Thoughts on hyperbaric chambers, the USTA’s opposition to the integrity act, trainers that overly support their own stallions and why we don’t see as many top trainers paired with top drivers anymore

by Ron Gurfein

Tidbits: To all my readers on the northern side of the border that are in total denial and went crazy over the FACT that I said your fans were classless by cheering when Kevin Durant went down hurt in Game 5 of the NBA finals, I offer proof in the following articles that I was right on the money:

Article 1 | Article 2 | Article 3 | Article 4

What a weekend of racing. I don’t know who to start applauding. Absolutely great show put on by Woodbine Mohawk Park the entire evening. All the top finishers in the Pepsi North America Cup raced great. It amazes me how quickly people react to a misstep. Captain Crunch was odds on when they announced the original field and looked totally unbeatable. After jumping a shadow he was diminished immediately to third choice in the betting even after a miraculous comeback. Certainly some sharp punters got well. Congratulations to Nancy Johansson who did what dad was unable to in winning the Cup, and Scott Zeron for a fabulous drive. Can I say more than DEXTER DUNN? The Meadowlands Pace should be spectacular. Congratulations to all the other winners it would take up too much space to list.

One note that’s a breath of fresh air, there were six major stakes at Mohawk won by six different drivers and five different trainers Tony Alagna had a double. Parity is a wonderful thing.

Someone should check the sex on Shartin N. To me she looks like a stallion. What an amazing mare.

What a shock! Bill Mott has announced that Country House will be out for the remainder of 2019. He hasn’t done well after having a fever the day after winning the Kentucky Derby and missing the Preakness and the Belmont. It wouldn’t shock me if he attempted stud duty next season rather than race again. “Even a blind pig can find an ear of corn.”

I have a pet peeve and I am not alone. Why can’t announcers study the program PRIOR to the races with enough time to ask when they are not sure of the pronunciation of the name of a trainer, driver, horse or owner? It’s not only annoying to hear it it’s disrespectful to the individual. There is no reason whatsoever for this not to be accomplished. Maybe if my name was Ronnie Smith I wouldn’t care as much, but when your last name is Gurfein and you hear 50 versions of your name over the years it becomes trying. I am not singling out the Woodbine Mohawk Park announcers at all because they could be the least offenders. The bad ones know who they are. With TVG covering a great deal of the Grand Circuit races this situation becomes more important.

Speaking of race callers, here’s one with today’s first question:

Frank Salive asks: Could you please comment on Workin On A Mystery in the NA Cup? You probably heard or watched the draw press conference as trainer Brian Brown explained the horse was sent to Kentucky after the elimination. Have you ever used the hyperbaric chamber (loosely defined as oxygen therapy to improve athletic performance). The travel time from Mohawk to Lexington is nine hours each way. Won’t the shipping time have an effect on the colt? Was shipping that far a necessity? There was no chamber closer? Mike Hamilton mentioned this angle in his column.

Great questions I feel all lead to a conspiracy theory. Not so!

Brian Brown is a smart man and would not subject himself to strange queries if he thought there was anything improper with what he was planning.

To start with, the end of the questions first. There are very few Hyperbaric Chambers for horses north of Kentucky. Most are based there or in Texas.

What the chamber does is increase the air pressure three times that of normal. Pure oxygen is pumped in, therefore the horse is receiving far more oxygen to his lungs than under normal circumstances. The blood carries the oxygen throughout the body. It helps fight bacteria and stimulates the release of substances called growth factors and stem cells which promote healing.

Brown’s colt was recovering from a serious upper respiratory infection and he obviously felt that a few days in the chamber would help the process immensely.

The process does enhance the blood count and the ability of the body to retain oxygen, but I never heard that it did it enough to enhance performance. Horseman today have far less expensive ways to increase red blood cells. It will in fact creating a healthier animal, like calming sore joints like EPM medication.

Unfortunately, I did use the chamber and only once with not so great results. I was training a colt named Cadillac Hall a brother to Cantab Hall, for Alan Leavitt and he thought that the chamber was “ the cat’s meow,” so I did what any trainer would do and listened to the boss. To make a sordid long story short, the colt freaked out and fell down and broke his knee. That was my first and last endeavor to the chamber.

Bill Bigler asks: What do you think about the USTA coming out against the Integrity Act as proposed in congress on June 12?

The statement published by the USTA in regard to their reasons for opposing the act are so terribly misinformed it’s embarrassing. Two weeks ago, the Federal government didn’t know the difference between a harness horse and a mouse, and all of a sudden they are going to attempt to level the playing field in our sport and we don’t want it? Give me a break. Sacrifice Lasix for uniform drug enforcement nationwide it’s a panacea.

The USTA statement claims there are no other existing drugs to replace Lasix . Not that I care, but I can name a few. They go on to say that drugging is not a problem in our sport because 99 per cent of our testing is negative.

How about if we had tests that work maybe 60 per cent of our testing would be negative.

To me it’s pitiful that a drug can be used in Pennsylvania 24 hours out and the same drug in New Jersey must be withdrawn in six days. For the rules to be equal would be a major positive step to parity.

For positive tests to become a Federal crime in itself would be a deterrent.

I don’t want to go step by step on the points discussed, but if you read the statement you will surely understand where I am coming from.

Craig Gordon is at it again, and I promise this will be the last of my answers to him. He says, in answer to my reply to his question last week, “U can twist it any way U want. Qualifiers don’t pay the bills. He (Tony Alagna) has 100 horses. How many are making a profit? He has like 40 Captains none are any good. Tall Drink Hanover is a homebred not one they picked out.”

Why am I answering this guy, only god knows, but he infuriates me. I really would like to know why Alagna’s success or failure has anything to do with him.

Just for the record, just this past weekend the Alagna barn won two major stakes at Mohawk with Pilot Discretion and Treacherous Reign another of his “no good” Captains and had Captain Trevor and Major Deception both win at the Meadowlands in 1:49.

That said, how could Tall Drink Hanover be a homebred as she was sold to Tony as Hip# 160 at the Harrisburg sale 2017 for $35,000. Please find another subject!

I will repeat it’s not my job to defend Tony, most of all because he doesn’t need it, but to set the record straight you can’t figure success by the earnings numbers vs. the costs as the math will never work. The owners in his barn are in for the long hall and are trying to make stallions that provide major income. You have no idea how much the Captaintreacherous syndicate creates in available cash every year, and he is just one of many stallions from Tony’s barn standing stud in 2019.


Jim Connors asks: What’s your opinion on trainers going to the sales and loading up on yearlings by sires that they trained?

I think if you really loved the horse it is perfectly natural you buy his foals not only to have good horses but to help make your stallion.

This can also be very dangerous, and on the other hand can reap great rewards.

I loved Victory Dream and bought his son Self Possessed who I loved and bought his son Cantab Hall. Tony Alagna trained Captaintreacherous and many of his sons and daughters are great, Linda Toscano trained Chapter Seven and is doing great loading her barn with his yearlings.

However, I must point out that the failures are far more abundant than the successes.

Two sorrowfully come to mind and cost two Ronnie’s a fortune. Mr Vic financially buried me, as was Ronnie Waples misfortune of having a barn full of Ralph Hanovers.

I could go on and on down this road, but I don’t want to depress you early on Friday morning.

To all the young trainers out there, remember just because you broke and trained a new sire doesn’t insure he will be a good one.

Ed Dugan Asks: How come drivers are no longer hooked up with trainers like they used to? I remember you and Mike Lachance and Chuck Sylvester and John Campbell were almost inseparable.

Basically, the dynamics of the sport have radically changed. When Mike and John we’re driving all Chuck’s and my horses it was easy for them because we had small stables and they weren’t tied to only one barn. Plus we had a lot of power.

Today, with a few barns of 100 or more horses, no driver has the ability to race them all.

Chuck and I raced mostly trotters. He had a few pacers and I probably didn’t have a pacer in my barn for 20 years. That left about 75 per cent of the card for Mike and John to drive for others.

I think there was a definite loyalty factor involved then that still exists but not nearly as strong. Mike would always pick my 20-1 shot over a 3-5 from another barn. Yannick Gingras drove first call to Burke and Takter but if they had 30-1 shots and he was named on a 3-5 from another barn many times he would jump ship. To be honest, I think Ron Burke and Jimmy Takter were okay with it.

Somehow winning major races together as trainer/driver creates a bond. I still see it today with Tim Tetrick with the Kings and Linda Toscano. Tetrick rarely, if ever, goes elsewhere.

After all is said and done, I promise you no driver trainer combo had more FUN in this sport, traveling the country and racing from Montreal to DuQuoin and even to Europe, than Lachance and Gurfein. The stories I could tell.

Thanks once again to all my readers for the kind words and encouragement. Please keep the questions coming. Great Grand Circuit Racing this weekend at The Meadowlands and Pocono Downs. Have a wonderful week.

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