Why yearlings are easier to break, how to increase the probability of racing success and thoughts on RNAs at sales

by Ron Gurfein

Tidbits: How about Monday Night Football? The most exciting game ever, the most points scored. It was plain awesome. Plus, two great young quarterbacks and a defensive gorilla. What a night. Three takeaways from the event: The Dolphins are pathetic, the Eagles are almost as bad and I know why I never met a poor bookmaker. The betting line was Rams -3 and 105 points later the final score was Rams 54 Chiefs 51.

My son in law Cauam will be unhappy with this as he is a nutty Patriot fan, but to me this game could well be a preview of the 2019 Super Bowl. Time will tell.
 Special Thanksgiving weekend wishes to Travis and Mo Mauk and her dad “The Admiral” and the rest of the family who lost their entire ranch in the California fires. Thankfully, you are all okay. Remember you can always rebuild a ranch, but it is impossible to reignite a life.

I will once again enter the handicapping fray with a selection in the Governor’s Cup final, the eighth race on tonight’s fantastic Meadowlands card. It looks like Captain Crunch raced poorly as the favorite in his elimination last week, but if you study the results you will find that on the 13-race card only two races were won by the horse in the lead at the quarter pole. Captain Crunch was definitely racing against the track bias on the front end. Scotty Zeron will make the necessary adjustments this week and will be smiling for the camera once again.

Pete Savage asks: I was reading on Facebook how easy it is to break yearlings now compared to earlier years. There were many reasons espoused, but I wanted The Guru’s take on the subject.

I read the same entry by Casie Coleman and really don’t agree with the idea that it’s a result of better breeding. Truly, that has nothing to do with it. In all honesty, the improvement has come from personal handling and the use of the mechanical walker.

When I started breaking colts in the 1960s at Dapple Gray Farm in upstate New York, the babies were weaned the week before we broke them. They had no interaction with human beings previously unless they were sick or injured. Every day I would end up in a snow bank with some colt or filly. From that point forward, every year things got better. Today, the yearlings we buy in the major sales have been in stalls and handled at the farms for a minimum of eight weeks. Even in the 1980s, some farm managers took pride in leaving the babies in the field as long as possible. Bill Brown, manager of Blue Chip Farm, was noticeably the front runner in the “let them run out together as long as possible, it makes for a tougher individual” theory. I remember he would bring the horses in six weeks before the sale. But just bringing them in from the field is not the only reason they are so manageable today, the walker has taught them to exercise in a controlled environment, as well as sapping some excess energy. Add to this the amount of time they spend with caretakers at the farms, with buyers appearing on a daily basis.

All this attention has just grown more and more over the years. When I trained for Brittany farm I noticed that Art Zubrod, the farm manager, would make sure that the homebreds that were not in a sale were handled as much as the sale horses so that they were just as comfortable with people as the sale horses. Just a way to make my job easier.

Lastly, I think a well-balanced diet properly adjusted for the individual using high quality feed plays a role as well. Old time horsemen believed very high protein was essential to growing a fine colt. I find it good for a racehorse, but it has a tendency to wire a baby. More fat content is far more preferable.

All this being said, there is no hurry. Just because your babies are well mannered there is no reason to expedite breaking time. Don’t be so quick to vacate the third line, because to lose a nice colt due to an accident is truly not worth it. Remember what Falstaff said, “discretion is the better part of valor.”

Rich Pearson asks: Now that the colts are settled and broken do you have any advice how to increase the possibility of racing success?

I am way too old school to give training advice to the young guns out there. They have already reinvented the wheel. I will however offer some sound ideas.

First of all, know your track. Some racetracks are much tighter and faster than others. For example, Sunshine Meadows is far slower than The Trotting Center. I would say probably 15 seconds going slow early miles. At the trotting center, I would go 300 in early December whereas at Sunshine Meadows I would go my first trips in 3:20, even going two trips at that speed. In the days that I was breaking colts at the Meadowlands, they could easily go first trips in December in 2:45 or 2:50, weather permitting. I point out the difference because sometime the young trainer not understanding the difference will read or hear that some colts have been in 2:40 and not knowing where, he will try to push to keep up with the competition, thus spelling disaster for his babies.

Another suggestion I can make is also track oriented. Borium or not or when?

If you are new to your track, ask a smart old timer. You can avoid lots of soft tissue damage if your horse has the proper grab and not slipping and sliding in every corner. I am not saying to add grab right away, but on many racetracks the addition of swedges or borium will have a positive result around the 2:30 speed.

Lastly, please don’t have a tight headcheck when you force a colt to go with his head high, especially early on in his training he will invariably get sore over his back and that will only lead to other problems. I realize that all horse can’t go like that, but many more can than can’t. Just give them a chance to learn to balance themselves. If you can make it work you will not only have a sounder horse you will have one that you will find getting air much easier and in the long run be more comfortable and faster. To all my readers, good luck with all your yearlings and if by chance you have one that was on my list please email me as to his or her progress.

Howard Pearce asks: I noticed quite a few RNAs at this year’s yearling sales. Would it not save time if the auctioneer announced there was a reserve and if no bid is made the horse is quickly removed from the ring, or better still, why not have the consigner tell people when they are inspecting the horse that there is a reserve bid which would save the buyers time if they know the amount is beyond their limit?

To begin with, the amount of RNAs in our sport is about 2 per cent versus 40 per cent in the thoroughbreds. No auction — horse, auto or homes — announces reserves. In car auctions, they signal reserve is off, but that’s about it. The reserve is part of the game and announcing it would interfere with the flow of the auction. The purpose of entering a colt in an auction is to get spirited bidding and eventually a great price In my opinion 80 per cent of the yearlings entered in a sale have a reserve, but it usually represents a price that would prevent a colt from falling through the cracks. I trained for Brittany Farm, Lindy Farm, as well as many small breeders in my career and I find that their reserves were to prevent giveaways not to run the price on the buyer. For the most part, they will try to protect lesser yearlings that they like from bringing less than $20,000. Most breeders do this and I find it perfectly acceptable. If you can’t get 20k for a colt you bred and raised and most likely have 40k invested in and you want to train it yourself I truly can’t blame you. As far as announcing the reserve, that would eliminate far too many bidders. The more bidders that show interest in a colt the more excitement is generated in the sale. When you lessen the amount of bidders involved in a colt you definitely compromise the eventual price. You would be shocked at the amount of bidders that have a $30,000 budget that are throwing in a bid or two on a $200,000 colt. Everyone wants a bargain.

To all my readers, thanks for the kind words and the great questions. Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and have a wonderful week. Hopefully I will have the Sunshine Meadows roster up next week. I have emailed all the usual suspects and have only received about half the horses stabled there. If you have received my request please answer ASAP. The HRU family anxiously awaits.

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