Thoughts on the Down Under import explosion, the Big M’s new condition sheet, pinhooking and a new Italian restaurant

by Ron Gurfein

Tidbits: Santa Anita will resume racing this weekend after a supposed surface renovation. It is beyond my comprehension how the track condition could be repaired in that short a period of time. To add to my suspicion, Gunmetal Gray, a Derby contender, suffered a hairline fracture training the first day the track was reopened, and is sidelined for the rest of the year.

Where is all my hate mail this week? Jennifer Buongiorno won one race in her last 16 starts and my detractors disappeared.

Hopefully, PJ Washington will return to action against a very good Houston team. This will be the biggest test for them; without Washington it will be next to impossible.

If it wasn’t for some mercy calls, the Dukies would be history. The refs must be alumni.

The Tony Alagna speed show live

Before I get to this week’s questions, on Thursday, I witnessed a parade of extraordinarily-talented racing stock from the Tony Alagna Stable with the help of drivers Andrew McCarthy and Dexter Dunn on a very windy and slightly rainy morning at Sunshine Meadows,

When you read the figures to follow, remember that there was severe wind, the track was heavy and dull and there is little or no bank in the turns.

Horses listed in order of finish with one set a dead heat.

Key West, Midnight Romance, Riviera Seelster — 2:13
Military Secret, Captain McKee, Bronson — 1:57.3
US Captain, Captain Trevor, Odds On Boca Raton — 1:56.1 (Trevor got stiffed)
Captain Ahab, American History, Major Deception — 1:56.2 THREE HORSE DEAD HEAT
Treacherous Reign, Tall Drink Hanover, Escape To The Beach — 1:55.3
Princess Layla, Mollydooker, Odds On Clearwater — 1:57.4
Cliffhanger, Shipshape, Waterway — 1:57.4

Paul Johnson asks: What do you think of the new Meadowlands condition sheet?

It certainly is a step in the right direction. I especially like the bump in the non-winners of two and maidens. Way too much money is given to the claiming horses. Tracks should take much of that money away and funnel it to young conditioned horses. It would be a great boost to the breeding industry and help the yearling buyers pay training expenses. It’s a win-win situation for the entire industry. The claiming carousel is feeding a small group of people that enjoy pushing the envelope and really does nothing for the entertainment factor in our sport. Basically, the same trainers win all the time and it becomes a game of musical horses. Saturday night at Pocono Downs in just five claiming races, 14 horses changed barns. The reason for this is simple: the tracks balance the condition sheet to favor claiming horses. At the Downs, you can race a 25k claimer for $18,000, but a maiden races for $12,000.

This is doing little to help our business. There are many instances where our thoroughbred counterparts race maidens for as much as $100,000. True, one can argue that they don’t race as often as our horses do and they are more expensive, and I am not saying we should race for that much, but a $25,000 maiden race would do a lot to support the breeders and yearling buyers.

Paul Costello asks: Why have all these Down Under horses suddenly appeared and what do you think about them?

When ownership of horses becomes as viable as it is with today’s purse structure, it becomes a case of supply and demand. When you can race for $20,000 a week, it makes flying a horse from Timbuktu a healthy proposition. I personally am not fond of the situation. Almost 40 per cent of the Yonkers entries Saturday night were from Down Under. What do Australian horses do to help our horse economy? NOTHING. We should keep the money on our shores. There are plenty of horses for sale all over this country. By importing we are diluting the money in the pockets of American owners.

I am sure the fad was fueled by the great mare Shartin N’s performance, but there are ways we can reap some benefits from this new craze. Why not impose an import fee on racehorses from outside the country? Canadians, don’t go nuts on me, this would not include our neighbors to the north. The fee could be used for television production marketing and to seed pools for betting on big gambling events like the Hambletonian, and the Kentucky Futurity.

Ulf from European Research Trotting (EURET) asks: When pinhooking a weanling, “what you see is what you get” or “who switched my colt?”

To the educated eye, it pretty much the former. But like anything else, there are always exceptions and those pitfalls are what make it a slippery slope. I have been around auctions for 50-plus years and can count on my fingers that amount of home runs I have seen pinhooking weanlings. Most of the weanlings available in today’s market are culls from major farms that prefer to rid themselves of horses that will lower their average price at public auction. There is, however, the odd case where someone just could use the money and get it now. For an individual that owns a farm, buying these babies can be profitable, but will never make one rich. I am not sure why, but I have seen it work great in the thoroughbred business pinhooking yearlings and weanlings. I have close friends that have hit home runs doing both.

Bill Cohen asks: Is there anything new on the restaurant scene in south Florida?

Absolutely. Maybe, and I repeat maybe, Milano has finally appeared in Boca Raton. I cannot tell you that a restaurant is fabulous after one visit, but I will tell you my first impression of Il Molino in Boca has a good chance to raise the bar for Italian food in south Florida. I am friendly with one of the owners and he invited me to dine last Saturday and cancelled after he found that they needed more time to iron out some service problems. Having no specific destination in mind Tuesday night, I ended up in his restaurant. It was early, about 6 pm, and there were many empty tables. I understood where my friend was coming from when I ordered a Tanqueray up and the barmaid was pouring Tanqueray 10 in a rocks glass without chilling it. No problem. I explained her mistake and it was remedied with a smile immediately. That was my only complaint. From there it was smooth as silk. When you sit down, they give you a basket of assorted breads and a plate of Zucchini chips soaked in garlic and oil that were amazing with big chunks of imported Parmesan cheese. The food I ordered was simple fare all on the menu. They had specials, but I stuck to basics. If you like Crudo they have many kinds that they call Ceviche, but it’s basically the same. I had the Halibut Ceviche, which was as good as it gets, and the presentation was great. For a main dish, plain spaghetti pomodoro had that delicious sweet tomato taste that is hard to find outside of Italy, with the exception of Il Villaggio near the Meadowlands. The restaurant is very, very small, there are 12 seats at the bar and maybe 40 seats at the tables. It’s no place to bring a crowd. The menu is very limited, also, but features a very good selection of plates. My prediction is that there will be a two-month wait for a reservation at this time next year. When I left, about eight o’clock every seat was taken and there were people waiting outside with umbrellas in the pouring rain.

The restaurant is located on Palmetto right next to La Nouvelle Maison and Trattoria Romano. Valet parking is available.

To all my readers thanks for the kind words and please keep the questions coming in. Have a wonderful week.

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