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Influence of Scandinavians, thoughts on overtraining and the spa life in Boca

February 16, 2018

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All in the latest edition of harness racing’s most popular advice column.

by Ron Gurfein

My heart and prayers go out to all involved in the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. When I started to write this column I promised myself I would stay clear of politics. But this, by the nature of its closeness, requires comment. The mass murder happened in my backyard at the school Per and Tina Erickson brought their kids to study. It’s crazy. I spoke to my dear friend Carlo Vaccarezza, who I mention later in this column. Both of Carlo’s children attend Douglas and were physically unharmed, however most of the shooting came in his son’s classroom where he had to witness the killing of many of his best friends. The thought of my son or daughter going through this is nothing short of horrifying. We have gone too far without change. The NRA will blame it on a mentally disturbed kid. Take the GUN out of the hands of the mentally disturbed kid and you wouldn’t be reading this story. This was the 18th gun related school incident in the first 45 days of 2018. That is insane. Somehow or other we have to overcome the power of the gun lobby and stop the wanton killing in our communities.

A lot of people asked about the proposed WEG/Gural integrity rule. I have had a myriad of questions relating to it, and fortunately or unfortunately it has been put on hold till 2019. Rather than try to answer the queries individually, I have chosen to answer as follows: The idea was good, not great, but the implementation was way too complex.

I realize that in matters such as this, the rule of law must be seriously considered, however when lawyers try to word it themselves, it appears convoluted, and getting down to basics, unreadable. If a rule is not thoroughly understood it is impossible to put into practice. I have spoken at length with Clay Horner, and he agreed with my assessment that the lengthy explanation of trainers A and B etc. were way too attorney like, and needed simplification.

I am not convinced assessing trainers will work, but if you do it, it should be based on lifetime misconduct not a few years.

I have been informed by Nick Salvi that the Meadowlands was to wait on the new rule till 2019 but that Mr. Gural intended to amp up the search for offenders in 2018.

My personal opinion is that the rule in its present form is not enforceable, nor do I think it would stand up in a court of law. But that is not important, the fact that it asks to be tested is, and at this point there is no necessity to open a legal hornet’s nest with all the other problems we face. Let WEG/Gural propose the new rule then sit down with some intelligent people from various sections of the industry and finalize a lucid proposal.

This group should then create a panel of three or five men and women that would have the power to enforce the rules and decide the merit of any “mitigating circumstances.” This panel should have the FINAL say in all matters.

For certain, I would not like to see track owners or racing commissions having anything to do with doling out punishment. I don’t think this needs any further explanation.

Paul Kelley asks: #1 Please explain what (if any) the influence of Scandinavian training techniques had on your operation and what American techniques do you feel were most accepted and practiced by your Scandinavian competitors. #2 If you are cruising down the highway and feeling really good what are you rocking out to?

Looking back to the early years there were no Scandinavian trainers that I came in contact with as I was always on half-mile ovals i.e. Yonkers, Roosevelt and Monticello Raceways. Hakan Wallner and Nordic didn’t appear till later on. So, I did have some success before the Nordic invasion. But the good horses I had at that time were all older and racing in overnights for the most part with a sprinkle of stakes thrown in, but the opportunities were slight compared with today.

When I started training Grand Circuit stock, the Scandinavian influence was profound. I can honestly say I don’t think I would have been nearly as successful without the use of interval training on the straight track. If used properly I think it can create miracles.

My teacher — not a good, but great, horseman Per Eriksson — forced me to learn after Giant Victory beat MB Felty in the 1991 Hambletonian. I must add that I also learned a lot about interval training from Eduardo Gubellini while training with his son and fabulous driver Pietro in Milan.

I remember Lindy Farms gave me a 2-year-old colt that had an inoperable OCD in his ankle. Sonny Antonacci came into my office and said, “I don’t want to see this colt on the main track once this year. Jog and train only on the straight track.” I did sneak in a training or two just to realize how right Sonny was. The colt couldn’t trot at a road clip on the hard main track, but acted like a champion on the soft straight track. When we got to the Meadowlands the colt won his only start for me in his first qualifier in 2:01 and found a new home immediately thereafter.

There are other things that I learned from the Scandinavians, Trond Smedshammer taught me about the “Norwegian Whip,”, which is not a whip at all but a pull up or pull down blind bridle that Continentalvictory wore in the 1996 Hambletonian. It is called a whip because drivers are not allowed to carry one in a race in Norway. He also taught me about the Norwegian martingale that fits over the head and is made of a stretchy material that works wonders on a horse that fusses with his head.

Believe it or not I did teach the Swedes something. I was always into brace bandages and light shoes behind as opposed to boots and steel shoes. I am not sure if it was Eriksson or Takter, but they called this preference “a la Gurfein”.

As far as music is concerned, I have had the same CDs in my car for almost 30 years. My favorite would be Alabama. I love, If You Want To Play In Texas, it’s the ringtone on my phone and Christmas In Dixie. I have an eclectic tape that my son Blake made for me mostly ‘50s and ‘60s rock and roll, Frank Sinatra, Edith Piaf and last but not least, Jacques Briel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris.

Sara Miller asks: It seems to me you have lived in Boca Raton for a long time. Do you know of a nice spa in the downtown area?

I have lived here for almost 30 years, and there is a wonderful spa around the corner from Frank and Dino’s Restaurant at 94 South Federal Highway.

Beauty Smart Dermatology Clinic Medical Spa, is the brainchild of the world famous international model and actress Deana Clark who has been in the beauty business her entire life. Not only does this elegant lady own the spa she is a major facet of the operation on a daily basis. Her team was enhanced recently by the addition of Ligaya Buchbinder a well known board certified dermatologist who came out of retirement in June. “We customize treatments and services so you are more youthful when you leave. Bring a photo of yourself from five years ago and we will try to turn back the hands of time. We also do skin tightening, not like going under the knife, with a down time of 10 days max,” said Clark. Some of the services offered are, laser removal of: brown spots (good for men, too), broken capillaries, wrinkles, hair and tattoos. Also, they offer dermal fillers, Botox, and body contouring. My take on this is you will not leave the spa looking like a typical “Boca Beauty.”

Parking is always a problem in downtown, however Carlo Vaccarezza, the owner of Frank and Dino’s tells me that if you are going to the spa you are welcome to use his valet service that is just a few paces away.

When you go to the spa mention HRU or my name and save $100.

Gerrit Troisi asks: Do you think there is too much overtraining and warming up between races? It seems like you get only a few quality starts from a 2- of 3-year-old.

If you think that way in 2018 you may rarely win a stake race. Unless you have an exceptionally talented horse those over trained beasts will get you in the long run. The giant stables have troops, not individuals. They train like hell and only the strong survive, but the strong are more than fit. In my early days, all anyone had was maybe a dozen babies and we took care of them. Today, when there are 70 or 80 yearlings, it’s a whole new world. I have never had that many that I could even sacrifice one, but I will testify to the fact that training fast works. I have done it on a few occasions and find it more than effective. There are however horses that do not fare well in this type of program and a trainer has to be quite vigilant to pick up on who belongs and who doesn’t.

As far as warming up is concerned I find that the “modern” trainer doesn’t warm up much at all. Some merely jog a mile and are done. I think warming up is important for a variety of reasons. It loosens a colt up, and gives him a chance to empty out. You have to experiment. No two horses will react exactly the same to warm up methods. I can make a case for jogging three miles, for going a trip in 2:40 or a trip in 2:08. If you want to be successful in 2018 step on the gas.

Thank you again to all my readers. Your positive response has been amazing. Next week Bob Marks asks about the horses I bought that I thought had the greatest ability before sale time.

Have a question for The Guru? Email him at GurfTrot@aol.com.

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