Opining on tracks excluding horsepeople, my best reclamation project and more thoughts on Zeron — because you asked

Opining on tracks excluding horsepeople, my best reclamation project and more thoughts on Zeron — because you asked

March 1, 2019

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by Ron Gurfein

Tidbits: Congratulations to all the big winners in Orlando last weekend and thanks to the Burke/Weaver group for the big surprise of the night. To my friend Gordon Waterstone: I am sure that your vision will remain in the minds of the attendees forever. I will add that I think the selections were spot on in every category, which for me is unusual. It’s not easy to get a perfect score with so many categories. The voters certainly outdid the selectors of the Academy Awards.

Mike McDowell asks: I am curious to your opinion on race secretaries that can just tell a trainer or owner that they can’t race at their track and give the reason, “because I said so.” It seems irrelevant if you have a license or not.

Very interesting question and I wish there was an easy answer, however there is not.

Years ago it was far easier before there were casinos involved. In 2019, things become a little more complicated. In olden times it was a matter of private enterprise having the so-called right of exclusion, like Monticello, Yonkers, Roosevelt etc — all privately owned. Whereas, a track that was state owned (i.e.: The Meadowlands), basically they would exclude no one with a valid New Jersey Racing Commission license that was in good standing.

There have been a myriad of court cases on the subject, but none have become a solid precedent, and considering the changing times I doubt that we will see one in the near future. What the tracks have in their favor is money. It is very costly to litigate these matters, especially when you end up in appellate courts, which puts a damper on the victim’s pocket book.

The fact you bring up race secretaries is basically nonsense as they are just at the bidding of the CEO or general manager. When I was a kid there were a few with that kind of power: Joe DeFrank (who rarely used it), Jim Lynch, Ed Parker and Larry Mallar come to mind. But most race secretaries are merely the bearer of the bad news. I was sitting with Leon Greenberg one night in the dinning room at Monticello and a driver was waterskiing in the lane. Leon picked up the phone and called Ralph Swalsky the racing secretary and said, ‘Give the guy 24 hours to be off the grounds.’

To quote Joe Faraldo, “It harkens back to the old adage about private property. If you ring my doorbell and announce you have come to dinner I can tell you to get the hell out, this is my house. From the Jeff Gural prospective, since Lou Pena lost his case against the Meadowlands there has been little attempt at litigation. Gural says that he can throw out anyone he wants and he doesn’t have to give a reason to a soul.”

However in today’s world with the casinos and the state all sharing in large profits the idea that the track is private property becomes more of an argument as they are sharing income with the state, the city, etc.

There is no question that it is ridiculous that John Doe can drive in Yonkers and not drive at the Meadowlands. There must be some equalizing reciprocity to have uniformity. We need a four-man board made up of a track president or management representative, a race secretary, a judge and a horseman’s rep to meet once a month and decide the fate of those in limbo. There has to be a 100 per cent equality among all the tracks in the U.S and Canada. You are either suspended from all or none.

Bob Marks asks: Both you and Chuck Sylvester were considered experts at shoeing. Who was your hardest but most gratifying resurrection project?

Bobbo, if you think back I did an almost miracle for you and Wild Bill. You gave me That Fabulous Face and I won the Breeders Crown with her but she was DQ’d and placed second. But that was still success. But her resurrection was NOTHING compared to MB Felty. He had the worst card imaginable: a few starts, all qualifiers, no clean lines.

But Frank “The Elder” Antonacci believed in him and shipped him to my barn in the Meadowlands in early April, 1991. He was a Prakas out of Olivia Stone a Steve Lobell mare. Must have been a Sonny selection and they always have a chance. The colt hit himself everywhere. I went back to basics and trained him intervals on the main Meadowlands track because there was no straight track. The colt got better and stronger every day and with the great pair of hands of John Patterson Jr doing the driving we almost pulled off a miracle. Winning the first heat of the 1991 Hambletonian and finishing second in the final. For the year, a total mess had won $400,000 and got a record of 1:54.

Sharron Macdonald asks: I can’t believe that Mr Zeron would put the O’Brien Award in jeopardy like was mentioned. If he wasn’t even in to race at the time of the so-called offense, does anyone else wonder what is going on? You mentioned all the people who have suffered from this but you left out one. How about young Scott Zeron? What are the odds he will ever drive Atlanta again?

Sharon, lots of questions. I will answer one at a time. First of all, Rick Zeron didn’t put the award in jeopardy on purpose. There was too much missing from the original findings and they were so unclear it’s impossible to get to the bottom of this issue at all. I have a feeling that the public will get some transparency from the commission shortly. They must hear the appeal in a timely fashion. As for Scott Zeron, he is a grown man, very smart, very talented. He won the Hambletonian with Atlanta you cannot win anything better or more exciting and year after year he will have great horses to drive as he drives for all the best trainers in the business. Whose to say that Ronnie Burke won’t use him to drive the filly anyway? I would guess that with the return of Manchego, Yannick would drive her as I know he loves her and that would leave the door open for Scotty. Don’t feel bad for a kid that will make high six figures a year for a very long time.

Ryan Campbell asks: I am baffled by you response of Atlanta going to Ron Burke’s barn. Leave your love of Zeron out of the equation. Just look at Burke’s track record with trotting mares. It’s second only to Takter’s stable. Buck I St Pat, Mission Brief and Hannelore Hanover became world champions to think that Atlanta would be any different is baffling.

First of all, it was an opinion that mares do well in small stables and tend to get lost in the bigger operations. Where do you get the idea I love Rick Zeron? I defended an idea I felt the man was treated unfairly. I have known him for many years and never had dinner or a cup of coffee with him. Your inference is a bit over the top to say the least.

The statement I made was not anti-Ronnie it was pro, a barn with fewer horses.

As for his numbers in the mare department being second only to Takter, where did you get that figure? In my own back yard I had Continentalvictory, Possess The Magic, Imperfection, Cayster, Franconia, Kerry’s Crown, Beat the Wheel, and Vernon Bluechip and I don’t think I would fall in second to Takter because of a few guys named Chuck, Stanley, Billy and Delvin.

Thanks again for all your kind words and let’s keep the letters coming in. I would like to hear from you for my future articles on the Road to the Derby, the Hambletonian and the Meadowlands Pace. I will also give you the Guru’s predictions for the Final Four. Have a wonderful week, and if you are in town stop by The Deck at barn 12 Sunshine Meadows for a bagel and lots of trash talk.

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