Bad experiences with catch drivers, how Melander turned Crazy Wow around and thoughts on Lazarus

by Ron Gurfein

Tidbits: It was a wonderful weekend of racing, but once again thanks to the Miller families for keeping a little trotting money on this side of the pond. Andy and Julie repeated with Mets Hall in the Simcoe and brother Erv and son Marcus won the PASS 2-year-old filly final with Windy Corner a nice Yankee Glide lass. But that was all the American trotting trainers could garner as Svanstedt, Melander and Takter took the rest of the money — winning the Hudson Filly, Yonkers Trot, Maple Leaf and PASS, respectively. Special kudos to Marcus Melander for the resurrection of Crazy Wow who raced shoeless and crushed a stellar field in the Maple Leaf with the talented and oft-times amusing Jody Jamieson in the bike. Jody’s post race performance was truly entertaining.

It may be my imagination but I have not been happy with Takter’s catch drivers performances when Jimmy drives in the same race. Believe me, I am not calling it foul play or a prearranged decision, more like ‘don’t kill you self to beat the boss.’ For example, Jordan Stratton lost in 1:48 in a photo and went three quarters in 1:21 the following week Grand Teton with Takter was not challenged to a 1:25 three quarters and thus was beaten at ten cents on the dollar. Similarly, last week Stratton let Jimmy off with pedestrian fractions (1:24.4) to the three quarters with Tactical Landing at the expense of Wolfgang who in my opinion is capable of 1:21 at Red Mile. Again, I am not claiming foul play because I understand it’s to not challenge and build up points for the finals, but in that case these should not be races for the public to bet on. It’s just not above board enough for me.

Clay Horner asks: What did Marcus Melander do to Crazy Wow that turned him around?

To begin with, the horse was always a top horse, so the ability was there to begin with. The horse was not on the top of his game when he changed barns. Sometimes, just a change in scenery and or routine can do the trick. However, I would credit the change in training methods. Burke trains hard and fast on the racetrack, the Scandavians interval train which to me over the long haul with the trotting horse is the superior avenue to take. I learned from Per Eriksson, certainly one of the best, and every top horse I ever trained lived on the straight track, interval training. I am not sure of the difference in effect on the physiology of the animal, I do know that it builds up their wind and therefore their endurance. Per and I often went sets of 12 or more intervals equivalent to three or more miles and my horses were always blowing far more than his till they became used to it.

I personally am surprised at the barn change because Yannick Gingras told me a long time ago when a horse starts to tail off for Ronnie (Burke), he has an uncanny way of righting the ship and usually pretty quickly. It’s sad, but true, barn changes have become a way of life. When I started in the business the only way a horse would change barns was by purchase or claim.

Robin Roberts ask: Training for almost 60 years you must have had many bad experiences with catch drivers. Tell us about some that stick out in your mind.

I was always a trainer that believed the least expensive product on earth was a great catch driver for 5 per cent. When you stop to think about it, it is a bargain until something goes awry.

I did suffer two instances that both seem funny today but were quite annoying when they originally occurred.

The first came with John Campbell at the Meadowlands. I didn’t know him well at all but I watched him at Monticello and he seemed like he was always in the right place at the right time. More than just an up-and-coming driver, but the makings of someone special. I put him on a nice colt of mine in an overnight that was the morning line favorite. When the sheet came out and there was a conflict I called the judges only to learn he had picked off my horse to drive a colt of David Elliot a top trainer at the time. I was an unhappy camper. When I arrived in the paddock on race night I immediately approached John and asked why he didn’t elect to drive for me. His answer was less than kind. “When you can train as good as David I will drive for you”, was his retort. P.S. I never put him on an entry sheet again for about five years and winning the Maple Leaf Trot for me with Franconia may have been the first time he drove for me in all that time. Next, I was a victim of Bill O’Donnell. When I pick my tormentors I have great taste.

It was the middle of the summer in 1981 and Phil Tully always had a big show day at Woodstock Stud his farm and yearling showplace. The entire horse business on the east coast attended. It was the Sunday before the eliminations to the Woodrow Wilson at the Meadowlands. My wife and I spent the entire day with Billy and his wife and had a wonderful time, in parting I said see you tomorrow night, as he was driving Higher Power for me in the Wilson elimination. Well the next day came and when I entered the paddock I saw a program for the first time (no Internet) and lo and behold Herve Filion is listed to drive my colt. Billy did choose a better horse, but to spend the entire day and not say a word was beyond belief.

Dave Briggs asks: What is your initial impressions of Lazarus, and how do you think he will impact the sport in North America?

First, I promised all my readers to try and solve what happened to Lazarus in Canada.

Takter has stated that the horse scoped sick and his blood work showed a white count of 10.2 that is on the high side and is a sign of some sort of bacterial infection.

My comment was that there was something awry and he was not the same horse I watched qualify or race in the past.

Do I think he is a great horse? I wish I was smart enough to know. I do not like the fact that he does not always carry his head straight which is common in a horse having trouble getting air. I do know that he is very fast and seems relatively sound considering his age and the number of starts he has had. I also know that whatever fast miles he has in him Jimmy will get them out of him.

The question and the answer seem somehow irrelevant as it is my understanding that the horse was sent to America to get a great record and enter stud on one or two continents next year. At this point it’s much ado about nothing.

Thanks again to all of my readers for the kind words. Please keep the questions coming. Lots of great racing next week a Woodbine Mohawk and Red Mile. Hopefully I can give you some winners. Have a great week.

Have a question for The Guru?
Email him at