How does the Hambletonian compare to the Prix d’Ameriqué as a spectacle and whatever happened to Bill Fahy and Eric Ledford?

by Ron Gurfein

Tidbits: It’s been almost a week already but I had to start my column with R.I.P. KOBE.


How do you catch a criminal? Do you call him and tell him you are waiting in the wings for him to strike? I think NOT. Why on earth when a racing commission has a test for a new powerful performance enhancing drug would they publicize the first trainer they catch? Simple, because they don’t want to catch any more and that in a nutshell is a major part of the problem we are facing in our sport.

When the New York State Gaming Commission discovered the presence of IOX2 (a drug that yields similar results to EPO) in two Yonkers horses trained by Michael Temming (official ruling here), they should have kept it under wraps because some others will surely try it. But, as usual, it hit the headlines and now all the poor souls that went out and bought it are safe from discovery but lost a few bucks buying the drug. Please note that buying the drug was simple as using the Internet. Just Google IOX2 and the first five responses tell you about the drug and all offer overnight delivery, WONDERFUL.


I loved Brett Sturman’s piece on elimination of elimination races. His ideas of following the format of the Kentucky Derby with point races leading up to the event is sensational. Not only would it make for better wagering races but it would free up so many racing dates and eliminate stakes conflicts and pave the way for new races to be created.

Paul Chambers asks: How do you compare the Prix d’Ameriqué with our Hambletonian as an extravaganza?

It’s not a fair comparison because never in the long history of the Hambletonian has it ever been made into such an enormous event. To begin with, Sunday’s race in Paris was the 100th anniversary and they went all out. I have been to Vincennes and the day was not nearly as grandiose. In order to have a spectacle like that you need a lot of space and a lot of money to burn, neither of which is available right now at the Meadowlands or any racetrack in the U.S. or Canada that I am aware of.

That said, the 100th anniversary of the Grand Prix d’Ameriqué certainly did not disappoint. Aside from the fact I was routing for Daniel Reden’s Propulsion, who was unfortunately trapped for his life behind the fading Looking Superb, all else was wonderful.

We learned why the wonderful Italian horse Zacon Gio, the formidable winner of the Yonkers International Trot, opened on the Yonkers odds board at 6-5 and remained there after being stamped with a 12-1 morning line, and then won the event with such ease. The only non-indigenous race on his card was an international event in which he defeated Face Time Bourbon the easy winner of this year’s Paris classic (full story here) who went to post at 4-1 in the $992,000 Grand Prix d’Ameriqué.

The Le Trot video stream from Vincennes was fabulous and the race coverage lasted almost an hour when you added in the post parade and the after-race ceremonies. The pageantry was amazing and the fact that all the participants that were interviewed — whether Swedish or Italian —were multi-lingual surprised me when interviewed in French by the French press. I loved the fact that the first three drivers to finish were all part of the ritual. Five beautiful girls dressed in red white and blue riding attire adorned the stage that was surrounded by children in driving costumes.

The graphics and the sharp picture provided by Le Trot was so clear and so well done that if you didn’t speak a word of French and you had a list of the horses in front of you it was very easy to follow the race. The numbers were very visible and to add to the experience the horses had microchips in their saddle pads so you were constantly viewing a graphic with the exact location of every horse in the race.

Bjorn Goop,, the winning driver was presented a liter of champagne which he proceeded to open and spray the crowd and the press.

It was an hour of reverie that we in America could learn a lot from.

Bill Bigler asks: There was a thread on Facebook that you asked about what would happen to the Mohawk Million if the winner of the William Wellwood’s connections already had a slot? What was your reaction to the answers?

There were no less than 50 comments and not one really answered my question. Clay Horner came the closest by sending me the conditions on the WEG website that was not helpful as I didn’t have the time or inclination.

I was however fascinated by one topic. A major player in the sport who will remain nameless in this column for obvious reasons as you read on, suggested that because the owners are putting all the purse money up, as well as paying the entry fee for the Wellwood winner, that the driver and trainer fee should be cut to 2.5 per cent.

To say the least, I was less than enamored with the idea.

Trainers and drivers are the biggest bargain in the industry. Thoroughbred trainers and jockeys get 10 per cent and for the most part do less work and make more money.

My feeling is that our trainers and drivers should get 10 per cent also. There are guys that get 10 per cent now. I know I got 8 per cent when I was training and had no complaints. A few questioned the price but no one cared.

The winning owner gets $450,000 net, why begrudge the trainer and driver 2.5 per cent each which would be a difference of $12,500 instead of $25,000?

My gut feeling is if you tried to do that, the top trainers and drivers would abstain and I certainly wouldn’t blame them. If you have the money to put up $110,000 to possibly win $450,000, which in and of itself is like supplementing to the Breeders Crown (without knowing the competition) why would you care about paying the trainer and driver $12,500?

Marvin Friedman asks: (I have received this question previously and thought it was someone pulling my leg but the repetition proves me wrong) It seems the starting gate at Mohawk opens at the 16th pole clearly before the finish line. If that is correct does the timer start when the horses cross the finish line?

Sadly you are under a misconception. The only time races start and finish at the same point i.e.: the finish line, are on mile or half mile tracks. On a five-eighths mile it is less confusing as the start is on the backstretch and the finish is in front of the grandstand.

Mohawk is a seven-eighths mile oval and therefore the start is much closer to the finish line which is just what is confusing you.

Thomas Santoro asks: Tell me about two Hambletonian winning drivers that are no longer in the Meadowlands driving colony. Why are Bill Fahy and Eric Ledford no longer in the metropolitan area?

Both were superbly talented reinsman and departed the local scene for very diverse reasons. To begin with, Bill Fahy is much older than Eric Ledford and just had enough of the circus that is the Meadowlands and the Grand Circuit. It is a life that you must devote all your time to. You have little time for friends and family and to some this can wear very thin.

I hate to talk for anyone and if I am wrong I hope someone points it out to me but I think Bill’s case was simply moving on to greener pastures. I have seen him at The Meadows and he seems happy as can be. If I were you I wouldn’t read anything else into the story.

Eric Ledford on the other hand did get into some trouble in New Jersey. Unfortunately it may have been his father Seldon, that caused him the problems but I am not privy to the exact details and certainly will not speculate on the matter. An amazing talent on the racetrack, Eric was suspended in 2006 for possession of PED’S (performance enhancing drugs) and attempting to alter the outcome of a sporting event. He was given a major financial penalty as well as a 10-year suspension. The fact that the sentence was reduced by virtue of a plea bargain to one year for failing to turn his father in tells me that he may not have been as big a part of the scheme as was originally thought. One way or another, the demise of Eric Ledford in no way resembles the life choices of Billy Fahy.

Sy Fuchs asks: It’s been six months since the Josh Marks situation at Pocono Downs. Do you know what has transpired since then?

I previously remarked that after speaking with the powers that be at Pocono, their hands were tied because you can’t suspend the license of an individual if he doesn’t have one and they were not likely to get in a court battle on a charge of disturbing the peace.

However, I did read somewhere that he was arrested for assaulting one of Ronnie Burke’s employees recently in Florida.

Marks is a lot like DEXTER. He just can’t help himself and I predict he will be back to his old tricks ASAP.
Thanks again for all the kind words. Please keep the questions coming in and have a wonderful week.

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