Should Svanstedt use catch drivers, digital thermometers to detect lameness and Larry Rolla book should be called Sopranos of Sullivan County

Tidbits: The college basketball season is in full swing and I have a question for my readers: Why do they bother with all the mismatch non-conference games in the first six to eight weeks of each new season? To me, it’s an utter waste of time and energy.

Saturday, Duke beat Stetson (the college not the hat) 113-49. Is that fun to watch? No, it’s a game that should never have been played. Simply said, if you can’t put a competitive product on the schedule have fewer games where they will all be interesting. Every week there are a bunch of games with 30 to 50 point favorites. To me, this is ridiculous. If you agree, disagree or have a remedy please write me via email or feedback at HRU.

To all of you interested in good novels to read, my selections have been more than weak of late. It’s been an awful dry spell as even the good authors I have followed have had a trail of pathetic offerings. To say that I was disappointed in the books and reviews of Grisham, Connelly, Child, and Baldacci in the last 30 days is an understatement. However, the sun was shining on me this morning when I downloaded Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. This is not a good novel but a great one. It is also her first novel. She collaborated with her husband to write a non fiction book about wildlife in Africa that was very well received. Rarely have I ever read an entire book in a day but I just couldn’t put it down. The backdrop and the characters are so lifelike and the story is so compelling. You will love it.

Jerry Glantz asks: I saw from your Facebook posts that you have already read Against All Odds, the Larry Rolla story, I really liked it what did you think?

I am sorry to dwell on two books in the same column but they are fresh in my mind and both very entertaining.

I thought it was a fascinating book, that will appeal to people in and out of the horse business. It could be called the Sopranos of Sullivan County. It is a short novel but to me a true page-turner. I am prejudiced, however, as I was friendly with many of the characters and suffered much of the unwanted scrutiny during the time covered by the book in my days at Monticello Raceway. The Commission’s attitude became so stringent during this time that I and many of my friends were forced to submit to lie detector tests to avoid eviction. They were out of control. The story is basically an autobiography of Larry Rolla, a kind, wonderful rogue whose middle name may well have been “trouble.” The book begins with his childhood and ends in modern times. Much is exaggerated in scope, but I really believe it is a true account of the wild ride of Larry’s life — the tough guy types he hung out with, and the race fixing that was so successful in both thoroughbred and standardbred racing that fortunes were made. The scope of the schemes was immense from New York to California and from New Hampshire to Florida. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to spoil your fun, but it is a good read.

There are topics within the story where real people are mentioned by actual name. There are some I believe may suffer negative consequences due to their contact with certain characters and their involvement in some wacky schemes.

For young trainers in either sport there’s a lot of information laid out for you on performance enhancing methods — all legal — and rehabilitation methods from the old school that still work well today. These segments, although informative to many, slow the flow of the story and will certainly be eliminated if the story reaches the silver screen.

Wilbur Reed asks: I was watching a pro football game and they showed a trainer using the type of infrared digital thermometer on the players that I have seen you use to check lameness in horses. How effective is it as a diagnostic tool?

Very effective. About 25 years ago, a dear friend of mine, Jim Ewart, came to my barn at Sunshine Meadows and demonstrated the thermometer and sold me two for $110 each. FYI you can buy the same thermometer on line today for $15. To me over the years it was an invaluable tool to diagnose esoteric lameness. I am sure it saved my owners thousands of dollars over the years by not guessing and injecting.

To begin with, I was never one to do both knees or both hocks or both anything. To me it was a waste of money. What are the chances that a horse is sore on both sides?
Dr Rick Balmer tells a story about my diagnosis of a colt on the phone from Monticello to him at the Meadowlands. He called to say a horse was sore going on the track and that he would go over him later. I said no need to look at him just inject the lower joint of his right knee. P.S. the colt was sound right away. What Rick didn’t know was that I used the digital thermometer on him the day before and his right knee was 86 and left was 80. When using the device that is a very significant difference. One or two degrees I usually consider meaningless.

To employ the thermometer properly make sure the colt is in a place that is not drafty and that the sun is not on him at all. The thermometer is shaped like a gun with a trigger. It has a laser light so you know exactly where you are aiming. Hold the device about three or four inches from the area and squeeze the trigger. You will see the temperature of the spot in a window on the gun. Make sure that you hit the same area on the right and the left to make a proper comparison — it is most important with large areas like hocks or shoulders. Remember, if the difference is not at least four degrees you are taking a wild guess. However, if the horse palpates or trots sore on one side and there is a smaller degree of difference I say go for it.

The digital laser thermometer is not a panacea, but I promise it will work.

Seth Poppel asks: Ake Svanstedt has had amazing success training trotters i.e.: Sebastian K, Six Pack etc. Do you feel he would have done better by using some of the top catch drivers more often?

If he had a relationship with one or two drivers as Takter had with Brian Sears and Yannick Gingras I would say yes for sure. However that is a situation next to impossible. Ake races indigenous circuits especially New York where there are always conflicts with Grand Circuit races. It would be hard to see one of the top jocks travel to Buffalo or Saratoga. With young trotters, consistency is more important than great drivers. If you are as capable in the bike as Ake is, he should drive his 2-year-olds and, if need be, only use a catch driver in some big 3-year-old races like the Hambletonian, which by the way he has already won without a catch driver.

I am a firm believer that 2-year-olds need to be protected. This year, I witnessed one of the best colt trotters — if not the best I have ever — seen abused by the lack of protection. The colt Green Shoe was making breaks going to the gate and more than once a catch driver would settle him down and put him back in the race. It killed me to see these performances, and I only hope they didn’t ruin a fabulous animal. If it were Lachance and Gurfein, that colt would have been schooled every Saturday at the Meadowlands even if we had to wait till 2 in the afternoon — which we had to do on numerous occasions. He would never be in a race till he was ready. We had just that problem with Vernon Blue Chip when she was a 2-year-old. We schooled her every week for four straight weeks till she understood what was expected of her and she went on to win the Merrie Annabelle for fun. I am sure Marcus Melander had pressure to use catch drivers so I don’t blame him. However, I find major fault with him not telling the driver “if you can’t get him away from the gate on the trot, just tour the oval and don’t try to make up 25 lengths.”

Manny Guagliardo asks: You can’t go to a publication of HRU without a positive or negative mention of a trainer So I think we can agree that the trainer is as important or maybe more than the driver. Why doesn’t Trackmaster give equal information on both instead of solely on the driver? Is there anything else that could be added that would be of benefit to the bettor?

I love this question as it leads me to a pet peeve of mine. However, I was not familiar with TrackMaster and I looked up their program and the sample they show gives win place and shoe percentages of the trainer just omits UDR. So that I can’t say more about, but as for other suggestions here we go: I am not a gambler, but I like to bet on thoroughbreds once in a while and I find the information they provide far more enlightening that in our sport. I love comments about previous races. From our program you can never tell what actually happened in a race. Even with a horse that wins we have no way to determine if the colt was in hand or ridden out, bumped or driven into a blind switch etc. etc. Wouldn’t you like to know a colt was four deep on the last turn or hopelessly locked in? What a major plus that would be for our program, to have a comment about each race.

One thing I will say about the Canadian programs is they should list the trainer like we do in the U.S. Trainer changes are a huge handicapping addition.
To all my readers, thanks again for your wonderful support. I am trying very hard to get the powers that be to submit the 2-year-old lists to me but it is like pulling teeth.

I will not embarrass my fellow trainers, but one sent me a list of the names only, and one sent me a list with the sires only and one sent me a list with the sex of half the stable. These are high quality people, what’s wrong with this picture?

Have a great week.

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