Why horses from indicted trainers race on; my judgement of Hambletonian DQ and a wild tale about Wild Bill

All this, plus thoughts on gutless email critics and much more in harness racing’s most popular advice column.

by Ron Gurfein

Tidbits: Here we go again. The evil jealousy of the average race fan will keep me in business writing this column forever. Social media is wild again, this time trying to bury arguably the GOAT of horse racing trainers Bob Baffert. You heard it here first: if the positives in Arkansas become official they are, without question, environmental.

Desperate people do desperate things. Bob Baffert may be the furthest trainer from desperate that has ever raced a horse. I will not drag this out right now because the Arkansas Commission has not even named a substance.

As I have said in all these cases when there are multiple positives, 99 per cent of the time it’s from some oddball source. Stay tuned…

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In the close to four years I have written for you I have received less than a handful of vicious emails. Since the arrival of the virus, I get a handful a week. I don’t mind so much if a name goes with the critique so I can judge the comments with the virtues or lack thereof of the author. There are those that like to poke fun of my appraisal of the stock at Sunshine Meadows and my interest in the Four Seasons of Harness Racing called the Alagna Barn. That’s okay. They are not shy to proclaim their dislike for Tony and me. But they sign their name to every note.

Sorrowfully, I received an email from Mahatma Gandhi who is no longer among the living, and to top that, spelled his name wrong. To paraphrase the letter, I was accused of preying on those with addiction and mental illness and having an ill effect on their family and children.

My column is the least negative, most upbeat in the sport. I can honestly say that I don’t even know a mentally ill or addicted individual. Where does this venom come from?

If you want to beat me up at least give me some facts and a real name. I pray to god this email is NOT in defense of DEXTER…

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They missed the wedding now they want to attend the funeral. What on earth is the New York Racing Commission doing after the fact with the FBI indicted Jason Service and Jorge Navarro? Looking into vet reports? What’s that going to do? I need help here. What drug could be in a horse’s system for four months? The board took samples of hair from 43 horses to investigate drugs supposedly so that the horses can have a clean bill of health for the new trainers. Why should that be on the taxpayers’ dime? If I was the new trainer on a Navarro horse (not a pleasant thought) I would test the day the horse entered the barn. If something is actually unearthed by this escape from reality I will be very surprised.

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I mentioned last week I was considering returning to training. The first three responses were all: What will be your daily rate? To those of you seeking a trainer, the difference in daily rates should not influence your choice because the amount from cheap to expensive on a daily rate is less than $600 per month.

On the other hand, ask this question: What will be my total monthly expenses? I know trainers that could give you a day rate of ZERO , and kill you with huge vet bills, shipping, equipment etc.

Paula Davenport asks: I have heard all kinds of stories about things that went on in public auctions in the past. Are the horse auctions today more legitimate than in yesteryear?

I am not 100 per cent sure what you are getting at. I have been going to horse auctions for 60 years and I can say that in the flow of the auction, the auctioneers have been known to run you once in a while but that is the extent of the malpractice.

As far as sellers bidding their stock up, it happens, but from what I have witnessed, most farms just get the bidding going a bit on certain horses and rarely protect a colt for more than 75 per cent of its true value unless they had decided to keep it.

I have done business with a farm for years that protects some of their stock to very reasonable numbers and some not at all. They have sold too many top horses for $10,000 or less. There were major farms that had racing stables in the day, that were very active bidding on their own colts in the ring because if they didn’t bring what they wanted they would just as soon train and race the colts themselves. That was in the ‘60s and not really relevant in today’s market.

In recent times, I would say you get a very honest shot at auction. There will always be a guy that overestimates the value of his horse and creates a false market, but that is for sure the exception rather than the rule.

The true hanky panky ended with the passing of my friend and client Wild Bill Perretti. He was without question the most outrageous of consignors in modern history. He could protect a $50,000 colt to $150,000. It was just his way and he could not help himself. He got the name Wild Bill while in the automobile business, but it truly fit as a horse trader.

I was training some horses for him at the time and there was a very high-profile colt with a fabulous pedigree in the ring at Harrisburg, midway through the first session.

I hated the colt, he was not near as correct as he should have been and when I saw him in the paddock all he would do is pace. As the numbers in the board were quickly rising out of control — the bidding had gone over $250,000 — I turned around to see if I could spot the bidders. Bill was sitting directly behind me and grabbed me by the shoulder and said, ‘Bid $300,000.’ I gave him a quizzical look and said, ‘You know what I think of that horse.’ His reply, ‘Just bid, don’t worry about it.’ Knowing that there was a method to his madness I bid $300,000, and seconds later the auctioneer came right back at me with $325,000. I smiled and turned around to Bill and said, ‘Don’t even think about it.’ I can’t tell the rest of the story, but will say it wasn’t pretty. The bottom line is, do your homework, have a price set in mind that you find appropriate and stay relatively close to the plan. Going a bit over on a colt you love is only natural, 10 or 15 per cent is fine, but please avoid going crazy.

Ronnie Hobbs asks: How can horses from trainers that were caught by the FBI show up in Ohio in a different trainers name and no one says a thing?

Fortunately, when a trainer is accused of wrong doing the owner is free to send his horses wherever he wants. The owner or horse suffer no penalty.

There have been discussions about penalizing owners and horses in cases like that of the Southern District of New York, but as of this writing there has been nothing anywhere set in stone.

Things are hard enough on an owner in this business to increase the complexity of the game. Case in point: Lindy Farms and Robert Rudolph sold Lindy The Great at public auction a few months back. Rene Allard who had been interested in the horse since The Red Mile meet, got a group together and paid $450,000 for him. Fast forward and Rene is named in the indictments. Imagine if the horse could not race because of this situation. The new owners would be out a half-million dollars. Would that be fair? It would be the beginning of the end of the sport as we know it. There would be a new kind of liability insurance in our business. Just what we need, another expense.

I am not in support of owners that give horses to designer drug trainers but I do give them a pass and hope they don’t become repeat performers.

Owners are like an endangered species and should be treated accordingly.

Susan August asks: Who were your favorite drivers when you raced in Monticello?

I started my stable in Monticello in the 1960s and moved to Florida in 1992 so I raced there for almost 30 years and most likely used ever driver around.

Monticello had a great driving colony the years I was stabled there. Lots of guys that could drive anywhere with anyone and some diamonds in the rough.

Gilles Lachance, Cat Manzi, Walter Case Jr., Billy Parker Jr. and Marvin Maker at their best we’re all great harness drivers. But there were some that could well compete in their own right. George Berkner, Art Bier, Joe Ricco Jr., John Gilmour, and Jimmy Allen were all under-rated reinsmen in my opinion.

Larry Rolla was a journeyman driver smart and capable but could drive a bad horse better than most good drivers. Some more that were very capable that drove for me were Ronnie Ingrassia, Bobby Donofrio and the best driver ever for a big guy, Dave Marshall.

I am sure I left someone out, but at this point in my life I should get a pass.

Bryan Boughton asks: Guru, if you were a judge in the Hambletonian when David Miller was disqualified what would your decision have been?

What a great question. For sure I thought about this a lot as there were times I was thinking about being a judge.

This is not an easy call. David did cause interference without question. I didn’t even need to see a replay to determine that fact. The problem I have with the DQ is that he interfered with a horse going nowhere in the most important race of the year.

If it was up to me, I would have fined David severely and let the order of finish stand. Unfortunately, it was not up to me and there are no provisions in the rules to make the call that I made.

That said, it would be a good idea for the powers that be to come up with a plan that would make that type of solution viable in the future.

To properly answer your question, I would have to go along with the judges’ call, but I would have been very uncomfortable doing it.

With racing returning, please stay aware that the virus is still present and be careful. We have lost more than our share already. Best of luck and success to all of you in the 2020 season. Have a wonderful week.

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