Thoughts on Propulsion, whether a mile in 1:45 is possible and how to compete against dishonest trainers

Thoughts on Propulsion, whether a mile in 1:45 is possible and how to compete against dishonest trainers

June 5, 2020

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by Ron Gurfein

Tidbits: Since the 1996 Hambletonian, I developed a theory that most trainers are wrong in their approach to heat racing.

“We have a bad post, let’s race him easy and try to get in the final so he has something left in the tank.” This was normal procedure.

Then in the first heat of the Hambletonian the pull-down blinds fell down behind the gate on Continentalvictory and she was a loose horse trotting the mile in 1:52. I remember Gary Siebel saying, “I hope she has something left in the tank for the final.”

Well, you know the rest of the story.

Then again in the World Trotting Derby, Billy O’Donnell and Lindy Lane parked her to the half in :53. She made the final and romped.

* * *

Last weekend in Sweden’s Elitloppet, we witnessed an even more impressive feat. Propulsion after a magical mystery tour, three deep for the entire mile (the announcer said a well-beaten Propulsion at the top of the stretch) made the final and came back to sweep the field in the stretch for the easiest of victories.

I really think these tough first journeys stretch a horse out and, given enough time between heats to recover his wind, actually makes him stronger.

Unfortunately, there are few heat races left to concern us.

Congratulations to the breeders, Fredericka Caldwell and Bluestone Farms and Zet Stable and Daniel Redén the owner and trainer, respectively.

Per Henriksen emailed me to point out what an amazing job Daniel Redén did with Propulsion. The horse is nine years old, had not raced since January and did not have a qualifier. Really amazing.

Yet, that wasn’t the end of the story.

Scandal shook Swedish racing as it became known that Propulsion was nerved five years ago, as a 4-year-old in the United States.

I had gotten numerous emails from Swedish writers asking about the serving.

I made some calls to confirm it before I went any further.

Nerving low is permitted in the states but not high. I know little of the laws on the continent but it is my understanding that they were quite upset with this finding.

To my knowledge, when a horse is nerved low there’s an excellent possibility that the nerves will regenerate and actually grow back.

It has been five years since the original surgery. Dr Rick Balmer suggested that if this indeed became a major case it would behove the ownership to have a group of veterinarians at a university test the feeling in the feet to determine whether or not they had in fact regenerated. From what has been repeated to me by some of the Swedish journalists they will attempt to get all $3 million in earnings and DQ the Elitloppet.

Hopefully this recklessness disappears quickly.

No matter what the outcome is in Sweden, there are many stud barns outside that country, especially in America that would welcome him for stallion duty.

The most mystifying part of this story is that it is listed on the ownership papers that the horse is nerved. Why would this arise five years and millions of dollars later? It reminds me of American political timing i.e.: Hillary’s emails.

* * *

Great follow up story sent to me by Mel Owens in regard to the Wild Bill story of last week. The $300,000 colt was Touchdown Town purchased by Greg Peck for Patricia Bolt, Bill Perretti et al. Mel worked for Peck that winter for a while and it was the same year Greg had Muscle Hill. Even though TT had a preference to pace and was a bit slow to boot, Peck was always trying to convince Mel that come race time he would be the better of the two colts. Great story. We all know how that went.

* * *

Thanks to Bob Heyden for the fabulous analogy in last Sunday’s HRU edition (full story here) in this writer’s opinion, it was award worthy.

* * *

My sincerest apology to Sonny Patterson for my omission of his name in my list of the best drivers at Monticello in my time there. Not only was he one of the best reinsman but also a very talented horseman. I knew I would forget someone, but never thought I could forget a man that was so important in my life. Not only did Sonny drive my first Hambletonian horse MB Felty (finished second in 1991) his dad “Big John” (John Patterson Sr. ) drove some horses for me earlier.

My sincerest thanks to Mickey Burke for the wonderful phone call.

* * *

A few comments on the Meadowland qualifiers. If I may take the liberty of considering Nancy Takter a Swedish Connection, although I realize that she born there and came to America when she was a 1-year-old, every one of the top three finishers in the 3- and 4-year-old trotters (seven races) had a Scandavian trainer. Manchego was without a doubt the most impressive. I must however mention the :25.2 final quarter into the wind for Bettors Wish in a losing effort.

* * *

Congratulations to Fred Hertrick and John Fielding for selling their interests in the talented thoroughbred 3-year-old Authentic to Spendthrift Farm. The colt will surely be favored in tomorrow’s Santa Anita Derby and if successful in that endeavor be chalk or near to chalk in the Triple Crown races to follow.

Bill Bigler asks: The thoroughbred seems to have hit bottom on the speed scale a while ago. Where do you think our bottom is going? Is 1:45 a possibility?

There are so many variable factors that the thoroughbred is not involved with that keep them stagnant. Their tracks are always deep, they have a hub rail, they have bred the same style horse for generations, they don’t have any equipment advantages because there are no race bikes. One more thing that is never discussed is the flying start vs. the standing start. Records cannot be broken without a fast start.

We on the other hand can have an exceptionally fast track, amazing new bikes, no hubrail and we are breeding a sleeker style horse.

The 1:45 target to me will not only be a reality but be realized in the next few years. Interestingly, 2020 will provide a logical opportunity because for the first year in the modern era, horses will be fresh and lightly raced when the brutal hot days of August and September arrive at the Meadowlands and the Red Mile, the logical format for records to fall.

Secretariat set stakes records for all three Triple Crown races in 1973 and most of the traditional distance world records were recorded in the early 1980s.

How about a crazy Guru prediction: A pacer will beat the 1:46 mile but a trotter will beat 1:48 before a pacer beats 145.

Joel Kravet asks (another novelette that I shortened) I walk through the stables today and see horses getting jugs of liquid to treat their blood and hydration etc. There is no question there are many still using blood doping agents. How can I remain in the game and compete with an honest trainer?

The answer is very simple: Look at the list of horseman that are under indictment.

What do they all have in common? They rarely have horses that compete on the Grand Circuit. There have been a few, but percentage wise they are non-existent on the big stage. Aged horses? Yes; Claimers? For sure. These people churn money and like instant gratification.

Buying a colt is nowhere near as risky as it was 30 years ago. Look at the top sires. Eighty per cent or better get to the races. You have the opportunity to hit a home run.

I am not saying racing overnight horses is bad, I did it myself for 30 years but the second 30 on the Grand Circuit was a different world. You don’t have to spend a million dollars either, to achieve success. You can still but a nice colt between 20k and 60k dollars. My suggestion is to get a group of friends together and buy as a partnership. Ten per cent of Captaintreacherous is a lot of money.

In today’s world, the most important step is finding a trainer that is also a businessman or woman. As I said last week, daily charges are unimportant, barns with $4,000 a month vet bills are good to stay away from no matter how good the trainer, the overhead will get you in the long run. There are lots of excellent trainers out there without the big name at 60 per cent of the yearly cost of some barns. And don’t get me wrong there are some top barns that are surprisingly inexpensive. You must do your homework.

As far as racing claimers, don’t delude yourself that because a few bad seeds were caught that it will be any easier. There are many still out there and new desperados join the ranks every day. We will never rid ourselves of the problem but we may have some success weakening their ranks.

Joel Kravet asks: (not a misprint, he asked two questions). Watching racing from Solvalla and France. How do the owners pay bills racing 15 horses where 10 get nothing?

You hit the nail on the head. It is very difficult to make ends meet racing in France. There can be an inordinate amount of entries in each race with the smallest possible number at 9 and many with 15 and more. The sport has many owners and trainers struggling. When Michel Lachance, Ron Burke and Ray Schnittker went to Paris to buy horses they witnessed first-hand the plight of the French horseman. The barns were old and unkempt and the equipment was worn and old. Michel related that he was afraid the equipment would break it was so old. Marie Ortolan (the great French horseman Jean Pierre DuBois’ long-time partner) told me that what keeps the French going was the dream.

“You could but a horse for 2,000 euros that could win the Prix d’Amerique. It happened before it can happen again.” She was referring to General du Pommeau who she says was bought for nothing and won the Prix as well as the Cornulier under saddle.

Swedish Racing is another story. Solvalla doesn’t race more than 10 horses in the average race and the program is supported by a national lottery that supplements the purse structure. Lots of working class people in Sweden own race horses in partnerships that I have seen could have as many as 50 partners in the group. Harness racing in Scandinavia is like baseball in America.

In my own experience, the owners, trainers and drivers in the Western Hemisphere are nowhere nearly as revered as they are on the Continent. Drivers and trainers in Europe are like Rock Stars.

Just the pomp and circumstance displayed at the Elitloppet or the Prix d’Amerique are something to behold. We have nothing even close in America. I think the closest I have seen on our shores were the International in the ‘60s and the Little Brown Jug, however both were bland in comparison.

Thanks to all of you for the kind words. Please keep the questions coming in. Racing is almost back in full force so support your local racetrack with a few wagers now and then. Remember, the slots are not yet up and running. Qualifying pacers and trotters have been split at the Meadowlands Friday and Saturday morning, and believe it or not there were only four babies entered at the Big M for the first scheduled races this weekend. There will however be 2-year-old races at Gaitway on Monday morning.

Lots going on.

Have a wonderful week.

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