More on Schnittker, plus thoughts on the east coast driving colony, the DQ of Custom Cantab and 4-year-olds vs. older horses

All this and much more in the latest installment of harness racing’s favorite advice column.

by Ron Gurfein

Tidbits: I listened to my buddies Trade Martin, Bob Marks and Fred Hudson’s podcast last week with Ray Schnittker as the guest speaker. It was all about the disturbance in the winner’s circle at Pocono Downs between Ray and Josh Marks (who for my money is getting way too much press). Ray stated that Marks accused him of letting me in on his dirty little not-so-secret, secret. He claimed that was the reason for my demeaning his protege Gareth Dowse in my column a few weeks ago.

For starters, Ray and I have been friends for many years and we have never had a telephone conversation. Second, we are both smart enough to know when a trainer has a UDR of 106 for 15 years and then bats 500 “something is rotten in Denmark.”

That said, I still would have not published my story had I not learned that Dowse was not permitted to race in overnights at the Meadowlands Racetrack.

I have done some research into the situation as I was alarmed by Ray’s statement that after reporting the story to the commission their reaction was we can’t do anything to him because he is not licensed. Okay, no jurisdiction I understand, but why can’t they refer it to the local police? The man was threatened at a public sporting event. Now comes the worst part of the scenario. When an individual uses PEDs on a horse, he is, in essence, tampering with the outcome of a sporting event with significant wagering across state lines. Why is this not a federal offense? Why does the Department of Justice not prosecute? I asked these questions of a major attorney who’s intellect I truly respect and his answer was: Yes there are laws, but it is hard to get the DOJ to show any interest.

We must do something even if the governing bodies refuse to. There must be unanimity amongst racetracks. There is no reason for a trainer banned from one track to be welcomed with open arms by another. Locally, we should have the horseman’s representatives from all the local tracks have a consortium and discuss this matter and develop a way to move forward. Hire a private detective to sort out the information so you can act on fact, not innuendo.

I fully realize no one wants to be singled out as a rat. But that is no longer an option. Drugs are killing the business and ruining the livelihood of honest trainers.

If you have irrefutable information on wrong doing and afraid of consequences send me an anonymous note via email or send it by snail mail at HRU to my attention. I promise I will do my best solve any bad situation.

Congratulations to Casie Coleman Herlihey for getting the great McWicked into the winner’s circle in the Gerrity at Saratoga after a less-than-stellar start. Good job on the turn around.

If any of you withstood the long delay (almost 3 hours) at Monmouth Park to see another thoroughbred debacle in the Haskell, you will note that ours is not the only sport with controversial calls. Once again, Maximum Security (Louis Saez) crashed into another horse at the top of the stretch resulting in a 30-second inquiry, not the 20 minutes in Kentucky. Boom… OFFICIAL.

Johnny V ( John Velasquez) was beside himself in an interview after the event. He was asked if he spoke with the judges and I couldn’t understand his answer. So I searched Google and all I could find was a video that didn’t help me a bit as I still couldn’t understand him. Then I searched the media, DRF, Thoroughbred News, USA Today. Not a peep about the foul. USA Today had one line saying that Velasquez seemed upset.

To quote the TVG announcer, “I will tell you one thing for sure, if I were a jock in a race with Maximum Security I would make sure I was nowhere near him from the top of the stretch to the finish…The prosecution rests.”

I received some anonymous emails about whether the tracks were negligent by not canceling some of the racing programs due to the intense heat. After discussing the subject with a few fellow horseman I really could not come up with a good answer. After researching the weekend and realizing that out of nearly 40 racing cards Friday and Saturday only Tioga cancelled qualifiers and Scarborough cancelled a pari-mutuel event. It is hard to condemn when the numbers were that tilted. If, however, let’s say six or so tracks elected to suspend racing, then I would feel comfortable pointing fingers.

I do remember racing three heats in the World Trotting Derby when the temperature was near 100 in DuQuoin that afternoon. My horse Self Possessed, was stressed more after the second heat than he was in the third and final. Standardbreds are much tougher than we realize. Let’s all be thankful there were no significant problems that occurred due to the fact that all those races were completed.

Steve Jones asks: I live in Indianapolis and find that the driving colony in the Midwest is getting better and better yearly. Do you find the same in the east?

Unfortunately, no. I judge the driving colony from a trainer’s point of view. If $1 million is on the line and you are not Ron Burke, Tony Alagna or Linda Toscano, or any power house stable and you need a driver the ideal situation is that there are 10 in the paddock to choose from where you would be happy with the selection. This has not been the case of late. We recently lost Mike Lachance, John Campbell, and Catello Manzi to old age and Brett Miller wanting change. That group was replaced by Dexter Dunn. Lose four gain one, not great. I would say that beyond the top seven there is a drop in talent going for that kind of money and if for some reason you hit a bigger field like 12 there are some trainers faced with the painful effect of picking a decent driver but competing against the top dogs. Not a position anyone wants to be in. Overnights don’t matter, but major events do. Please don’t get me wrong. there are five or six young guys that can get the job done and they will be a lot better a few years from now but it takes time to develop that ice water in your veins going for the pot of gold.

Mark Robinson asks: As a follow up to Brett Sturman’s piece on the disqualification of Custom Cantab in his HRU column, I would like to hear your opinion.

Just because we work for the same magazine doesn’t mean that I would always agree with him. But in this case, although his interpretation is a bit overdone, he was right on the money. The call was truly wrong in this writer’s opinion, but much closer than the fading two lengths that Brett eluded to.

To me there was just enough clearance and in defense of what was considered Brian Sears overreaction that obviously weighed heavily on the judges’ decision, until you have driven a horse in that tough situation don’t be calling it an over-reaction.

When you are traveling 35 miles per hour behind a 1,000lb animal and another appears to cut you off it’s pretty alarming.

All in all to me it was an error in judgement on the part of the judges, very similar to the horrid decision of the stewards in the Kentucky Derby. In both cases, the decision came as a result of responding to the wrong action. At the Meadowlands, it was Sears’ startled move and in Louisville it was the colt straying suddenly off the rail that was caused by the trailing horse running up on his heels.

Nobody is perfect, but these decisions are tough on owners with all that money and prestige at stake. If I had a better way I would tell you.

My only suggestion would be that the rule should be the order of finish remains the way they cross the line if there is interference then there should be a fine and the order of finish remain the same.

To me, it’s sad when the best horse is denied the prize. The best example would be David Miller’s Hambletonian DQ. He had the best horse. Did he interfere? For sure, but fine him and the owners and let the result stand.

Ramon P Gennaro asks: Why do people say 4-year-old trotters have a tough time against older horses? Tactical Landing and What the Hill both won against older horses.

First of all, both Tactical Landing and What the Hill won their last start of their 3-year-old year at the Meadowlands in the TVG Open Final. For the record, they were not yet four. What The Hill beat a suspect field of five other trotters and Tactical Landing actually had little to beat except another 3-year-old.

Remember these were not your average young horses. They finished the Hambletonian first before a DQ and third, respectively.

That said, there is good reason for the fact that 4-year-olds have difficulty beating aged horses. Although the time of the races appear the same, the short sprints are not. An older horse can throw in a eighth mile brush that a younger horse has yet to experience. Older horses are more physically and mentally developed. But something not always discussed is that an older horse has been through all the racing scenarios where a young colt may have to endure something for the first time and that puts him at a disadvantage.

If what I have stated wasn’t factual there would have been no uproar from the racing community when the Gural Rule was put in effect. The rule was, that in order to be eligible to Meadowlands stakes races, a stallion must compete in his 4-year-old year. Two great stallions that were absolute flops as 4-year-olds come to mind. Captaintreacherous and Father Patrick had no success against older horses and were only competitive in the 4-year-old events. Those weren’t your average equines. I would say as stakes colts they were in the upper one per cent. They have both proven themselves great sires, but how much money did the owners lose early on because they were forced to waste that year?

Thanks to all for the kind words. This is a very exciting time of year for our business and I hope you are all enjoying it. Great weekend of racing at the Big M including eliminations to the Hambletonian Oaks, the Peter Haughton and the Jim Doherty. If possible, you should try and make it to the Meadowlands for Hambletonian Day. It is a fabulous experience. It will also be the last time for the big dance to race heats on the same day, I think beginning in 2020 there will be eliminations the week before and the final the following Saturday. The Adios final is tomorrow at The Meadows, another event with plenty of excitement. No matter what you do, have a wonderful week.

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