Thoughts on Dexter Dunn, Brian Sears, the things I miss the most and whether fillies are more precocious than colts

by Ron Gurfein

Tidbits: Congratulations to my friend “Showbiz” (Bill Popfinger) and all the other Hall of Fame nominees for earning a spot on the ballot.

Could the racing at the Meadowlands get any better than last weekend. WOW and WOW. I know the conditions were perfect and that aided the speed but it takes great horses to go that fast anywhere.

I hate trotting hopples and Atlanta’s 4-year-old campaign justifies my thought that they slow a horse down, but I truly don’t want to take anything away from Ronnie Burke who has done a fabulous job with her.

How about Ake Svanstedt, who almost had two world records in one weekend? I wish Greenshoe had raced that night, we might have seen the impossible dream.

How great will the Crawford Farms Meadowlands Pace be Saturday night? Captain Crunch will be a heavy favorite, but look out for Bettors Wish and Workin Ona Mystery, both capable of what would be a minor upset. I was disappointed in Captain Ahab, and De Los Cielos Deo but don’t count them out either I have seen Alagna and Burke magic before.

Manchego has been totally off form of late. However, she seemed much better in that miracle mile Saturday after a :26.2 first panel from post 10.

Can’t go without congratulating Team Teague on their new world record holder Lather Up 1:46. Truly amazing.

Kudos to Jim Campbell and Jules Seigel for showing off the brilliant homebred Millie’s Possession who trotted in 1:51.1 parked every step of the mile from the 9 hole.

What’s in store for us in the summer and fall will prove to be nothing short of amazing. There are top horses of every age and gait, I hope you own or train one.

Murray Brown asks: Have you ever seen a driver come newly arrived on the scene and make as much of an impact as Dexter Dunn has? He hasn’t been here a year and is already in the top five.

To me, the answer is yes. I have seen a few but never on a grand stage like the North America Cup or the Meadowlands Pace. Three drivers I thought were awesome at first asking were Benny Webster at Yonkers when he arrived from upstate. Next there was Marvin Maker arriving for the first time in Liberty Bell. I recall a very famous local reinsman and very good journeyman driver throw his whip at the window in the drivers’ lounge as Marvin won by five in 2:02 with a horse that had be trotting in 2:06 for him. But probably the best I have ever seen arrive with a bang was Walter Case arrival at Monticello. The kid was lightning in a bottle. He went from one horse a program to 10 in a few days. If he wasn’t so loyal to his favorite trainers I feel he could have been the only driver to ever win every race on a card. Even today I can’t think of many that could get a horse out of the gate faster and keep him going.

That said, Dexter is not only a top driver but a multi-faceted one. He can drive a trotter as well as a pacer and he is just as effective on the front or racing from behind where he has an excellent sense of pace.

I am rooting for him in “The Pace” tomorrow night as he is driving my best friend’s colt Bettors Wish and in my heart I believe he has a great chance if he gets a trip.

That said no one can beat Captain Crunch without a trip unless he is off his game.

Jeff Cantine asks: Do you think trotting fillies generally come to their speed / potential sooner than colts or have you not seen any pattern? Also what about the pacing side?

There is no question that in my own personal experience fillies are more precocious than colts. I personally have won the Merrie Annabelle four times (Lady Starlet 1992, Vernon Bluechip 1996, Miss Wisconsin 2005 and Muscovite 2007). However, I have never won the Peter Haughton. It’s also true when I look at my Hambletonian winners. Neither Victory Dream nor Self Possessed were as good at two as they were at three, yet the filly Continentalvictory was a terror at two and three. All things taken into consideration I would say trotting fillies did come to their speed earlier.

As for the pacing question, I must be perfectly honest, I haven’t trained enough pacers to have a valid opinion on the subject. On the other hand from my observations watching babies for HRU I would say that the pacing filly dominance is not as noticeable if in fact it exists at all.

Billy Bigler asks: As you are almost an octogenarian you have seen so much of the standardbred business. What are the things you miss the most?

I love the question, but in order to appreciate the answers you should be around mid-fifties or older. If you are not, you will either not understand or be bored so skip to the next question please.

To those of you that are still with me and remember Gam Wah, the Island Inn and Ham and Eggs come on down.

The things I miss:

7 a.m. breakfast with the Red Man (Carmine Abatiello) at Ham and Eggs, he seldom paid if ever but I still miss the stories.

Talks with Jimmy Cruise and my mentor Frank Popfinger.

The Cloud Casino.

The beauty of Monticello Raceway in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Dennis Payne’s blacksmith shop.

Watching Sunday racing from the hill.

Seeing “B” (George Berkner) sweep the field with Benita’s Byrd.

Lunch at the Chateau with Tully and Brewer.

Dinner at the Homestead with Jerry Glantz, RW “Dick” DeSantis and his brother Warren both godfathers to my children.

Breakfast at the Round Robin with Rolla, Gigante, Donofrio and Del Gatto.

Card games in the tack room with “Doc Bloom” and “the Judge” a supporting cast of Louie the Rock and Davey the Pebble.

Monday Night at the Raleigh.

The Down Under and Johnnies.

The Clubhouse girls Susan, Carolynn, and Monica.

Any day or night at the Concord.

Any meal at Bernie’s Holiday.

Sunday trips to Pocono with Gilles Lachance.

Herman Carbone singing at the Bottom of the Barrel.

Dinner served in the drivers room at the Meadowlands.

Fresh fruit with Rick Balmer (summer mornings).

Joe DeFrank, Ralph Swalsky and Bruce Munn.

Ralph, Angela and Jimmy at Il Villagio, lunches with TC and Angelo.

Racing Hardesty and Franconia on the mile track.

My family at the Hambletonian.

George Segal’s birthday parties at Milos, NYC.

Fifty thousand fans in attendance i.e.: the Roosevelt International.

Bob Hollywood Heyden’s mothers’ cookies and his classic comments ie: “They don’t like you now but when you win your third Hambletonian with Self Possessed they will really hate you.” Quote from June of 1999.

Dinner with Bob Waxman on Queen’s Street.

Traveling the country with Mike Lachance.

Springfield and DuQuoin with “ Doc” Narotsky.

Lunch in Sherman with Erv Miller.

Mary’s in Herrin, Illinois with Lou Guida.

My barn at the Red Mile.

Any Art and Leah Zubrod dinner (the 50th birthday was a game changer).

Living on Paris Pike, Linda ,Zack and Zeek.

A La Lucie circa 1994.

Formal dinners at Walnut Hall.

Lexington, Lexington, Lexington.

Sonny and a Frank Antonacci (Crown Stable) on my deck at Sunshine Meadows.

Ristorante Ribot in San Siro.

The Zubrods in Paris and

dinner with JP DuBois at L’ami Louie

I could go on forever and will do it again one day but to the millennials out there I must be polite. To those of you that raced or trained with me in the time surrounding the ‘70s I hope I made you smile.

Delroy Brown asks: (Note: I can’t print the question as it is as long as a novel. I did like the idea so without asking I will paraphrase it). His basic question with a lot of extraneous color is why aggressive drivers who are masters of pace and strategy are ignored for someone past their prime who misjudges pace all the time. He mentioned a myriad of drivers but his main comparison was Tim Tetrick over the “old timer” Brian Sears.

Brian Sears one of the greatest harness drivers in my lifetime certainly doesn’t need me to have his back. But this question is so off the wall it needs explanation.
Both Brian and Tim are great drivers. Evidently Mr. Brown prefers the aggressive type, that he feels Tetrick represents. It becomes a matter of taste not good or bad.

Brian is a totally finesse driver who if you are lucky enough to have his talent on your horse for an entire season you are most likely to have a very fresh horse come October. I think the fact that the odd pace of the Beal at Pocono made him look a bit awkward at 1-9 and precipitated this query by Mr. Brown. Even while racing at Yonkers on the half-mile, Brian is a finesse driver rarely gunning his charge to the top. To be honest, I have seen him drive his entire career and in my opinion I think he is more comfortable with a target in front of him than cutting the mile.

The reason most drivers are aggressive today is that with the crazy speed we are witnessing sitting back in the pack makes winning a difficult task. However, Brian adjusts his style to the power of his mount. Watch him drive Greenshoe. Although he never guns him from the gate, he is always on the move early and for the most part easily attains the top.

My suggestion is that we put the Beal race behind us. I criticized the drive myself, but it in no way lessened the greatness of the man.

Remember you heard it here first, Brian Sears has won three of the last 10 Hambletonians and in less than a month’s time will have number four.

Thanks to all for the kind words. Please keep the questions coming in. Another fabulous weekend of racing featuring the Crawford Farms Meadowlands Pace Final the William Haughton Memorial, the Delvin Miller and Stanley Dancer and the Hambletonian Maturity all at the Big M. Well over $2.5 million on the line as advertised. Have a great weekend.

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