Enough with the negativity over Pennsylvania

Also, why Sunshine Meadows rules, why it’s tough to get a mainstream advertiser for the Hambletonian, how to deal with a mare that grabs on and more.

by Ron Gurfein

Tidbits: I am sick and tired of the negativity about our sport on the Internet, in emails and newspapers alike. Let’s make an attempt that if you don’t have something good to say don’t say anything. That seems to be an impossibility for some people.

There is no reason to blame Pennsylvania horsemen for an election-year ploy by the state’s governor. What is to be gained by this? Nothing. Bringing up the names of directors and trainers in a demeaning way is to no one’s advantage.

Jealousy in this sport spawns innuendo. All successful trainers are cheats and as soon as there is a positive test for some environmental problem there is a major rush to lynching. Training horses at the highest level is very difficult both physically and emotionally. The stress is greater than you can imagine. That’s why the watering holes adjacent to the raceways are so successful.

The Pennsylvania problem is not as menacing as you may think. As I said last week, they did the same thing before and I am certain they will do it again. Much must transpire before Governor Wolf can raid our funds. Right now it’s good banter for his followers with eight months to Election Day. I am not saying sit on our hands. We must pick up the fight immediately, however predicting the end of racing in the state is beyond ridiculous. Worst case scenario, I am wrong. Now remember the miracle the Canadians pulled off when the same thing happened in Ontario and they managed to get a long-term provincial subsidy for racing. I am sure we are up to the task.

* * *

Interesting note I picked up from Twitter. New Jersey sports betting was over $540 million in the month of January. Las Vegas has never had a month in its history where sports betting went over $500 million. Very nice,.

* * *

Per Henriksen wrote me an interesting note. “In my opinion the license is a waste of time. Any bad apple that wants to own a horse just gets a friend to front for him. Same as a trainer with a suspension. The United States and Canada are the only two countries that require licensing.They are the only two countries that don’t commonly have trailers behind the gate (i.e. larger fields ). The only two countries that every race goes the distance of one mile. The only two countries that need slots or government assistance to survive. It’s time for a change!” Very interesting.

* * *

I find it really amusing that that there are people out there that complain that I make too much of the training at Sunshine Meadows. Here’s the deal. Since the closure of the training side of Pompano Park, Sunshine Meadows has become a major force in harness racing and the development of stakes performers. I will say that more great horses in the past 30 years have been broken and trained at Sunshine Meadows than any other training facility in the United States.

There are seldom more than 300 winter residents in the horse colony, yet they have produced almost one third of the Hambletonian winners and more than 40 Breeders Crown winners in that period. Add to that more than 30 per cent of the Kentucky Futurity champions and although I couldn’t find records for the World Trotting Derby there were a significant amount of victories there.

The facility has only been in existence for 38 years. It has been home to some of the finest trainers in the sport. Howard Beissinger, Bruce Nichols, Oswaldo Formia, Per Eriksson, Trond Smedshammer, Jimmy Takter, Jan Johnson, Mark O’Mara, and his dad Frank, Chuck Sylvester, Jonas Cerneyzon, Steve Elliott, Dwayne Minor, Doug Miller, Tony Alagna, Peter Wrenn, Trent Stohler, Cassie Coleman, Domenico Cecere, Rick Zeron, Ross Croghan and Jeff Webster.

To those I left out I apologize. Sometimes old age gets a pass.

Please don’t email me about Aiken or Ben White. My story is in the present, I know how great they were in the past.

Tom Santoro asks: How can you explain Joe Sharp having eight horses disqualified due to drug positives and additional cases pending in Kentucky?

In a simple answer: really bad luck.

The positive was for Levamisole a Class 2 drug that is used as a deworming medication for cattle and other farm animals. It has been used by Sharp and others as an immunostimulant and to treat EPM. He was given bad information.

The fact remains if you are using a new product on your entire barn, it would be smart to check with your veterinarian or a racing commission to find out if there are any ingredients in the medication that could result in positive tests.

When there are numerous positive tests, there was obviously no malintent involved, thus the commission fined Sharp but did not suspend his license.

Unfortunately, we have seen this in our sport but not to that great of an extent. My advice is you cannot be too careful.

Robert C Dill asks: I have a 4-year-old trotting mare that grabs on. I race her with a dog chain, snaffle bit and a leather chin strap. She is not comfortable the way she is rigged, can you make a suggestion?

No horse is comfortable with a dog chain. There are many ways to stop a puller and that’s one I cannot ever use. Beat The Wheel was the deadest mouth puller I have ever seen. She made many a grown man cry. I did find two solutions to this problem, neither of which has ever failed. You must try both to see which one she is most comfortable with.

The first is a snake cord — not the kind you buy ready-made of leather, one you will make yourself. You need two nickel rings about a half inch in diameter, a woven nylon cord and 3⁄8 thick rubber tubing. I will not waste my readers’ time explaining how to assemble it. Any tack shop or horseman over the age of 50 will show you. Now that I think of it, you probably taught me. If the horse has an average size jaw, I like to set the length at 13 inches to start and make it smaller or larger as needed. Don’t be shy, make it tight, the rubber will prevent it from pinching. You may want to add a tie down as a filly will likely throw her head till she gets used to it. This will definitely work when fitted properly. Please add a check bit ear plugs and make sure she has an open bridle. All are a must with a puller.

My second choice and what I would consider a little more severe is a JIC bit. This bit will pinch on the cheeks of the filly the more she grabs on. Not a piece of equipment that pleases the animal and I have seen many throw themselves at first feel. Please be careful the first time you use it and walk the horse without a bike or cart before you try it on the track.

Drug laws are quite tight so there aren’t many alternatives to sedate your filly instead of using equipment, however if you do some research I am sure you will likely come up with a holistic product that will help you out and not endanger your trainer’s license. Ask your veterinarian, he may be of help. Good luck.

Joseph Smith asks: Why can’t the new Big M management attract advertisers from outside the industry to sponsor the Hambletonian, the premier event in harness racing in the United States?

Pretty much for the same reason CBS no longer carries the event on its main national network. Not only has interest in our sport plummeted, but sports in general have become so diluted almost every event has a smaller audience.

In the heydays of the Meadowlands, the Hambletonian was a major production on national TV. The show was an hour and a half showing the elimination races and giving background stories of the drivers and trainers, and up close and personal interviews with many owners. The production was over the top creative and took a week of preparation with Gary Siebel and Dave Johnson doing the color. The race was called the Cadillac Hambletonian. I even have a golf bag with that logo on it.

Think back to those days, only major sports were on television. Today, there is volleyball and lacrosse etc. The choices are out of control.

In today’s market, if you are not a major sport, finding sponsorship for a marginally televised market is quite difficult. So please don’t blame management for the situation they are in. I am sure they would love to have Cadillac back or any major brand name. It would be a big plus just to be back on national television.

Thanks to all of you for the kind words. I haven’t received much in the line of non-horse related queries lately. Try to help me out. Have a wonderful week.

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