Why races are going so fast, scheduling challenges in the age of COVID-19 and the difference between American and Swedish trainers

by Ron Gurfein

Tidbits: It looks like a long wait for all of us to hear the outcome of the FBI investigation and the indictments in the Southern District of New York. Earlier this week assistant U.S. attorney Andrew Adams stated that there was a real possibility that “a superseding indictment could be around the corner.”

In simple words, it’s an ongoing investigation and it is likely that there would be additional charges to the original indictments and or more individuals named in those indictments. Not until after Harrisburg and Election Day is it likely we will hear much more as the date of the next conference is set to be Nov. 19. Surely there will be no court date set before 2021. I cannot speculate whether this has to do solely to the FBI moving forward or COVID-19. One way or another it will be better when this is resolved.


* * *

Who was that Tall Dark Stranger there? It wasn’t Maverick on Monday morning at Gaitway Farm. All I can say is: so what? To me, he looked sound, great gaited and had enough trot. He was timed in 1:58 his first lifetime start. He sat perfectly mannered in a hole like a gentleman with none of his full brother’s (Greenshoe) unfavorable characteristics. Tony Alagna said he may have tied up I don’t think that speculation is necessary at this point. If he were mine I would not be unhappy. There have been many great colts that didn’t look amazing in start number one and for sure vica-versa.

Another big ticket item looked better than good. Probably the most perfect pacing yearling I have ever seen, Odds On Whitney — the sister to Papi Rob Hanover a $400,000 purchase by Dana Parham — looked every bit the part in a 1:55 effort at first asking.

* * *

Exploit, a Somebeachsomewhere colt from the same barn was impressive in another 1:55 effort. Congratulations to Tony, his team and his owners on a great morning. A special shout out to my friend Jerry Glantz who we all remember as the “golden voice” of Pompano Park and points north for being one for one in 2020. His Artspeak colt looked great in 1:56.

* * *

How about the sister and brother team of Jen and Joe Bongiorno impressively winning in 1:58 with Tart Tongue, a $12,000 Southwind Frank colt?

* * *

Every honoree deserves his day in the sun. The presence of this horrid virus should not deprive the 2020 Hall Of Fame class from the dinner and presentation that we all have been afforded. Postponing the event to 2021 was a great move however to prevent a circus.

I would suggest that the selection committee take a year off so that the group chosen for 2020 may have a night of their own.

* * *

Alan Leavitt’s most recent attack on me see HRU last Sunday (2020-06-28 Feedback) was without merit.

My statement referred to maneuvers in the horse industry to populate farms. New York has had residency requirements for mares since the early ‘70s. In 1994, they instituted a rule that allowed resident mares to be bred out of state as long as they returned within 90 days of their cover and remained till their foaling.

* * *

I received a very interesting email from Ulf Lindstrom of the European Research Network Trotting.

Believe it or not, we are getting very close to yearling auctions and anything I can come up with to help you in the selection process I will pass along.

Below you will find a chart of what they call the 58 “elite” mares determined by offspring earnings listed by the Swedish Association of Breeders. The list represents the earnings by foal order.

1st foal — 11 per cent
2nd — 10
3rd — 12
1st thru 3rd = 33 or 57 per cent
4th — 6
5th — 7
6th — 1
7th — 11 = 19 per cent

Of the 42 mares that had 10 or more foals equaling 183 total foals only three representing two per cent had a foal that late that was the pride of the mare’s production.

You can use this chart in any way you chose. It certainly would tend to persuade me to buy foals of younger mares, but as far as a determination of what foal to buy, stick to your own opinion.

Anonymous asks: Is it fair that some of the horses moved from the indicted trainers to smaller stables are kept under the 60-day waiting rule and two big stables (Julie Miller and Brett Pelling are given a pass with Lindy the Great and When Dovescry?

If what you refer to was true it would certainly be a big mistake. However, I have discussed the matter with The Chairman Of The Board (Jeff Gural) and there is a simple explanation. Lindy The Great never raced for the Rene Allard Stable so it is unlikely he was ever pre-raced.

In the case of When Dovescry, she was allowed to qualify only, and remains on the 60-day schedule.

Personally, I find it beyond the pale that any owner should suffer. This is not 1960 where owners were lined up out the door. Today, they are quite difficult to find. For this reason alone I was not a fan of the 60-day rule. It’s too late to cry over that. We should allow all legitimate owners to race. The accusations on social media of some totally legitimate trainers for acting as beards is ridiculous. Does anyone think that a man with a 50 horse stable is going to risk his livelihood and reputation to beard for three horses of an accused horseman? Remember if you care that much there is always a paper trail. Let these horses race and if you think there are improprieties investigate after the fact.

Richard Johnson asks: What was the reasoning behind the Pennsylvania Sires Stakes committee scheduling four 3-year-old pacing stakes in conflict with major stakes they could have started last week and avoided the entire mess?

I see that there is a conflict with the Meadowlands Pace elimination and final, the Cane Pace and The Pepsi North America Cup and I am only guessing but I would say the answer is simple. Pennsylvania is for Pennsylvania. In the years I raced in the state it was next to impossible to race a young horse if he was not bred in the state and if not owned and bred you still had to wait in line.

In all fairness, we have to give them somewhat of a pass because of the fact that under the circumstances no one was sure of when racing would begin and how ready the horse colony was to enter stake races.

I cannot imagine it was thought out and purposely done that way. However, after the fact, I can believe it was left that way because it does in essence eliminate the top horses from partaking in any state money and that in turn will benefit the local horseman.

Please don’t send me letters that it was their plan all along as I truly don’t buy it.

Emil Fonseca, Craig Henderson, PJ Fraley and many more asked Saturday Night: Why are the races going so fast this year, especially at the Meadowlands?

We have discussed this topic often. There are many reasons, breeding, tracks banking turns, fancy race bikes, etc.

I think what we are dealing with this year adds something new, fresh horses.

Every horse racing has had at least three months off. That has never happened before. At the Meadowlands there are 10 fresh animals in every race. That in and of itself will reduce the time at every quarter. Add to that trainers are very hungry and tend to train harder in today’s world than ever before. Lots of sound and fit equine athletes appear nightly.

Another point of interest is that the weather has been extraordinarily warm and humid which helps to create the perfect storm.

Tltdvm@aol.com asks: Please tell me the difference in the training methods of the Swedish and American trainers.

I think as time goes on the top American barns have succumbed to the methods of the euro-barns. I will add if you are a trainer in North American and you are reading this column it would serve you well to look into it.

If it wasn’t for Per Eriksson, you may never have heard the name Ron Gurfein.

The major difference between the two countries are basically two-fold. One, the straight track or euro track as it is often referred to, and “Bending” the process of determining lameness in Sweden almost as a daily process.

Per’s knowledge of the proper use of the straight track and its huge success as a tool to develop wind and strength became instilled in my mind immediately.

As for Bending, it’s not for me and there are times I have watched Scandinavian trainers perform this method to the point where I thought it entirely counter-productive. It is a process of bending a joint in question and holding it tight for about 30 seconds and trotting the horse off to see if the lameness is evident. I tried, believe me, and think I got as many false positives as real ones. I will say it works for King James.

The length of the straight track is usually limited to one quarter mile with maybe and eighth of a mile and a circle at both ends to walk and turn around. The reason for this is space availability is limited on most farms. However I have seen half-mile and longer strips in my travels but mostly in Italy.

The straight track in essence provides a format for what is called interval training and you really don’t need to look much further than Sunshine Meadows to realize what a powerful tool it is in conditioning the racehorse.

Using the Hambletonian as a guideline look at this list of interval trainees: Prakas, Probe, Harmonious, Giant Victory, Alf Palema, Victory Dream, Continentalvictory and Self Possessed.

I am unaware of the percent of American trainers that interval train I will say that there are a whole lot more than there were 50 years ago.

Interval training is not the only way to create a stronger equine athlete. Ron Burke has led the way with faster training tactics that seem to work very well also. I have never watched his operation but some of his drivers have commented to me how well the method works. His accomplishments speak for themselves.

Thanks to you all for the kind words especially Trish Coyle and Giacomo Francisci I really appreciate you emails. Please keep the questions coming in. The Meadowlands restaurants and grandstand will be open to all starting this weekend as well as the sports book. Knowing management they will do an excellent job keeping a safe environment for all. Enjoy the return to semi-normal and have a wonderful week.

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