Chef Murray’s dinner party, more on books and questions about Burke, whether to lead a pulling filly by pony and whether it is possible for any trainer to make a bad horse good

by Ron Gurfein

Tidbits: Most people born in my era think dinner parties are a thing of the past. However, this week, in a pretty little condo in Highland Beach, chef Murray Brown proved that the dinner party was alive and well. It began with a wonderful group of invitees that included Paul and Joyce Kelley, Nicholas Salvi, Anthony Alagna and mom Donna Lee, and yours truly, The Guru. Fine wine and wonderful conversation was paired with Chef Murray’s peasant food fare that was fit for a king. We started with shrimp cocktail and pigs in blankets and graduated to Shepherd’s Pie that was to die for, with a side of pastrami and grilled brussel sprouts and cauliflower. With the wine that kept pouring, we were then treated to a choice of three different cakes for desert. A fabulous time was had by all.

Congratulations to two really good guys in the sport: Corey Callahan for winning five at the Meadowlands Saturday night and Bret Miller for winning seven at the Miami Valley matinee. They are both super talented drivers that are a pleasure to deal with as well.

I had a very pleasant surprise the other night. I got a phone call from one of our newest Hall of Famers and a soon to be one — Joe Holloway and George Brennan. It sounded like they had imbibed a few too many bottles of some rich cabernet and were reminiscing about old times. I have known Brennan since he was a child as his dad, Joe Ricco, was a good friend and drove a lot of my horses. When Brennan was about 10, maybe even younger, he would come into the paddock with his buddy Dennis Fawcett (Ronnie’s son), both with whips, and sit in the drivers stand whipping their imaginary horses the entire length of the stretch. Georgie boy, you have come a long way. Unfortunately, I am not able to print the content of my Holloway discussion because I am not in the mood to start controversy on this beautiful morning.

The Wildcats played like crap getting crushed by Tennessee, and Duke, without Zion, has looked amazing until Tuesday night when, as a 25-point favorite, they should have lost at home to Wake Forest when they turned the ball over with 7 seconds to play and a Wake layup rolled around and out resulting in a 71-70 Duke victory. I would love to see some Kentucky freshman play another year, but that’s unlikely to happen. They certainly have the talent, but they are too inconsistent. Against Tennessee they had a stretch where they were 5-for-21, less than 25%, not a way to beat even a bad team.

I have to give Murray Brown credit for suggesting a novel to me that I really enjoyed: The New Iberia Blues by James Lee Burke. Very few authors have the ability to paint a more vivid picture than he does in the book. The story is interesting, the characters are great, but the landscape is amazing. Burke is to Louisiana what Larry McMurtry is to Texas. If you liked Texasville, Lonesome Dove or my favorite, Cadillac Jack, you will enjoy the reappearance of Det. Robicheaux in this new novel.

My wandering mind seems get stirred up a bit at times as it did while reading Kindle book reviews recently. I am addicted to them as they provide me with a major source of information when selecting future reading material. The review I chose to read, brought me to share with you my thoughts on taste. Ego makes us think we know what’s best or what’s good or bad but somehow we neglect the fact that we are really all so very different. There is no right or wrong when it comes to taste but I have come across so many situations that really make me wonder where some people come from. What I find most important is to learn it’s not important to be right. What precipitated this rant was a reviewer saying that a very popular novel was terrible. That’s okay. I didn’t read it and he may be right, However, he went on to say that it was almost as bad as a book that may be one of the top-selling works in the past few years, and a novel I loved. I say to myself, ‘How is this possible?’ but it happens all the time. When I write restaurant reviews I never write about the bad ones, because there are people out there that love the bad ones for some reason or other. There is a restaurant critic in Philadelphia who to me is either not very bright or maybe has an axe to grind (I said that as politely as possible). He panned Savona my favorite neighborhood spot and denigrated my favorite dish to boot. How can this be? He did it. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, there is no universal right or wrong with the exception of breaking the law, so don’t waste your precious energy trying to prove yourself right, it gets you nowhere. So much for your visit to Dr. Guru….

The suspension of racing at Santa Anita as a result of the 21st horse death on the track this year could make an interesting twist to my Derby pick. Game Winner, a bay son of Candy Ride, to me the best 2-year-old I have seen in years, naturally from the Baffert barn, would normally make his sophomore debut in the Santa Anita Derby as Justify did after a prep. Maybe this will change the plan for the colt and we may see him in the Florida Derby at the end of the month. Baffert has about six on the Derby Trail with no track out west he is truly in a pickle. Hopefully the problem with the racetrack will be rectified sooner than later.

Susan Sicle asks: How is it that The Meadows allows the Burke’s to enter two horses in a race? Not big races or stakes but claimers.

Due to the severe lack of horses in the past few years precipitated originally by the Herpes outbreak there was a need to make some rule changes. With the help of the amazing Ms. Cricket the supreme coordinator of The Meadows I have your answer.

The rule was changed because two very big stables Ronnie Burke and Bob Key had many horses that could help the race office fill the cards on a daily basis. There was however a caveat, in that the uncoupled entries can only be accepted to fill an event. If there are sufficient amount of horses in the box to fill a certain event the entries are thrown out.

Mark Mintun asks: (abridged version shorter to save space) I had a nice trotting filly until her throat went to hell. I did a Llewelyn procedure on her throat and she is jogging back after a chip was removed from her hind ankle. She was always aggressive now she is runaway status. Should I lead her to pony? Have you done that? She gets treated for EPM to protect her throat.

I spent most of my training years on racetracks where you weren’t allowed to lead horses. However, I am sure she will relax more if you did lead her, but that will not prevent her from pulling training or in a race. I had the worst pullers in history and managed to calm them down or at least control them. Both Beat The Wheel and Cayster could make you cry when I got them. I had an assistant, Johnny Sokol, who was as strong as two men and he had trouble holding Beat The Wheel.

To begin with, pain is your enemy. If the bad ankle still bothers her, make sure she is sound before you go any further. Pain will make her pull more. My suggestion is to jog her, but give her a tranquilizer about a half hour before you hook her. Acepromazine pills will work wonders and if she is sound it may calm her if used properly. Ask your vet how many pills to start with (almost put her to sleep) and reduce the amount by one pill every week. For example, start with five go to four, etc. Take off her head check. Open her bridle and put a rubber covered snake bit with a snaffle in her mouth. If her throat operation was successful, she should be fine, for sure she will be manageable. Treating any horse with EPM medication helps because it is, itself, a strong antibiotic that will clean out joints. But, for now, don’t waste your money as long as the throat has healed she won’t need it till she is back to the races. Best of luck and keep me informed as to her progress.

Bob Marks asks: Is it true that a great trainer can make a good horse better, but no trainer can make a bad horse good?

I could answer that question easily by saying yes. But that’s not true. Who’s saying the horse is bad? That’s the key. If a great trainer is saying it, then your premise is correct, but there are far more trainers out there that lack the knowledge or have the ability to tell if a horse is good or bad. I have seen Sylvester and Takter make champions out of horses that some people would say were bad. Was That Fabulous Face a bad horse before you sent her to me? It’s all in the definition of bad and good.

What the trotting business needs now are some younger trotting mechanics. Chris Lakata is one guy I know for sure can do the job. He was my assistant for 35 years and I promise that he learned a lot in that period of time. There are a few unheralded fixers out there, but not many. I could mention a few, but I would be in a pickle if I forgot a good friend that fits the mold.

I have made several inquiries into the status of the Zeron appeal and it looks as though things are moving very slowly. My obsession with this case is very easy to understand. I started out defending the rule of law and not an individual. Yet, I am beaten up every day by people that think I am terribly wrong. If it turns out that way, I will freely admit it, but everyone is entitled to trial by his peers.

Please keep the questions coming and visit The Deck Saturday to say hello. Have a wonderful week.

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