Updating the Pocono Incident, should drivers expose beards, thoughts on the Hambletonian stretch call and winner’s circle gossip

All in the latest installment of our harness racing’s most popular advice column.

by Ron Gurfein

Tidbits: I am not a genius by any means. However, I think I can tell a good trip from a bad one and a great horse from a good horse. I sometimes get sucked into these bitter wars on Facebook and my blood pressure goes up 50 points, but I refuse to join the fight, although soooo tempted.

Shortly after the Hambletonian there was a discussion on why Forbidden Trade was omitted from my answer to how Greenshoe lost. Nowhere in that question was anything about Forbidden Trade. The only way his name could have come up was if my answer was he lost to a better horse. That in my view was definitely not the case.

However, I did applaud Forbidden Trade and his connections for a wonderful performance in my Sunday piece.

That said, I must relay to you some of the statements made in the discourse. I will leave out the names of the writers to protect their privacy.

“Forbidden Trade was better considering Greenshoe had a perfect trip.”

That’s a beaut. Could have been the only race the guy had ever seen.

“McClure outdrove Sears.”

True, but what about the circumstances? One was driving a perfectly-mannered colt and the other was driving one having an out of body experience.

The thing that irks me the most was that the battle fell amongst party lines America vs. Canadian. I have all the respect in the world for Luc Blais and spent a little time with him and Dan Dube in Lexington last year. He is a top horseman and no stranger to the winner’s circle in big trotting races, but nothing he does can make his colt better than Greenshoe.

To refresh your minds, Greenshoe had a very bad day for a very great horse. He came on the track a bundle of nerves throwing his head constantly.

I counted two serious bad steps in the first turn of heat one and at least three really bad steps in the second and he looked in serious trouble as Brian tried to move between horses and the horse in front of him slowed instantly.

I apologize if I am boring some of you with a little venting, but oft times listening to fools fodder creates terrible anxiety in me.

When Greenshoe has gotten back into a rhythm of racing we will see the true ability of the colt. Finishing second is not horrible, to quote the famed reinsman Michel Lachance, “the owners were crying out of one eye.”

Congratulations on the fabulous performances of Bettors Wish and Lather Up last weekend. Team Ryder and Team Teague do a great job.

Linda Toscano has a new rising trotting star in her arsenal. Speeding Spur N stopped the teletimer in 1:52.4 at Tioga Downs upsetting a small but select field in the Crawford Open Trot. A big mile on that 5⁄8 mile oval.

In the mares’ trot, oddly called the Joie De Vie who was a stallion, Ake Svanstedt’s Darling Mearas S made a standstill break in the middle of the first turn scattering half the field including the 2-1 second choice Manchego. That left the favorite Atlanta on an uncontested lead, however for no apparent reason she stopped to a walk and finished sixth. That left the door wide open for David Miller on the Chris Beaver trainee Custom Cantab to cruise to an open length victory at 31-1. This mare had been knocking at the door for weeks. Another amazing mile in 1:52.

Let me be the first to welcome Murray Brown and his new column to HRU. I told him last week he needed a job and thank goodness a new breath of fresh air will emerge. It will also make all of our Facebook reading more palatable as the writing becomes time consuming and the lovely Carol Stein won’t let him sit still that long.

Phillip Anderson asks: Can you give us an update on the “Pocono incident”?

The more I delve into the Josh Marks Pocono appearance and verbal lashing and social media connection with Ray Schnittker the more we think that it was truly serious with life-threatening verbiage and needs to be addressed by some form of police or sheriffs’ department with jurisdiction.

I played musical telephones with Pocono. My first call was to race secretary Rick Kane and he informed me he was aware of the incident but knew little more than what we all have heard. I then called Larry Willis the presiding judge who said as I have printed before “Josh Marks has been banned from Pocono for more than a year and as he has no Pennsylvania license, therefore we have no jurisdiction over him. I was able to call security and have him removed from the grounds.” He went on to tell me, “Ray told me Marks said (by some sort of social media) ‘I am going to put a gun in your mouth and shoot you.’”

Whether he meant it or not sane people don’t put that kind of stuff in writing. There are people doing time for threats like that. Judge Willis told Ray to go to the police and he said he didn’t want to.

Some people are obsessed by pushing the envelope Josh Marks has been doing it for years. I happen to know him and from my observation he was being a bully and was certainly not serious about murder. But some agency must step up and prevent his further interference in our sport, as well as provide a firm platform where actual jail time can be threatened to those interfering or altering the outcome of a sporting event where there is gambling involved.

In closing, Larry Willis told me to contact Steve Salerno of the Pennsylvania Harness Horseman’s Assn. and he could add to the story. I called Steve and left my number. I await a response. Stay tuned.

Robert Le Blanc asks: You talk about the trainers, the commission and the owners in regard to “beards.” What about the drivers?

Drivers should not be put in a position to police the sport. Do they know what’s going on? I am sure that most do. However, there is no money trail. The track pays the drivers and they have no financial dealings whatsoever with the trainers or the beards. I don’t think most beard situations are as blatant as Josh Marks and Gareth Dowse, so many would go unnoticed. Drivers have enough of a job keeping the peace between themselves and competing trainers, jumping off mounts that have suspect connections would be adding more unneeded stress to their operation. Trainers live with one another, they always know what’s going on and they need to step up as Ray did and voice complaints. Owners know who they pay and where the bills come from. They should be aware of who they are dealing with.

I never said this would be easy, but we all can make it easier. I get emails complaining that I create trouble for those successful trainers that are winning at these ridiculous percentages. I applaud success and if you are a trainer that is that superior you should welcome the scrutiny as somewhere down the line it will protect you from a bad apple stealing your owners.

George Segal told me that I was wrong about 24-hour detention barns. He claims they have been very effective. Far be it from me to argue the point as he has all the facts at his fingertips. I don’t think that 24-hour detention barns are enough. We still need before-the-draw testing. Horses expected to perform in a given stake should be routinely tested one and two weeks prior to the event for blood doping. If we are successful in catching one or two cheaters it will slow down many trainers who have been in outlaw mode.

Ed Harrison asks: What did you think of the stretch call of the Hambletonian?

I think Ken Warkentin is a very talented race caller. I refuse to throw him under the bus for messing up the call of the race. I think the circumstances of a huge favorite (Greenshoe) and the expected outcome caused the mistake. I believe that coming off the last turn it looked like all were stalled and nothing was charging. When Brian Sears started to move, Ken must have thought the race was his and tried to make it very exciting, unfortunately Ken didn’t see Forbidden Trade shake loose on the inside, and he was fresh and coming fastest of all. Fortunately, he corrected his error on the wire. I have heard many race callers in my life and Ken Warkentin makes way fewer mistakes than most. It is just a pity that it had to come in the biggest event of the year. Calling races is not an easy task, an sometimes your thought process gets in the way of reality.

Doug Saunders asks (and this is one of many with the exact same question): Following the Cane Pace won by Captain Crunch on Hambletonian day, it appeared to me that trainer Nancy Johansson pretty much gave Scott Zeron the cold shoulder when he came into the winner’s circle. Any info or thoughts?

When I first received this query I thought it was a fan’s overreaction so I put it in the wait for later file. Then day by day I got a few more with the same question so I contacted Scotty Zeron to get the low down. He was more than emphatic that everyone was thrilled and all was well in the relationship.

Although the Cane Pace was important for Nancy Johansson, daughter of Jimmy Takter, I think her priority that day, judging from her own pedigree, was winning the Hambletonian. Early on, her colt Don’t Let’Em was a serious second choice in the betting to Greenshoe. I am sure her expectations were high and the disappointment that followed a couple of races back may well have carried over into the winner’s circle appearance in the Cane. We are talking about racing horses not Peyton Place.

Thank you all for all the kind emails. Please keep your questions coming in. Big weekend of racing coming to Tioga Downs, continued Sires Stake action at the Red Mile, the Gold Cup and Saucer in PEI and the Prix d’Ete at Trois Rivières. Have a wonderful week.

Have a question for The Guru?
Email him at GurfTrot@aol.com.