Breeder, owner, gambler Seth Rosenfeld has had a rich life in the game

The man that produced arguably the hottest standardbred family in all of harness racing said he has loved the sport since growing up at Lana Lobell Farms.

by Murray Brown

Seth Rosenfeld says, “I’ve always loved harness racing.” Always, translates to basically all the 54 years that he has been on this planet. From his first exposure to trotters and pacers, they became a life obsession.

His mom, Lana, and father, Jack, are respectively the sister and brother in law of Alan Leavitt and were involved with Lana Lobell Farms which was in Bedminster, NJ.

His first recollection of a major attraction to racehorses was when his parents owned the great pacing filly and soon to be great family founder Pammy Lobell.

Seth, was 5 or 6 years old. Wherever Pammy went, Seth tried to go as well. He usually succeeded. However at that time, he wasn’t old enough to get into most racetracks. But usually, where there was a will, Seth and his parents would find a way — whether it was getting into the paddock or just looking through the fence on the backstretch.

Pammy Lobell was a truly great filly. She earned $354,497 when that was a huge amount of money and won stakes all over North America at 2, 3 and 4. As great a race filly as she was, she was an even better broodmare. She was the first mare to produce five in 1.55, including the world champion filly Halcyon who earned $855,588.

Beginning at the age of 11, Seth spent his summers working at Lana Lobell Farms.

He was privileged to be involved with some of the greatest horses and people in the history our sport.

His job at Lana Lobell was mostly to work with the prospective customers who came to look at that year’s crop of yearlings.

It was a great learning experience for a kid who was totally engrossed in harness racing.

During the day, he spent his time at a gorgeous horse farm where some of the greatest horses in the history of the sport were housed and where virtually all of the great names in harness racing visited on an almost daily basis.

Every evening that they were racing, he would be found at The Meadowlands, then at the peak of its prowess as the greatest harness track in the world.

It was during those evenings that he began betting on horses. He has never stopped. He is one of the very few gamblers who through the years has been regularly successful.

Upon graduation from high school, he attended Cornell University for four years and graduated with a major in American Studies and Government.

Summers of course, were devoted to harness racing, mostly at The Meadowlands.

In the interim, he began dabbling in horse ownership and eventually began breeding his own.

In terms of great horses as an owner, Beach Towel would certainly stand out. There have been other great ones that he bred and sold as yearlings with perhaps Sweet Lou being the standout.

His first great buy, two years before he bought Beach Towel, was the filly Sweet Dahrlin. He was part of a group that bought her for $26,000. He loved the filly herself, but he also recalled Billy Haughton saying that her dam Fly Fly Dahrlin was the best filly of her year, but that she was kind of a semi unknown because her racing was restricted to the New York tracks.

The year he bought Sweet Dahrlin was a year after Haughton died. Seth has always wondered if, had Haughton lived, would he have bought her and, if so, would she have had a different career for different owners.

After her racing career was over, Seth bred Sweet Dahrlin to Falcon’s Future and she produced Seth’s “Blue Hen” broodmare Sweet Future, the dam of champions Sweet Lou and Bettor Sweet. Sweet Future also produced the dams of champions Captain Crunch (Sweet Paprika) and Youaremycandygirl (Sweet Lady Jane). Some might consider this the hottest family in all of harness racing.

For a small breeder Seth Rosenfeld has done extraordinarily well. Of course, Sweet Future and her success has proven to be a good part of it. Consider Oct. 29, 2011, the night both Sweet Lou and Bettor Sweet won Breeders Crowns at Woodbine.

A few years after Sweet Future’s arrival in 1998, Seth was at the Tattersalls sale looking to buy a pacing colt, preferably one not eligible to the Kentucky Sires Stakes, then the regional stakes with the least appeal. He saw a French Chef colt, who’s dam Sunburn he had seen race and admired. To that point, she hadn’t produced much, but he thought she was overdue to have a good one. French Chef was hot as well, having produced Amity Chef and Frugal Gourmet around that time. Seth looked at the colt and really liked him. The price of $22,000 was right. So he bought him and gave him to Ray, Larry and Gord Remmen to train.

That was Beach Towel, of course, and he turned out to be the best of his crop. He ended up winning $2,091,860 at 2 and 3 and was voted both the Two and Three-Year-Old pacer of 1989 and 1990, respectively. Among his wins were the Meadowlands Pace, the Little Brown Jug, Breeders Crown and numerous other stakes races. Incidentally, Seth had horses in training with the Remmen brothers for 35 consecutive years — right until they retired.

Seth spent the next few years wagering on horses, managing the stud career of Beach Towel and both raising and racing a few horses for his own account.

In 2002, he felt burnt out. It was shortly after 9/11. The daily New York City commute to The Meadowlands was getting to him. A factor, but not the main motivating factor, was that the betting pools at The Big M were decreasing in size. Seth has always considered himself as being a value better. Values were becoming increasing difficult to find.

He decided to move to California and try his hand at betting the thoroughbreds.

He still stayed involved with breeding and raising harness horses and in racing the odd one, but for the most part his wagering would be switched to the thoroughbreds.

There is a vast difference between betting on harness horses and on thoroughbreds. Most would think the thoroughbreds are more difficult to handicap and they would be right. There are so many more variables. Furthermore, they race so less frequently that it can be far more difficult to remember their physical appearance.

Gradually, Seth adapted to the differences. There was no specific area, but he began to understand speed figures, factors such as distance, weight and other areas that had to be part of his decision making.

One of the areas where he felt he had an edge in betting harness racing was in workouts and physical appearance. He has tried to adapt that to judging thoroughbreds. He religiously watches workouts which are available online and sometimes with commentary. How fast they go is often secondary to their physical appearance and how they appear to be doing their work.

I recently had several conversations with Seth speaking of his rather unusual career.

Seth, you worked for several years at Lana Lobell Farms under and with some of the most renowned farm managers and horsemen in the sport’s history. Tell us about some of them.

Jim Harrison — “Jim had a sometimes deserved reputation of being rough and tough with little patience with people. He could be quite intimidating. People had a tendency to tread lightly in his presence. I was one of the lucky ones. I spent a lot of time with him and asked him a lot of questions. I can’t remember ever receiving a harsh word from him. Something I remember is when we were having so much success with Beach Towel, he would drop a note of congratulations periodically.”

Hal Jones — “Hal was a down to earth person. He was a great and very practical horseman. I learned a lot just being with and listening to him. He and his wife Marie were very kind to me when they were living on the farm. I’d go over to the Jones family consignment in Kentucky each year and talk and reminisce with both of them.”

Kenny Seeber — “Dr. Seeber was a great and very unique guy. He started out as a racetrack veterinarian and soon rose to be recognized as one of, if not the very best. He then went to managing Lana Lobell Farms where he did an exceptional job. Then he decided to become a horse trainer. Within a very short period of time and with great help and confidence from Lou Guida he almost immediately had one of the top Grand Circuit Stables. Then he went back to being a top racetrack vet, where he excelled. He influenced my choice of Cornell. He told me Ithaca wasn’t really that cold… which I came to doubt when it had snowed four times before Thanksgiving my freshman year. Of course he came from Watertown, New York, which is often one of the coldest spots in the country.”

Bruce Nickells — “He was at Lana Lobell for a couple of summers helping to prep the yearlings. It was somewhat of a lull in his career. He was training a few, but didn’t have the power that he had previously been known for. He is a brilliant horseman — always thinking, always looking for something new and better. I became really good friends with him. Shortly after he left he went on his filly rampage with Follow My Star, Miss Easy, Immortality and some others.”

Best driver you’ve seen?

“John Campbell, all alone. Talented, ultra-intelligent, always well prepared, wise. He was always the first and sometimes the only driver to understand track bias and use it to his benefit.”

Best jockey you’ve seen?

“Mike Smith — prepared. Always ready when the big money is down.”

Best harness trainer?

“William R Haughton. He could do everything. He loved solving problems. He made good horses out of many bad ones. It’s said that couldn’t be done, but somehow he could. It’s hard to imagine that he ran that big a stable in an era before cell phones and the Internet.”

Best thoroughbred trainer?

“Bob Baffert. Just look at his record. It speaks for itself. I know that there are too many positives, but I still think he is the best. I also think he gives effective and detailed jockey instructions and is a master of analyzing and adapting to track biases.”

You’ve been involved with breeding and raising your own horses for well over 30 years. Most would say you’ve been pretty darn successful with that as well.

“Much the same as with the racing of my horses, my primary trainers for 35 years were Ray Remmen and his brothers Larry and Gord. They always told the truth as they saw it — good or bad. They were fair and honest and did a great job. That’s all I ever wanted.

“The same applies to my relationship with David Meirs and Chris Coyle who have been involved in breeding, raising and selling my horses for over 30 years. They are excellent communicators, do a great job with the horses and are honest. We have such a close relationship that I can usually tell what’s coming in a conversation after just a few words are spoken.

“Another horse that I and Dave Meirs bred that I feel a great affinity for is No Lou Zing one of the top 3-year-olds this year. Not only is he by Sweet Lou, a horse I bred, but his fifth dam is Pammy Lobell the mare that I feel got me started on this wonderful trip.”

In addition to being active in breeding and a little racing you are involved in several other areas of the sport. Tell us about them.

“I’ve been a director of the Hambletonian Society for several years. Its comprised of a great group of owners and breeders who’s primary goal is for the betterment of our sport in addition to administering most of our stakes races. Our president/CEO is John Campbell and our COO is Moira Fanning. I believe they’re both doing a terrific job under difficult circumstances.

“I’m a trustee of the Harness Racing Museum where I am the treasurer and also co-chairman together with Bob Boni of the Living Horse Hall of Fame committee.

“I’m also on the strategic wagering committee of USTA which has been of great aid in instituting multi-race wagers, which have attained great popularity, handling over $30 million last year.

“The committee is a also great example of cooperation in the sport — it’s nice to see tracks executives, who are ostensibly in competition with each other, work pretty harmoniously together in our meetings.”