to hear the horse hit the ground. Listening to the cadence of the hooves is invaluable to me as a tool to diagnose problems. When you are bundled up with ear laps etc and the wind is howling this is a lot more difficult to achieve. Jimmy Takter, arguably the best standardbred trainer in the sport, trains his horses in New Jersey all winter with great success. I would reassess firing your current trainer.

As far as shipping in the winter, if the horse is healthy when he gets on the truck he will be healthy when he arrives. Just be careful not to overtrain a horse before a long journey because you will weaken his immune system and that is asking for trouble.

David McDuffe asks: You did a really good job with the article on dining in south Florida. Where should we go for lunch?

I will keep this as local as possible, narrowing to three areas Boca/Deerfield, Delray Beach and Palm Beach. There are so many more wonderful lunch eatery’s than dining spots please don’t berate me for omitting your favorites.

Boca/ Deerfield

My favorites would be Frank and Dino’s because the lunch and dinner menus are basically the same, which means lots of good choices. I will suggest Rigatoni Bolognese as one of the best dishes in south Florida. I eat at Houston’s very often as it is near my home and the food is always good. The French Dip with au jus and horse radish is a must, for the lighter fare Artichoke dip with sour cream chips and salsa are great. The Whales Rib as mentioned previously in my dining article is also a must go, just for a special experience. They appeared on dinners and dive bars etc. and have things on the menu you have never had and they are all good. I would suggest the Rock Shrimp a little messy to eat but truly worth it.

There are some great sushi restaurants that serve lunch as well. I am not going to rate them because I frequent them all and they are all excellent. You choice would depend solely on location. They include Sushi Ray, Lemongrass, and Bluefin Sushi.
There are more Delicatessens in my area than houses of worship, but there are two that stand out Zingers Deli has the best corned beef and pastrami, they have a small dining area and V&S Deli far and away the best Italian hero available on earth, however it’s take out only. For those of you that care more about seeing the ocean and the other wonderful sights the beach has to offer Oceans 234 will provide you with just that along with some good American fare and some very good sushi rolls

Sex on the beach (sushi roll) is fabulous.

Delray Beach:

I find it difficult to make many suggestions in Delray because parking is next to impossible, but there are a few that I can’t omit. Tramonti has a great lunch with good specials every day, the Spedino di Mozzarella is to die for. If you like Mexican food, La Bamba is as authentic as it gets and they actually have a parking lot. Tostada combo and Black bean soup with a lot of chopped onion would be my selections. For my ocean-loving friends, there is Cafe Luna Rosa, although the food is great the view is not nearly as good as Oceans 234. I would suggest brunch or late breakfast fabulous eggs Benedict great Bloody Marys.

Moving a bit north to Palm Beach: there is Ta Boo, right on Worth Avenue it’s been there forever. A true taste of old world Palm Beach where many of the rich and famous gather to have the Palm Beach salad or the fried oyster Po Boy. My favorite lunch spot is my last to mention. An afternoon at Bice is not only a culinary experience it is a visual one as well. Go on a day that is not uncomfortably hot so you can be seated in the courtyard and enjoy carpaccio di manzo, fruiti de mare or Rigatoni ala Norma (eggplant, tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella) while watching the beautiful people of South Florida.

Paul Miller asks: I know you are an avid reader but are you a movie buff as well and if so what are some of the newer movies you would recommend?

I am really not a big movie fan as it has always been a full-time job training horses. However, at this time of year most of the better pictures are released to be positioned for consideration for the Academy Awards. I will give you a few I really enjoyed. Darkest Hour is the story of Winston Churchill’s decisions for 40 days at the beginning of WWII. Gary Oldman’s performance as Churchill won him a Golden Globe. The story is basically about his having to decide whether or not to bargain with Hitler.

I really loved Molly Bloom a true story of a young, well-educated woman that ends up running a high stakes poker game first in LA and then in New York City a riveting experience. Saving the best for last, The Post would be my pick for Best Picture of the year. Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep were fantastic as the editor and owner of the Washington Post at the time the New York Times divulged excerpts from the “Pentagon Papers.” To publish or not to publish was the problem at hand and as the courts decided whether or not president Nixon had the right to stop newspapers from printing information that “endangered” national security. The movie starts out surprisingly slow but becomes totally enthralling in due time.

Thanks to all of you for reading my column. Please keep the questions coming. Hopefully we will have the finished proposals on the New Rules in time for next week’s offering.