Thoughts on: whether owners that partner up hurt breeders, great farms that sell a lot of bargain yearlings and why our horses are going so fast

by Ron Gurfein

Tidbits: What a great weekend of racing. Starting with Bettors Wish entering rarified air with a heart-stopping performance in Yonkers Art Rooney final. He marched off to a six-length victory without a bit of Dexter Dunn urging. Warmest congratulations to his trainer/owner, the amiable Chris Ryder and my dear friends Leah and Art Zubrod (Fair Island Farm) as well as Bella Racing LLC, and Kenneth Solomon. Expect to see a lot more from this talented colt.

How about Captain Crunch? This colt gives me goosebumps. He has the will to win of Captaintreacherous and the speed of Always Be Miki. He totally crushed a field of PASS colts at Harrah’s Philadelphia in 1:49.2.

The entire card at Philly was great, but the Betsy Ross stole the show. The stretch battle between Shartin N (Tim Tetrick) and Caviart Ally (Andrew McCarthy) was one for the ages, especially considering Andy parked Timmy the first quarter in :25.2. In case you didn’t know the result, Shartin N prevailed by a quarter of a length.

Congratulations once again to the Melander Machine and the White Knight for obliterating the Empire Classic Final field in 1:54 at Vernon Downs Monday afternoon. The colt looked flawless.

To all that cried on Facebook that Dijon (winner of the 2019 Elitloppet) was pacing in the lane, I have now watched the video from various sources at least 25 times and don’t see a miss step. I am also 100 per cent sure that it was quite evident he was trotting past the wire. I would find it very hard to believe (although I admit not impossible), that he trotted to the wire, switched to the pace and switched back to the trot and never went on a gallop for even a step. Evidently, the judges agreed with my opinion, as there was no placing.

I sincerely regret that our industry both in HRU format and on social media, provides a forum for Mike Campbell. If you continue letting him stir the pot as you all did on Facebook over the Memorial Day weekend, and overreact to his postings, he will certainly continue to do his best to tarnish our sport. However, if you ignore him, he will go away.

To those of you that like books on harness racing, there is a new offering this week that is totally enjoyable. Ms. Vickie Howard has published the life and time of Roger Huston. It is called “The Voice,” which is certainly apropos. It is basically his autobiography but has stories of all of the two big races he has called — the Jug and the Adios — in a year by year accounting. It is also available for Kindle.

Wendell Roach asks: Do you think that Brittany Farms has sold an inordinate amount of bargain yearlings? I think any farm that races horses has a better chance of a good colt or filly falling through the cracks because the buyers are a bit more skeptical of purchasing from them.

My thinking is just the opposite. Farms like Brittany, Lindy Farms and Fashion Farms that race a lot of horses do so because they believe in their product. They raise good horses.

Whether it’s their feeding program, exercise regimen, or simply the quality of the earth they are built on, the horses race well. Remember, the bargains were raised the same as the high-priced colts.

One thing for certain about these three farms, and the main reason for the bargains, there are no bad pedigrees in their consignments. So if a colt is too big, too small or a little crooked he will be sold at a major discount.

Chris Ryder’s colt Bettors Wish that won the Rooney Saturday was a $20,000 purchase from Brittany. His second, third and fourth dam produced Allstar Legend, American Ideal, and Life Sign, respectively. Two others that come to mind were Mr Muscleman ($2,000) and He’s Watching ($3,000)

I myself selected a few nice horses from there consignment that were under appreciated in the sale ring. Possess The Magic, a million-dollar winner, was $23,000 as were two $400,000 winners — Lucy’s Pearl $23,000 and Great Success $8,000. In the same price range, Lindy Farms sold Delicious for $8,000. One thing they all had in common was pedigree. Looking back, Possess the Magic, He’s Watching, Lucy’s Pearl and Delicious were all too small. Mr Muscleman and Great Success were way too big, or so the masses thought. I would like to give credit to the two trainers that selected the big bargains from Brittany — John Wagner and David Menary, who bought Mr Muscleman and He’s Watching, respectively.

The most important thing to remember when entering the sale ring is to have the courage of your conviction. Do your homework. When your choice walks into the ring and you think you have selected a $50,000 horse and he is stuck at $5,000 you can’t stutter and say, ‘Maybe I missed something,’ you have to jump in and steal him.

When Great Success entered the ring I thought he was a $50,000 colt and they couldn’t get a $5,000 bid. When they hammered him down to me I was standing next to Perry Soderberg who immediately put his catalog page in front of me with a big RG written in the middle of the page. He smiled and said, “the first time I saw that colt I knew you were going to buy him.” Just a Little Guru anecdote.

Mike Hall asks: Do you think the formation of partnerships to buy yearlings hurts the breeders by bringing the prices down due to lack of competition?

In the golden days I would have answered yes. But not so today.

In the past we had buyers that were NEVER an under bidder. When guys like Tony Pedone (Boardwalk Enterprises), Jeffrey Snyder, Bill Perretti, Bob Suslow and Jim Wheeler partnered up it could severely hurt the sale of a colt, because they had the ego and the money. We actually witnessed that in reality when Snyder and Lothlorien started to partner up.

Today’s partnerships are good for the prices. The partners today are usually socially friendly and wouldn’t be bidding against one another anyway.

Instead, with the formation of these groups, we have lots more money to be spent on an individual horse. When the Alagna camp fights the Burke Camp there are lots of smiles on the auction stand. None of Tony’s or Ronnie’s owners are going to buy a pacing colt for $400,000 on their own, but put four together and it’s GAME ON.

Vickie Howard asks : How come our horses are going so fast? If you had a 2:00 trotter back in the day, you had a great horse. Now that 2:00 trotter is a $5,000 claimer. Watching a trotter go 1:48 is mind boggling. What is your take on this? Where is the ending point?

Of course there is an end, but it’s not tomorrow. Look at the difference of what a yearling looks like in 2019 and what he looked like in 1950, 60, 70, etc.

I have been lucky to have been around these horses for six decades. The horse reminds me of the automobile. The 1958 models were huge, bulky and didn’t look fast. The 2019 versions are sleek and quick looking.

The same for the standardbred. We have most likely, by inbreeding, created a fine, athletic racing machine. Add to this tighter tracks, advanced sulkies, no hubrail and smaller drivers and you have the formula.

I am certain in the next decade the Hambletonian, the Kentucky Futurity and any venue where we have daytime racing in warm weather will produce a myriad of 1:49 trotting miles. I believe that as I write this piece I can name at least a handful of 3-year-olds in this year’s crop capable of crashing the 1:50 barrier.

The days of the big-gaited pacers and trotters have passed, and the breeders have delivered to us a new and more gait efficient model that is more slender and much lighter boned. The tough old standardbred is a thing of the past. The new colts will present new problems. Soundness will become a greater concern as the lighter version will be more brittle, and on top of that, speed kills. However in this writer’s opinion, no matter how racy they make our colts they will still have the ability to race week in and week out and not have to race sparingly as their thoroughbred counterparts.

Thanks to all my readers for your kind words, they are much appreciated. Don’t miss the New Jersey Sires stakes finals tonight featuring my number one selection for the 2019 Hambletonian — Greenshoe. Then, on Saturday, we start the day with Breakfast for the Babies from the Meadowlands, and Saturday night you can see some real humdingers at Woodbine Mohawk Park, including Captain Trevor, Atlanta, Manchego, Captain Ahab, Stag Party and a full contingent of top 4-year-olds in the Graduate, led by Jimmy Freight. Plus, in case you forgot, there is also Stanley Cup Finals, The French Open, and NBA Finals on the menu. Have a great week.

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