Telltale signs of a lame horse, news of a new harness track in Kentucky and thoughts on videos showing yearlings walking or standing

by Ron Gurfein

Tidbits: All is wonderful in the harness world. It has been a fabulous week for all of us. The Woodbine Mohawk show was great again, although disappointing to me; not because of the production or the races, because of the rare miscue of Ready For Moni in the Canadian Trotting Classic.

That said, the break led the way to the winner’s circle for Chestnut Hill, a high-ticket colt owned by three men that put tons of money in the sport and deserve all they can get in return. I am speaking of David McDuffee, Mel Hartman and Jeff Gural. Congratulations, as well, to Nifty Norman, the trainer of the colt and Andy McCarthy the pilot that is just winning everything — including the sister stakes event, the Elegantimage, with Ramona Hill.

Randy Waples’ insight on the simulcast show was interesting to say the least. His memory is utterly fantastic. However, I like the format with Monique Vag better. The set is also much more appealing.

All things considered, the Ohio Sale was fabulous. At the top of the venue was a Fear The Dragon colt for $120,000 and three Downbytheseaside colts at $100,000 each.

The wonderful weekend continued Sunday at the Red Mile with beautiful weather and the crowd limited by COVID-19. They featured eight division finals of the Kentucky Sires Stakes each going for $250,000.

The Buckeye (David Miller) ran off with four of the eight events warming up for his home court stint this week at Delaware, OH, where he was listed on 26 horses Tuesday through Thursday.

Speaking of Ramona Hill, there are two major female equine stars that I always question their soundness — Manchego and Ramona Hill have never ever looked 100 per cent to this writer during a race. Maybe that’s the new gait or the new norm but it makes me crazy. Just at the point when I am certain they are going to run, they dash off and win by three looking to me as awful in the lane as is possible.

What is your take? Would love to hear some other opinions.

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A job well done by the New York Racing Commission. They made the decision Monday to suspend trainer Michael Temming for 20 years after having had two positives at Yonkers Raceway for IOX-2, a factor in a blood doping agent that has a similar effect as EPO. Kudos to Dr. George Maylin for the development of the test that can find the presence of the drug in equines and in humans.

Personally, I agree 20 years sends a message, but in a case like this with two positives the offender truly committed a premeditated act of blood doping, twice ,and should be banned for life. That would send a better message.

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In an opinion published by a popular thoroughbred writer, I have learned that there is speculation that there is a good chance that Scott Robinson, who is looking at 15 years in prison, will sing to lower his sentence. According to the article, the government is looking to seize $3.8 million acquired through a criminal act from Mr. Robinson. It was also pointed out that we will have a good idea of how much in fact he did cooperate by virtue of his ultimate sentence which will be handed down in a few months. If the sentence is considerably less that the mandated 15 years, the hammer will surely fall on many others.

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Let’s discuss the Jug for a moment. The Little Brown Jug is without question a marquee event on the harness calendar. I have been going to Delaware, OH my entire life. Not only do I love the Jug and the meeting of yearly friends, I love The Branding Iron and Buns. If you are not familiar with the area, they are two mainstay restaurants for 50 years. Without question there may be no more entertaining harness venue in existence in the United States. Patron wise it is today our closest answer to the Elitloppet and the Prix D’Amerique.

However, we must realize that, for the most, part the great stallions have missed the party. Have wonderful, talented horses won the event? For sure they have, but because of the half-mile many of the greats have simply avoided it. Let’s face it, no matter how great your horse is, drawing outside in the Jug is akin to surrendering at the Blackjack table.

That said, let’s look at the numbers. In 36 years, the Jug winner has given us one top stallion. In the early 2000’s Bettors Delight was victorious. I remember top horses that passed on the Jug like Captaintreacherous and this year the best of the best Tall Dark Stranger. So let’s not include the Jug in discussions involving the North America Cup or the Meadowlands Pace. It is in a different category.

Seth Poppell asks: I went to the Red Mile website to obtain at the very least the results of today’s stakes and there are no results past Sept, 15 and then I went to the replays and they had a replay from 2019? What gives? They shouldn’t have a website if they can’t afford to keep it current and relevant. A real disgrace. Check it out.

To begin with, anyone in harness racing that I know that wants results goes to the USTA site or the Canadian site and gets results with about an hour delay or less.
In the case of the Red Mile they change the results after every weekend of racing.

Stop crying and be thankful they are racing, period. Staff is at a minimum all over because of the virus so it is more than excusable when the privilege of viewing the product is there.

As for the replays, you just haven’t figured out the website. The replay is of the 2019 Kentucky Futurity and is just an example. If you look below the window you will see a link to the YouTube replays that are posted regularly and available for every race.

Thanks again to the simply wonderful Shannon Cobb for her timely assistance.

Carl Coppola asks: In a recent column you mentioned that Bet On Becky was lame in the post parade and probably should not have raced in the Eternal Camnation. I have been watching horse racing for 40 years and cannot tell when a horse is lame. What are some of the telltale signs when a horse is sore or lame?

This is far from an easy question to answer as the degrees of lameness can be very subtle even to the experienced eye. But when lameness is evident, a horse carries himself in an odd fashion. In order to learn how to spot soreness in a horse you first have to understand what a sound horse would look like.

When a sound horse post parades and scores down his head is straight and doesn’t bob or drop as he trots or paces, his hind end looks so solid like if he had a glass of water on his back he would not spill a drop with each and every step.

That said, the lame horse will exhibit many different symptoms most of which will radically change his gait or appearance. He may carry his head awkwardly to the right or left. He will nod (drop his head) with every step he takes or bounce behind where it appears that his hind end looks like it is running out of sync with his front end.

All in all, the lame horse should appear so uncomfortable on the track that it is obvious even to the untrained eye.

If you want to see what I am speaking of, watch the replay of the Bet On Becky race (available here) because it is a perfect example. The filly is steppy behind the gate and the further in the mile she goes she’s gets worse until she finally makes a break.

These descriptions are not without many exceptions, so by no means think you are an associate veterinarian since reading this column. There are many bad-gaited horses going to the gate that in essence are relatively sound. Many trotters pace to the gate, and many pacers cantor warming up. Please use what you have learned for your own entertainment and do not use it to criticize horsepeople.

Laura Young (Southwind Farm ) asks: What are your thoughts/suggestions on how to video standing and walking inspection videos?

Nothing you do is going to completely replace in person appraisal because you don’t get a feel for the size and balance of the horse. However, after seeing your presentation, I think you did a fabulous job. The flowered path was a great innovation.

I am not as fussy as the average horse buyer when it comes to bumps and bruises. Rarely are they much of a long term problem when buying a yearling. Racehorses are a different story altogether.

If I could fault your videos at all I would say I was unable to determine if a horse was back in a knee from the videos. I love the fact they were not ridiculously long.

On the subject of videos, I find it strange that in 2020 some of the video quality from a few venues leaves much to be desired. I cannot fathom the fact that the people responsible are not aware that their product is barely visible.

In a year that many buyers will be bidding from home and have nothing more than the videos to aid in the selection process, one would think the owner would be more fussy about the video production.

Penelope De La Roche asks: Is it true there is going to be another new harness track in Kentucky this year?

Penelope I am very happy to tell you the answer is yes. The Winchels and their partners in Kentucky Downs, a thoroughbred racetrack, and Keeneland Association have joined together to build a new harness track in Corbin a town in south eastern Kentucky, as well as a casino 10 miles south in Williamsburg that would be tied to the new license.
From what I understand about the situation, it is a done deal and will add many more millions of dollars to the already rich Kentucky harness racing programs.

Time can truly create miracles. The sport was at death’s door a short while ago in the state of Kentucky and now it is one of the most lucrative state in the country for harness racing opportunities.

Thanks to all once again for the kind words. There are many great races on the horizon. To all of you that wonder about coming to Kentucky for the sale I will say I have been in Lexington for almost 10 days and the farms, the hotels and the restaurants are well aware of the virus problem and are more than comfortably protective of you. Have a wonderful week.

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