Thoughts on Burke, a revised Triple Crown, time trials and the best crop of standardbreds ever foaled

Thoughts on Burke, a revised Triple Crown, time trials and the best crop of standardbreds ever foaled

May 22, 2020

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by Ron Gurfein

Tidbits: I have been inundated with emails about why this individual or that one hasn’t been nominated to the Hall Of Fame. It becomes similar to the Pete Rose question. Where does the vetting committee draw the line?

If Alan Leavitt can quote Friedrich Neitzsche in these pages I can quote Jesus Christ.

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Unfortunately, in our sport, the line is slightly bent when investigating certain people.

Before I was nominated to the Hall of Fame, a member of the screening committee called and quizzed me on a Banamine positive I received 35 years prior to the call. This gives you an idea of how intrusive, as well as petty, the system was at the time. To clear the air I was forced to explain that the spectrograph (the devise that tells you what drug and how much) was off kilter and there were 11 positives in Liberty Bell that night, including Stanley and Vernon Dancer and Jimmy Larente. I doubt anyone called Stanley and asked about it prior to his nomination.

The bottom line is everyone makes mistakes, no one is perfect. Judge all people the same way and forgive minor indiscretions. Great talent should not be denied a place in the history of the sport because of an error in judgement.

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AMAZING: I have not gotten one call or email of a DEXTER siting in a month. You KEYSTONE KOPS are failing me.

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Looks like the shortened season will jump start Aaron Merriman with his dominance of two of the three tracks opening this weekend. He is missing mounts in only a few races out of all the events at Northfield (Q) and Scioto. It couldn’t happen to a nicer more talented kid. My best wishes.

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Someone of interest emailed me a confidential letter asking what I would do if he gave me serious information about integrity in our sport. I will keep him nameless at his request.

I promise if I am privileged to be in receipt of anything important enough to clean up the sport I will personally contact the proper authority. If you see something say something and you have my word I will run with it till it is proven right or wrong.

The FBI and the Gural organization did a stellar job, however in this writer’s opinion it was just the tip of the iceberg. There is still a dearth of Dexter wannabes out there doing evil all over the sport and we all must keep on top of it.

All I want for Christmas is a few EPO positives that stick that will level the playing field immediately.

With a little more FBI work, I will put my colors back on and unretire. I am tired of sitting on the sidelines and going to war without exotic drugs appeals to me greatly.

I think I would like to train 12 2-year-olds and I promise I will not give up my column. Anyone with interest email me (address at the bottom of this column).

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I have heard a lot of dumb things in my life, but a decision in Delaware this week may top them all.

The state has decided that they will open the casinos for gambling but the tracks must have racing without fans in the stands.

Don’t get me wrong I definitely agree with racing without fans but why would they think opening casinos was advisable. If it was Illinois, I could fully understand but Delaware?

Anonymous asks (I did this because he asked me not to print his name as have so many that asked similar questions about Ron Burke). I know Ron Burke has hundreds of horses and is going to win a lot of races but I see this guy get a horse and improve the lifetime record by three seconds. How is that possible without PEDs? It seems to me Mickey Burke retired after too many positive tests. Is that true?

NO NO AND NO. All you are doing is promoting more conspiracy theories.

Ron Burke has a method of training far different than the average trainer. If he takes a horse from a trainer that is very soft on a horse and put the horse into his rigorous system, if the horse can adapt, the sky is the limit. I don’t swear for anyone, but I would bet money there are no designer drugs in the Burke barn. I can understand his program for a guy with 200 horses not for a trainer with 10. The process is similar to the great athletes of our time. Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan were gym rats they pushed themselves to the very limit day in and day out. They were just more fit than the competition.

Ronnie does the same thing with his horses. Some train faster than they race. They are as tight as you can make a horse.

As for Mickey, I doubt he knows much about designer drugs. Like me, he is quite old and raced horses when the vets treated them with lots of legal stuff. If he had some positives, guaranteed they were a veterinarian’s error. As for retiring, he is still around all the time. He just handed the reigns to the kids.

Paul Brown asks: The thoroughbred Triple Crown has been intact for over 100 years. Why because of the shuffle of dates did they change the distance of the mile and a half classic Belmont Stake to a mile and an eighth?

The answer is very simple. The regulating committee realized that in maintaining their June date they have turned the series upside down. That is, the race has moved from last to first. That said, the Belmont is without question the toughest race of the trio when it comes to endurance. That long stretch at the end of a mile and a half grind has done in some of the finest horses to look through a bridle.

Now think from a Baffert point of view. I want to win the race but do I want to string my colt out one and a half miles in June with the Derby and Preakness to follow?

Using their heads they knew guys like Baffert, Brown and Pletcher would likely pass the race with their top tier horses and wait for the mile and a quarter Kentucky Derby.

Considering the Derby to be more relevant to a champion’s life they couldn’t risk it.

Therefore, by shortening the distance, and having the event go more than two months before the Derby (as is planned today) they will have a myriad of entries. At the original distance, I could imagine four or five in the starting gate.

All in all it’s going to be the easiest Triple Crown in history as instead of racing all three events in a five-week period, The Belmont is first on June 6, The Derby follows on Sept. 5 and lastly the Preakness on Oct. 3.

In that scenario, there are 17 weeks from beginning to end. Much more logical to this writer and possibly some good will come out of this major dilemma.

Craig Wilson asks: I just read an interesting article on the best thoroughbred crop from 1970 that included Secretariat, Forego, Mr. Prospector and Sham. What year was the best crop of harness horses foaled?

I remember lots of rivalries in the pacing ranks especially Albatross and Nansemond as I was training for Bill Camp Jr. at the time but my answer would naturally land on the trotting side. This is just off the top of my head and I am sure there are lots of fans out there that will have better answers but there were to crops that had amazing depth — foals of 1969 and 1993.

In foals of ‘69 there was Super Bowl, Songcan, Delmonica Hanover, Flush, Spartan Hanover and Quick Work.

In the foals of ‘93 was Continentalvictory, Mr. Vic, Lindy Lane, Act of Grace and Kramer Boy.

Joel Kravet asks: I have a two part question. I watch European racing and the drivers tend to sit outside three deep at times, which truly doesn’t work in America. How do they get away with it? Why do horses warm up so little before a race these days? They used to warm up three times.

In answer to part one, the racing is totally different in Europe. For the most part, they race at longer distances and they are not going full tilt every quarter like they do in the U.S. When the quarters are soft it gives the horse a chance to relax and gain his breath. You won’t see many three deep in a mile event. Also of note is they race many more horses per event in Europe. Can you picture the Prix d’Amerique with 20 horses single file? It would be ridiculous they are forced to double and triple tear. I have seen horses literally seven and eight wide on the final turn in Paris.

As to part two, so much is different in racing and training procedures than back in the day. Warm ups are just another part of the equation. I am not sure if it was a practical change or came from laziness. It is true that today’s horse is slimmer and more athletic and probably doesn’t need the additional work, but to me it was a radical change. There was a time when the transition started that I was jogging two miles and going a trip around 2:40 and came back a few races later and went a mile in 2:18 and my horse was ready. The guy next to me jogged his horse a mile and a half and sent him to the races. I asked some of the younger trainers how they came up with this new method and to be perfectly honest their answer made sense. The horses are on the track so long during the post parade and scoring down and then all the milling around waiting for the start that it is enough to loosen them up.

While on the subject, when is the last time you saw a horse walked and watered after jogging or training?

To me, the best example of how streamlined the sport has become and how many shortcuts have become normal procedure is that there is only one tack trunk for every three or four horses OMG. Maybe it’s social distancing.

Tom Santoro asks: I remember when Niatross time trialed. Both the harness and thoroughbred world was watching. Do you think speed is no longer important? Why don’t trainers use time trails anymore?

When time trials were at their most popular most of racing was on smaller racetracks. The most prestigious events took place at Yonkers, Roosevelt, Liberty Bell, Brandywine and Blue Bonnets.

One mile pari-mutuel meetings were rare. Hollywood Park in California and The Red Mile for two weeks. Springfield, DuQuoin and Indianapolis were each open for a few days. The emergence of the Meadowlands changed all that and many horses, especially fillies, had months to achieve fast records rather than ship to the Red Mile for a time trial that was quite expensive. The primary reason for a time trial was to make a pedigree page look better and I am not so sure that any horseman really paid any attention to them at all.

Today, they are truly not of any value because the new pedigree pages include beaten times which shows the fastest time recorded by a horse in a losing effort. It gives a buyer an idea how fast a horse can really go. My opinion is these times are faster than a time trial.

I don’t know if it’s the virus or boredom but you have been wonderful with letters and questions for the past three months. Good luck to all who resume racing this week and next and please be careful.

Listen to the doctors guidelines, they are definitely not an end all but will surely lessen your chances of contracting the bug. Let’s all hope this transition back to normalcy is smooth with no ill effects.

Horse racing is such a non-invasive business and with the horses and caretakers on farms far from crowds, it should be a chip shot to start up immediately.

Unfortunately, like everything else in 2020, it involves politics. What are some of these governors thinking? Some act like they never passed seventh grade.

Please REMEMBER all that happened to us when you visit the ballot box in November. The guilty will pay.

Good hunting and have a wonderful week.

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