Proposed Act could kill racing in California

Equine Welfare and Safety Act could lead to death of racing in California

March 6, 2020

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Plus, thoughts on Anthony MacDonald’s column, crying after winning the Hambletonian and remembering one of my dumbest mistakes.

by Ron Gurfein

Tidbits: The newly proposed Equine Welfare and Safety Act (full story here) in the state of California, if it passes, will be a stepping stone to the death of racing in the Golden State. Why can’t the public realize the s – – – t storm caused by all the fatalities was an anomaly? There has been fabulous racing in the state for well over 100 years and now this ridiculous over reaction threatens the entire industry.

Some of the proposals in the bill are totally off the wall.

The first is a provision for an on track pharmacy that would only carry a group of approved drugs. The vet trucks would not be allowed to carry any drug or supplement not found in the track pharmacy. Also there must be a CT scan available 24/7 on the track. Where would the money come from to put these suggestions to work?

It gets worse. Three strikes and you’re out. Any trainer receiving three positive tests is suspended. The positives don’t necessarily all have to be in the state of California, it is cumulative.

To me, the worst of all is if a horse was to die while in a trainer’s care, the trainer is automatically suspended until there is a thorough investigation. Only God knows how long that could drag on for.

Everyone concerned is doing the best they can to right this ship. It’s time for the powers that be to secure their weapons and let good sense and time play out a more healthy scenario.

* * *

I have read Anthony MacDonald’s column in last week’s HRU (full story here) and really don’t understand why he disagrees with my thoughts on racing licenses. I ask here how a man in his position cannot want to abolish licensing.

FYI most of the emails I received praising the idea of paying the state some sort of tax money to avoid the shortfall in revenue from the abolition of the licensing process, were from patrons of TheStable.ca. In my opinion, the results would benefit their stable far more than any other entity that I know of.

I see the type of horses the Stable ca. purchases and to me the indigenous races would be a must for their balance sheet to work out and elimination of New York from the program would be a backbreaker to the system.

Joel Kravet asks: The sign in front of Frank and Dino’s in Lexington says SOON. It ain’t open yet. What’s the story? The thing I hate most about Licensing is the fingerprint nonsense. I think the FBI has more copies of my prints than Willie Sutton.

To those of you youngsters, Willie Sutton was a famous bank robber when I was a kid. If you don’t remember the radio and train travel you most likely never heard of him.

I spoke to Carlo Vaccarezza the owner of Frank and Dino’s and he assured me the new restaurant will be open in September. For the exact opening date stay tuned.

Tom Santoro asks: I just watched your three winning Hambletonians on YouTube. At the end of the day when you were by yourself were you numb? Did you shed tears? I am just thinking because you were 55 and I am 59. I think my whole life would have passed before my eyes.

As far as crying, I am a chronic crier. I cry in movies, happy or sad. But in life I think I cry more from happiness. I rarely go to funerals as I was often embarrassed at my lack of emotion.

Both Michel Lachance and I cried after every Hambletonian win, especially the last one where there were lots of tears.
Numb is not a word I would use to describe the feeling. In reality, my first reaction after crying is relief, as in thank God it’s over. The pressure of the weeks leading up to the event is extraordinary. Add to that all three horses came off horrid races in the Stanley Dancer or the Beacon Course as it was previously called.

More brutal was the total meltdown of Act Of Grace causing numerous recalls in the 1996 edition with Continentalvictory.

There is a surreal feeling that I would say lasts maybe a half hour at the most. However, the thrill of victory stays with you forever.

There are moments when you are not sure you know where you are and are totally oblivious to the people around you.

I had one of those weird experiences during the 1992 Breeders Crown at Pompano Park. I had won two Crowns in 25 minutes with both 3-year-old trotters — the colt Baltic Striker and the filly Imperfection.

About a week after the event I met an old friend and said, ‘Wow, it’s been so long since I have seen you.’ She looked at me in a quizzical fashion saying, “Ronnie I drove you to the winner’s circle from the paddock in a golf cart after both Breeders Crowns.”

Did I ever feel stupid.

It just goes to show you what a total out of body (and mind) the experience delivers.

Filip Van Hauwermeiren (Star Breeding, Belgium) asks: I see that you were the trainer of Boardwalk Hall. He performed well in Norway before we brought him to our farm in Belgium where he is a leading sire. What can you tell me about him?

Boardwalk Hall was, to me, the best looking Conway Hall colt I had ever seen.

He topped Walnut Hall’s sale in 2004 at $160,000. He was also one of my dumbest mistakes. Many times in my career I loved a colt and convinced myself that he could overcome a fault that was staring me in the face.

Boardwalk Hall had corrective surgery on both knees as a weanling. The knees were ugly, but the colt could trot like hell. There were very few colts I liked that year and, along with a very small Self Possessed colt, he was my favorite. Mr. Leavitt sold his consignment at the end of the sale and had one entire evening to himself. Therefore, I had to wait till the bitter end to await my misfortune.

I won’t cry over spilt milk. The colt never stayed sound for any length of time and won the majority of his $120,000 in a six week period during his 3-year-old year. He won the Review in Springfield in 1:53 and got money in the World Trotting Derby (4th) and the Old Oaken Bucket (3rd).

Looking back, I never should have raised my hand. However, it wasn’t the first time and certainly not the last time I would make a mistake.

I am glad that you are happy with him as a stallion and when you look to replace him I am available for consultation.

Richard Huston asks: I know you are a big fan of Greenshoe. Now that he is retired for many months, looking back would you as a trainer have done anything different?

This is not the first time I have answered this question. Greenshoe was a very difficult colt to train with amazing ability.

Stefan Melander is only 27 and one would not expect him to be Jimmy Takter at this point in his life and he (in this writer’s opinion) made the same mistake twice.

I really believe he under-raced this colt and it cost him the Hambletonian and the Breeders Crown. In both instances there were close to three weeks between starts. I don’t care how much he trained the colt, it doesn’t make him as tired as an actual race and that is what he needed. One the other hand, put yourself in Melander’s shoes. Every time Greenshoe put his nose on the gate, Melander lost a bit of his life and gained a few early gray hairs. It must have been torture watching the fractious colt bob and weave and throw his head. Poor Brian Sears, one trip behind Greenshoe was like 10 behind a normal colt.

Now people will tell me that this is the new breed of horse and being more like the thoroughbred they shouldn’t be raced as often. I agree 100 per cent. However, this horse presented a myriad of bad habits and was ultra-hyper and deserved to be treated as an exception.

Looking back, I don’t understand one thing, and I hope “Baby Trainer” doesn’t get angry with me. Greenshoe was way too fresh with the long layoff before the Hambletonian and proved to be an impossible handful in the race. Why did they make the same mistake in the Breeders Crown?

Thank you for all your kind words and please keep the questions coming in. The View from The Deck will return Sunday weather permitting. Please don’t miss next week’s column when I will answer a letter from Chuck Mooney who calls Anthony MacDonald a snake oil salesman. Have a wonderful week.

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Email him at GurfTrot@aol.com.

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