Does a mare’s number of foals impact yearling buying and do a horse’s eyes work separately?

That plus my misadventures with high wheel sulkies and much more.

by Ron Gurfein

Tidbits: My life is well into the last quarter and maybe that is why poorly-versed obituaries bother me. Del Biccum passed away at the ripe old age of 93 recently. Del was a wonderful man and a very talented driver and trainer at Monticello Raceway for many decades. He had many good horses and was a fan favorite for years.

Sadly, the obituary posted on industry websites had only passing mention that Del participated in harness racing and had no mention of his lifetime achievements in the sport. Mostly, it was about the massive number of family members he left behind. To me,  it made the entire release a waste of time in the context of our industry. Please, if you are going to write about the passing of a horseman, give some history of his involvement in the sport as well as his accomplishments.

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My sincerest condolences to the family of Real “Coco” Cormier a good friend and a wonderful man who passed away this week at 84. I raced with him in Monticello and Yonkers and Roosevelt for many years. He was a talented reinsman as well as a top horseman. R.I.P. my friend.

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Congratulations to Julie Miller winner of five of the seven first baby races of the season at Gaitway Farm.

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Marie Ortolan has corrected an error I made last week. Jag De Bellouet was the horse that won the Prix D’Amerique and the Cornulier in 2005 not General Du Pommeau.

Speaking of French bargains, as I was last week, Marie named Jag was a 6,700 Euro horse that won 4 million Euros; Ideal Du Gazeau cost 1,500 Euros and won 2 million and Meaulnes du Corta was 2,000 Euros and won 2 million.

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We are back in action and I don’t want to beat a dead horse but the great show put on by the Meadowlands this weekend deserved better financial reception than was awarded it. I realize things have been tough. I am not asking for those in need to advance the wagering pool. Instead I would like to see the insightful management team do some things that would add to the profitability of the endeavor.

We could start with having some of the great TV personalities that Jeff Gural employs videotape interviews with trainers, drivers, owners and gamblers before the card begins and play the tapes prior to each race they discuss.

Since there are no people in the stands, and the video will be of major interest to the bettors, let’s increase the time between races so the presentation is not too rushed.

The post parade and scoring should not be put on the back burner for graphics.

This is far from my field of expertise, but if graphics are deemed necessary, some sort of split screen will suffice as the scoring is a major factor to many gamblers.

Another area needing serious improvement, although it will be an uphill battle, is TVG coverage. Having an announcer that is knowledgeable of our sport would be a big plus. I think it would be great if some of the in-house handicapping interviews could be shown on TVG with enough time for a bettor to digest the information and still get a bet in.

Basically, there should be no quiet time on the show. Someone should always be pushing a horse, a driver, a trainer or a betting gimmick like a Pick 3, 4 or anything that will get the viewer to pick up his tablet and start betting.

I am fully aware that the thoroughbred fan base is substantially greater than ours. However, we must take a good look at how they draw in the bettors. I don’t have all the answers, but some smart fellow somewhere certainly does.

Both Belmont Park and the Meadowlands opened at almost the same time after a long sojourn due to the virus. There were lots of people dying for the action.

Belmont’s handle was up 84 per cent for the first five days I don’t know our percentage, but the handle wasn’t even $3 million a night, which pales in comparison.

The odd thing about it is that we card more races (not necessarily smarter) and being a fan of both, our product was equal or superior in that period of time.

What if we raced Thursday, Friday and Saturday, had 10 races and paid the seven top finishers with at least 12 entries per race?

Just a thought, resulting from the present surplus of entries in the box with Yonkers, Pocono and Philadelphia closed.

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Interesting story. I was talking to a friend the other day and we were discussing our first jobs and he had one that involved a process I never knew existed.

Did you ever wonder why a 50 cent candy bar cost $7.50 in a movie house or why 50 cents worth of popcorn around $6.00. I have the answer for you.

Back in the day, my friend’s job was that of a runner for a movie chain. He would run bids on a list of movies to Colombia Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox and other studios to land the showing rights to new movies. These bids were in the form of a percentage of every ticket sold on how much the theatre was willing to pay to show the movie and for how long.

In those days, the late ‘50s, the bid would be in the vicinity of 20 per cent to go to the studio.

That was then and this is now. The average for the first week of a top movie could be as low as nothing, but could be as much as 45 per cent.

In reality with only 20 per cent of the ticket price retained by the movie house, it is easy to understand why theatre owners in the present market consider themselves candy store operators.

Richard Adams asks: I saw a photo of Doug Ackerman and Howard Beissinger in high wheel sulkies, presumably racing. Have you ever done that?

I never had the opportunity to race in a high wheel sulky, but, unfortunately, have had the opportunity to ride in one on more occasions than I would like to remember.

The first time was at the World Trotting Derby when “Doc” Narotsky asked me to lead the post parade one year. It wasn’t that bad getting in, but it is a very hard ride — something like being in a sulky with two totally flat tires.

Getting out was another story. It must have taken three or four big guys to get me off that perch. It is so high off the ground and there is so much to the contraption I couldn’t figure out how to get my feet to clear enough to get to the ground. I would be embarrassed to tell how long I was a captive to the huge bike.

Now, to prove how much I really like punishment, a few years later they auctioned off a high wheeled replica at the Pre Hambletonian Dinner at the Meadowlands and dope that I am, I sprung for $2,400 to buy it.

On top of that, it cost serious money to ship it to my barn in Florida. I don’t have the heart to tell the rest of the story, but it was not good.

Jocz Stanley asks: I read that each horse’s eye works separately, and the left and right sides of the brain have trouble sharing information. How does this affect your approach to training and do you have any stories regarding this in the horses you have raced?

This is a very interesting question as the standardbred trainer has less eye theories and brain theories than his thoroughbred counterpart.

Unfortunately, I am not certain that there is any scientific evidence to your claim.

It is true that due to the unusual placement of the eyes they are not in tandem. However studies although not conclusive seem to tell us that by virtue of the actual structure of the horses brain it could not possibly permit this theory .

I have read an old tale that “right brained” horses are fearful and submissive and “left brained” horses are brave and dominant, but, there again, when you are dealing with an animal that can’t tell you very much, it’s hard to decide on what theories are right or wrong.

Some thoroughbred trainers go as far as saying that both sides of the animal must be introduced to certain functions in training in order for the endeavor to be successful. I personally have never been confronted with any situations regarding these theories.

There are some interesting things to know about a horses vision.

The most amazing point being, that because of the location of the eyes a horse can see almost 340 degrees. There are two blind spots but very narrow in scope. The blind spots are directly in front and directly behind, about 10 per cent in each case.

I had an unusual interest in the equine eye as I had a beautiful Nero filly named Roman Miss that I had sold to Billy Popfinger as a 2-year-old for a nice profit. When I came to the barn the morning she was sold she had punctured her eye in the stall during the night.

Needless to say, the sale was not completed and we spent three days trying to save the eye to no avail. I bought her a hood with a full cup to protect the area of the missing eye and she went on to be a really nice 3-year-old. It never did have any ill effect on her racing ability. In her few starts for me, she was second to the great filly Jeff’s Eternity in an early closer at the Meadowlands. Subsequently, Charlie Karp sold her to Mort Finder of Pine Hollow Stud for more than twice what I was getting from Showbiz. Even a blind squirrel can find an acorn.

Joseph Klis asks: When yearling shopping, does number of foals have any effect on you?

If this was easy, we wouldn’t be having any discussion. I could give you a hundred old wives tales on yearling buying that in one circumstance or another may have worked. To me, most of them hold no water. The best advice is: first love the individual and the pedigree and worry about the nonsense later.

I did read somewhere that 49 of the top 50 standardbreds were all ninth foal or before. What the criteria of the top 50 was biased on still remains a mystery to me.

My personal taste is that seven foals is reasonable. However, I was there in Lexington, Kentucky at the Tattersalls Yearling Sale in 1970, when Jim Harrison convinced Donnie Prussack to buy Songcan the 10th foal of Ami Song for $5,000 and two years later I had a blank check to buy the 13th foal of the mare, Songflori purchased by Delvin Miller. In fairness to myself, Phil Tully and Mort Finder agreed with my decision. Songflori went on to be a top colt.

So you see there are rules on buying but there are always exceptions.

To me, it is so hard to find a colt or filly that I love I am almost forced to eliminate worry as to the number of foals the mare has had.

That said, when I go through the catalogue I will eliminate foals of older mares where the entire pedigree is less than stellar.

I will give you one suggestion that will exempt a mare from considering her age and that is, production of good horses with lesser sires. One has to go no further than Continentalvictory’s dam Intercontinental to see this play out. She was a non-record, non-descript mare Jan Johnson trained and he said she was not very quick.

However, bred to Speedy Somolli she had a top colt, LV Glory Bound, winner of almost $200,000 and she had a Prakas Filly, Atlantic that trotted in 1:58 at 2 which, at that time, was very fast. Now a beautiful filly by Valley Victory — already the sire of a Hambletonian winner from his first crop — arrives. What more could a fellow want?

Thanks again for all the positive mail. Please keep the questions coming. I hope you’re enjoying the rebirth of racing. It sure has put a smile on my face.

Have a wonderful week…

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