Advice for young trainers getting their start

Advice for young trainers getting their start; Hambletonian Day winners that likely will win year-end awards and how Ramona Hill and Ready For Moni compare to Continentalvictory and Lindy Lane.

August 14, 2020

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All this and much more in the latest edition of harness racing’s most popular advice column.

by Ron Gurfein

Tidbits: An Illinois gambler has won a lawsuit and been awarded $20,000 by a New Jersey District Court involving a tainted race at the Meadowlands Racetrack. (see lead story)

To me, anything that turns up the heat on the cheaters is a giant step forward and although this decision is a bit over the top it brings a smile to my face. It also represents a threat to anyone thinking of fooling with the outcome of a race.

I am not sure of the exact wording so whether or not it sets a definitive precedent remains unknown at this time.

The bettor, Jeffrey Tretter made the settlement with the defendant’s trainer Robert Bresnahan, Jr. and owner J.L. Sadowsky in July of 2020 after their horse Tag Up And Go came up positive for EPO subsequent to the race Treeter had made a significant wager on.

It turns out that PETA financed the law suit for the plaintiff, which alleged fraud and RICO violations.
Interestingly, $7,500 of the settlement was to be earmarked for a horse adoption program.

* * *

We are forever trying to clean up our sport and eliminate cheaters. Instead we are shooting ourselves in the foot day by day. I noticed that a top trainer got a positive test yet was in to race Hambletonian Day when the decision said suspension from Aug. 3 to the 17.

After further investigation, I discovered three of the more prominent trainers at the Meadowlands all got positives in a 24 hour period for bute. To be perfectly transparent, the victims of this ridiculous miscarriage of justice were Kelvin Harrison, Brett Pelling and Jeff Cullipher.

How is it possible that someone in that testing lab didn’t realize something was wrong. I could probably give a pretty good explanation of what happened, but I am not in a speculative mood. Just about 50 years ago, yours truly was a victim of such a lark and that is why I am writing this piece. Little RG was, for the first time in my training career, thrown into a mix with Stanley and Vernon Dancer, Jimmy Larente and about six of the more fashionable sportsman with Banamine positives at Liberty Bell Park.

Thanks to the intelligence of Jimmy Lynch (one of the greatest racing secretaries of all time) the investigation didn’t last five minutes. It was obvious to all involved something was awry in the testing process. Almost all of the victims had one thing in common, John R Steele and Associates were their stable veterinarians. For sure the spectrograph that measure the amount and presence and amount of foreign substances was not performing properly.

After all these years, you would think this could not possibly happen again. The bottom line is simple. Few pay attention, and for sure it will happen again.

I just wish they would remove the posting under fines and suspensions.

* * *

Great news from the Standardbred Horse Sale Company. The 2020 version of the Harrrisburg Sale has been moved to the Fasig Tipton facility in Timonium, MD at the Maryland State Fairgrounds.

The Yearlings will sell Tuesday Nov. 3 (Election Day) through Thursday, Nov. 5. The mixed sale will be on that Friday, Nov. 6 and Saturday, Nov. 7.

This area is where I went to one of my first sales. I am not sure it was in the same facility, but I remember buying an Airliner colt named Free Air at Fasig Tipton, in Timonium, MD Maryland in the late 1960s.

The barns are outside, which no matter what the weather, is a major improvement in the year of COVID-19 over the all-enclosed Harrisburg Farm Show Arena. My personal thoughts were that few people were going to accept that indoor venue and that Lexington would provide the perfect landing spot.

The sales company in effect has achieved the same thing without the long ship to the Bluegrass State.

I am not sure the move was instituted by the Governor of Pennsylvania or the decision was made by the sales company itself. To this writer, the end result will have a major effect on the bottom line for the sale in a very positive manner.

* * *

More good news: The restaurants and bars are permitted to OPEN in Lexington, Kentucky on Tuesday. Special procedures include 50 per cent capacity, last call at 10 p.m. and closing at 11 p.m. Definitely great timing from this writer’s point of view.

According to a recent post by Carlo Vaccarezza, thoroughbred trainer/restaurant owner, his Frank and Dino’s will now be open in late November. This will be a treat to all Lexingtonians.

* * *

In a very interesting decision, the Saudi Arabian Jockey Club has withheld the $10 million first place money from the connections of Maximum Security and paid all the others. Although there was NO POSITIVE TEST, the winners’ share was withheld pending an investigation by the Jockey Club into the allegations involving the indictment of Jason Servis and his alleged use of performance enhancing drugs.

I understand their mindset, however this is way too much of a stretch of the rule of law to me.

Richie Turmiello asks: Did the 2020 Hambletonian remind you of the 1996 event where Continental victory defeated Lindy Lane?

I have been asked this question a number of times, and the answer is maybe a little bit, but the 2020 horses I think are much better and have a more exciting future post-race than the 1996 horses. Ready For Moni comes into the race undefeated this year and was strong to the wire in stakes record time. I would have liked to see him on the front, but it was impossible for him to get there. He will get better as the year goes on it was only his third start this year and 11th lifetime. I find him to have a very bright future compared to Lindy Lane who did little after the big dance.

I know I will get feedback from this but I think that Ramona Hill is a stronger version of Continentalvictory. They both traveled like stud colts and both were economically gaited and I truly love both of them. Even though my heart is always with “Connie” I feel right now Ramona would win a match race between the two. There is no way to describe her but declare just AMAZING.

As far as the two heats in the coming Kentucky Futurity is concerned as far as Ramona Hill and Ready For Moni are concerned I doubt it will help or hinder either one. They will both be better going forward, it’s who improves the most in the next two months that will determine the victor at the Red Mile.

Paula Fontaine asks: What advice would you give to a young trainer with talent on how to reach the top?

The most important things I could say to a young trainer is you will be learning your trade till you die. There is something new every day and ask questions. There are a myriad of Hall of Fame trainers that are no longer with us that went to their grave thinking that I was a total pain in the butt. Buddy Gilmore was the unfortunate one to have me in his barn in the earlier years and I have to say he was more than patient with me. As great a driver as he was, few know that he was a fabulous trainer as were his brothers George, John and Lloyd — all of whom were victims of my queries.

I was having lunch one day at the Chateau, a restaurant across the street from Monticello Raceway with my usual group of Max Brewer, Phil Tully and Peter Rhulen. At the next table was Levi and Eldon Harner. I was relating to Max, an excellent horseman in his own right, the trouble I was having with a 2-year-old colt I had getting him to go straight. He would run out in the straightaway and in on the turns and I deemed myself a perfectionist and refused to use two headpoles. Levi leaned over to me and said, ‘I have been watching that colt, take the headpole off the outside and put it on the inside. You will be fine. He was 100 per cent correct.’

The difference between today and 1968 is a big one. The amount of great trainers you could learn from when I was a freshman was immense — not so today.

I really want to stress that a student of the sport today has a big edge. No one will put an end to drugs, but the mindset of the moment is so anti-drug that there is a good chance that horsemanship will prevail.

My second point of advice is don’t be afraid to make changes. If you don’t they will pass you by. Nothing is forever and just when you think you have it all figured out everything will change. If you can’t create you will eventually fail.

I remember a line from the movie Top Gun, Kelly McGillis says to Tom Cruise, “To be the best of the best you have to make mistakes, and then you go on.” If you don’t make mistakes you are not trying to change. You must make adjustments to succeed.

Billy Bigler asks: After watching the Hambletonian card from the Meadowlands last Saturday do you think there were any performance worth predicting year-end honors in this shortened season?

Fun question. My answer will be entertaining to look back at after the Breeders Crown. That said, I truly feel the die is cast in most divisions and would be surprised if I was wrong with many.

It is way too early to pick any 2-year-old winners, although I have seen some that were quite precocious. The older ones seem almost too easy now.

Ramona Hill — 3-year-old trotting filly
Ready For Moni — 3-year-old trotting colt
Reflect With Me — 3-year-old pacing filly
Tall Dark Stranger — 3-year-old pacing colt
Manchego — older trotting mare
Gimpanzee — older trotting horse
Shartin N — older pacing mare
Bettor’s Wish — older pacing horse.
Trotter of the Year — TBA
Pacer of the Year — Tall Dark Stranger
Horse of the Year — TBA

It looks like a wonderful group.

Thanks to all of you for the kind words. As Carson would say “keep the cards and letters coming in.” With the temporary closing of the Meadowlands try and keep your local tracks busy. The Grand Circuit moves West this week and the big Kentucky Sires program starts up this week. There’s plenty out there to maintain the excitement. Stay safe and have a wonderful week.

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

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