Most successful purchases, amazing authors and two training secrets revealed

I want to apologize to my readers and my daughter Lauren who asked me to handicap the Final Four. To quote Gordon Waterstone, “You better stick to horses.”

To say it was ugly would be an understatement. I can no longer go on. I will be rooting for Villanova, my home team, but no more predictions from the trotting Guru.

Notice there is nothing about basketball in my nickname.

Paul Kennedy asks: I know you were known for some really good buys before you started racing two- and three-year-olds. What were some of your most successful purchases?

One of my favorite horses I bought twice. The first time from Dick Buxton for Peter Rhulen for $30,000, the second time from Peter Rhulen for $1,200. His name was Hardesty, a small black Dream of Glory gelding that was as nice a horse as anyone could have. He won almost $400,000 for me and my partner Roy Brown and over 50 races. He is the only horse to be buried at Monticello Raceway, and I had to get dispensation from the Pope to get that done. I went to The Meadows and trained him and gave Dick the check Peter had sent with me. I raced him for Rhulen for a while with good success and then I got fired. I wasn’t upset, I was suicidal. It was the same morning my son Blake was born. It’s strange how life has its changes. I now had two kids, a mortgage, two car payments and no job. I tried to buy Hardesty, but was unable to get the job done. I did pick up some nice new owners and started my career over again. Fast forward a year and Hardesty appears in the Meadowlands mixed sale. The horse had never raced since he left my barn and rumor had it that he had a broken bone. I went to the sale knowing he would bring nothing and was so nervous when they opened the bidding at $1,000. I bid $1,200. I knew they had no bid, but I couldn’t take the chance. So, for nothing, I just bought my favorite horse.

Franconia, a daughter of Nevele Thunder, raced in the New York sires stakes for Dick Buxton and after buying Hardesty I had to go back to the well. They hammered her down to me at the Harrisburg mixed sale at the end of her three-year-old campaign for $21,000. I owned her with a couple of friends. She won over a half-million dollars winning many FFA trots at the Meadowlands and won the Maple Leaf Trot at Greenwood. She was a world champion winning in 1:55. She was sold to Swedish interests for $280,000.

Cayster also purchased at the end of her 3-year-old year by Phil Tully and David James for an undisclosed amount won a half-million and was also a world champion winning in 1:55, also sold well as a 6-year-old. I raced her in the U.S. and in Europe at 5.

Imperfection, a beautiful chestnut Nearly Perfect filly I bought at the end of her 2-year-old year at Harrisburg for Jerry Silva and Phil Tully for $100,000 was a 4-year-old world champion thanks to Phil Langley. She was interfered with in the American National at Sportsman’s Park and Phil said, “The track at Balmoral is fast, please keep her here another week and race her in my invite. If she wins she will break the record.” The following week with Dave Magee in the bike she won in 1:54.1, a world record. But the real money she made as a fine 3-year-old racing against the boys in the Beacon Course and the World Trotting Derby, finishing second in both events. She completed her year winning the Breeders Crown at Pompano. When her racing was over she had almost $1 million on her card. She did finish fourth in the Elitloppet from the outside post, but raced well and provided me with a wonderful experience.

Last but not least, Beat The Wheel, a filly I loved at three and tried to buy for a few weeks to no avail. I thought she could win the Breeders Crown and made a ridiculous offer that was quickly turned down. She went off short and had a horrid trip and finished back. Then she appeared in the Harrisburg mixed sale. I bought he for $97,000 for David Offenberg and Jerry Silva. She was very fast and a pain to be around. She wanted to go a hundred miles an hour all the time jogging, training, walking. She really had no class at all and that is why she was a world champion with a 1:51.4 record and only $300,000 in earnings. The truth of the matter is that she caught Pine Chip off an almost 30-day layoff and all the conditions were more than perfect. There was a short field so the race went non betting before the first race. It was 95 degrees and we had a short downpour before the race you could actually see stream coming out of the track. John Campbell and Pine Chip cut the mile and Cat Manzi and Beat the Wheel sat in the two hole. They went normal fractions :28.2, :56.4, 1:24.4, certainly not world-record-setting numbers, but the filly came home in :26.4, lighting up the tote board with the 1:51.4 world record. Of note, I had a Lindy Farm horse in the race that was a nice horse in his own right, Capital Idea with Mike Lachance, and he came from nowhere to finish third and Mike said to me afterward that if I had told him how good the horse was he would have come earlier and won for fun.

Billy Cruz asks: You have given us books you like, how about authors you follow and what were the best books they wrote?

When I first started this column I wrote about my favorite book Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts and in the last three days I have met two people that listened to my advice and loved the book. One man has started on the sequel The Mountain Shadow.

I like so many authors it would take forever to list them, but I will fill you in on some. When it comes to best books I would find that more difficult, thought not so much when it comes to John Grisham who has written some great books and many not so great.

Early on The Firm and The Pelican Brief were classics then I think he had a weak period but lately I have enjoyed many of his novels. I loved The Racketeer and recently enjoyed Camino Island and the Rooster Bar.

Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series are all good; very hard to separate. Recently Two Kinds of Truth was a fun read.

All of Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series were wonderful with the exception of House of Spies his latest and weakest novel.

Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels all appeal to me. I would be hard pressed to select a best one.

James Patterson has written as many novels as I have trained horses and hits a home run with one of his latest The People vs. Alex Cross.

If you enjoy wartime novels, my cousin Alan Furst is a master storyteller. Red Gold is a recent winner. In the same genre is Phillip Kerr. His novel Lady from Zagreb will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Another of my favorite authors is David Baldacci. He is not as consistently good today as he was earlier in his career, but well worth reading. Some of his best lately are The Fix and Memory Man.

For those that like non-fiction I will throw in Bill O’Reilly. The almost non-fiction Killing Patton was a great adventure.

For the girls out there, Kristin Hannah has written two great novels in the last year; more recently The Great Alone and previously The Nightingale.

Saving the best for last, Jeffrey Archer — who in my mind has never written a bad novel — has recently completed a five- or six-book series called the Clifton Chronicles. The story is fabulous. However, at my age, the memory is not quite as alert as in the past and he released some of these stories a year apart so it became hard to follow. Now you can have them all at one time and really enjoy the sequence.

Nick Salvi asks: Now that you are no longer competing in the training ranks I am sure there are many secrets you have about conditioning horses that you could share now. Would you tell us some of these secrets?

The trouble with your question is that over time it has become impossible to obtain the ingredients for many “secret” remedies.

About 40 years ago, I met a fellow from Oshawa, ON who, along with Bass Conlin, was the slickest horse trader I have ever known. His name was John Sharp and in short order we became best of friends. We traveled the mixed sale circuit from New York to Delaware (Ohio), to Harrisburg and Lexington. Not only was he an excellent horseman, but a wonderful person. John made at home what to me was my best secret in the business. He had a contact that brought in powerful magnetic tape from the North Pole. Far stronger than anything we could buy in the states. He would cut five or six pieces that were about the length of a tendon and taped them together to form one ultrapowerful magnet. For years his invention kept my barn in one piece. Bowed tendons, suspensory ligaments, strains, sore knees, etc. There was no soft tissue or bone related soreness that wouldn’t respond positively to the devise.

Art Zubrod or George Segal of Brittany Farms will attest to the letter they received after vetting Victory Dream for purchase after his 2-year-old year. It was nothing short of horrifying. The colt suffered an evulsion fracture in his right front leg. He lived with the magnets 24/7 from that day forward and never took a lame step after that until he met with an accident in Lexington at the end of his career that had nothing to do with the front leg. I also used the magnetic as a preventive keeping a pair on the legs of all my best horses. John and I furthered the magic by sewing the magnets into bell boots for sore-footed horses. Many of my good trotters slept with those boots on.

Unfortunately the source for the good magnets dried up and John became president and general manager of Kawartha Downs and I continued training. If any of my readers have access to that strong magnetic tape I would be more than happy to explain how to make them work for you.

The next secret is still available, Victory Lane Liniment invented by my daughter Lauren’s godfather Dick (RW) DeSantis, R.I.P. I am sure it is responsible for me winning hundreds of races. Be careful today as it contains DMSO a positive in some places, plus the fact there are racing jurisdictions that don’t permit any solutions in the paddock.

The proper use of Victory Lane is to use it as a shampoo. Ideally in the paddock before the last or only trip, but if you are not allowed to bring it in just use it in the barn before you come to the paddock. Take the bottle and start at the withers and keep squirting till you get to the tail. Massage it into the back, sniffles, hocks, shoulders and knees and anywhere you think it would be helpful to a specific horse. You will be pleasantly surprised how much looser the horse is and more fluid his gait is.

There are many more “secrets” to be continued at a later date.

My son Blake is a Dr of Neuroscience and developed a magnetic device that promoted healing in humans after brain surgery. I tried it on horses, but it was too awkward to use. He did however suggest Laser Therapy, which I have been working on for the better part of the winter with a thoroughbred trainer, a standardbred trainer and Phil McKnight, a laser specialist with good results. Please keep an eye out for the debut of the product that will be advertised in HRU.

Thanks again to all my readers for the wonderful feedback and please keep the questions coming in. The Road to the Kentucky Derby, the Meadowlands Pace and the Hambletonian will be coming shortly.

Next week’s key question comes from my erudite editor Mr Briggs who asks what racing memento (trophy, photo or piece of equipment etc.) do you own that means the most to you and why?

Please check out View From The Deck in HRU most Sundays and don’t miss the fabulous Heather Vitale videos — done with videographer Aaron Re — on 2-year-olds and more. The first two with Brian Brown and Ron Burke were very well done. Have a great week.

Have a question for The Guru? Email him at