Thoughts on The Guru and more

HRU Feedback (2021-05-09)

May 9, 2021

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Big finale at Pompano Park

Closing night was a huge success at Pompano with a record $1.7 million handle. Handicapper John Berry selected seven winners right on top including the final Pick 3. He also had the race 12 exacta $49.60 and trifecta cold $130.40. In race 13 he had the exacta $120.80 and trifecta $555.20 cold. Congratulations to Gabe Prewitt, John Berry, and all those who made this meet the best ever at Pompano Park.

— Jerry White / Boynton Beach, FL

Thanks for the tribute to The Guru

As a harness racing mug for 55 years, I want to congratulate you on writing a very good introspective column on Ron Gurfein, The Guru, (full story here) who took the time about a few weeks before the doping scandal hit to email me back an opinion on one of my hundreds of issues with harness racing. Ron was blunt, but I could read that his answer was dead on the mark about his own vision and facts — so I was happy to be levelled with and that he took the time to lay it out for me … I love the sport and reading HRU completely.

Bravo Dave. I like your columns.

— Bryan Boughton / Toronto, ON

Murray Brown on The Guru

Upon learning of the death of Ronnie Gurfein, I thought that I might attempt to write a story about the legendary man I was proud to call my friend for over 50 years.

That thought was quickly put to rest after reading Dave Briggs extraordinary story in HRU this past Friday (full story here).

Nobody could come even close to describing the man known as The Guru as well as Dave did.

One thing that I feel compelled to add. Ronnie you left us without giving us a chance to say goodbye. Of course that was your right. I suppose that I am being ultra-selfish in saying this. It was your life and your right to decide to the very end how you wanted to live it.

However this comes from one those who feels empty in that he would have liked to express directly to you how he felt.

— Murray Brown / New York

A great lesson can be learned from Gurfein

A great lesson can be learned from the life of Ron Gurfein. I was there when he first started. Horsemen routinely laughed at his incompetence. Horsemen would enjoy watching him try to simply hook up one of his horses in the paddock. I could tell many stories in that vein, but the important story is how that changed. Did it ever! Ron Gurfein provided a life-lesson for us all. If you believe in something and are willing to work hard, you cannot let early failures get in your way. From a running joke, to one of the most successful trainers ever — EVER!

Thank you, Ron Gurfein. Your family has a right to be proud of what you accomplished in your life.

— Gil Winston / Manalapan, NJ

There is no reason to make a microchip or a freeze brand a one-or-the-other type of choice

I am writing to you all because of my concern about the lack of neck freeze brands making it harder to identify standardbreds, especially in the slaughter pipeline. To give you a little background, my great grandfather and grandfather bred, raised, trained, and raced standardbreds here in Maine for many years. I became involved in the breed over 20 years ago when I took on a retraining project of a retired pacing broodmare named Dreamy Starlet. Dreamy and I competed all over New England and the Mid Atlantic in both dressage and eventing, winning many horse show ribbons and national and regional championships. We were also part of the standardbred demonstration team at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky. Dreamy is now 30 years old and is happily retired on my small farm. While I am not currently a member of the USTA, I was for many years and have always tried my hardest to support and promote this wonderful breed.

The notion that the lack of a freeze brand will somehow make the standardbred more popular in the show ring is complete rubbish. The lack of a brand does not make a horse more desirable and anyone that wants to say that has obviously never competed horses. In all the years I competed with Dreamy, and then later with the trotters Revenue Stream and Snap Dancer, I never ONCE had a judge look down upon my horses because of a freeze brand. If someone is willing to judge a horse’s merits on a few white hairs on their neck, the problem is with the person, not the horse. In fact, the presence of the freeze brand often provoked a positive communication with others who were curious to know what the brand meant. This would always turn into an excellent opportunity for me to educate others about how great this breed is, and people would always be pleasantly surprised. The riders I hear who like to complain that a judge didn’t like their horse because of the freeze brand use that as an excuse for poor training and preparation for the show ring. No, the judge isn’t biased against the horse due to a freeze brand, but more likely because the rider made a mistake in the competition ring or didn’t train their horse well enough to be competitive.

Bottom line, there is no reason to make a microchip or a freeze brand a one-or-the-other type of choice, as a horse can have both. There are certainly benefits to both identification methods. However, the freeze brand should continue to be mandatory and not cost an extra $75 over the cost of registration. By removing the freeze brand, you are now making standardbreds invisible in kill pens, which I feel is a true disservice to the breed. Being able to identify the horse based on the brand makes it much easier to contact previous owners who may want to know if their horses are in a bad situation as well as anyone who may have enrolled the horse in the Full Circle Program. Unless, of course, one of the real reasons for changing to microchips is to make it appear as though standardbreds are not as prevalent in kill pens or to wrongly protect former owners who don’t want to be contacted because their former horse ends up in a bad situation. If that is even remotely true, and I hope it is not, then shame on the USTA for being so callous and treating unwanted racehorses in such a way! Additionally, as far as I know, unless the state rules have suddenly changed, it is illegal in New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois for anyone other than a veterinarian to implant a microchip in a horse. So it is curious to me how USTA might be circumventing that law.

Over the years, I have had innumerable people ask me to help look up horses for them. Not everyone knows the USTA offers a free lookup search on the website. Without the freeze brand, we can no longer look up the horse. A chip reader costs a minimum of $250, and it is not something everyone can purchase. Further, even if someone owns a chip reader and wants to try to identify a horse in a kill pen, it will be nearly impossible to safely read the chip in the crowded pens. Granted, at times a brand can be more difficult to read. However, if the brands are becoming that hard to read, perhaps that is more a problem with those creating the freeze brands, which would indicate better and more comprehensive brand training is needed.

I understand you might feel it is easy to discount someone like me, who is not involved in racing and is not currently a USTA member. I also know it feels uncomfortable to have someone call you out on a topic you might wish to sweep under the carpet. However, it is also true that it is people like me who are effectively helping the discarded horses from your industry. There are many wonderful people who are rehabbing, rescuing, and retraining these horses for a chance for a secure job as a riding horse for the future. With that said, I do feel our opinions should matter.

Bottom line, the USTA would NOT be doing these horses a favor by allowing them to be registered without a freeze brand. I implore you all to rethink this decision and realize that it is not helping anyone, especially these wonderful horses we are so lucky to have in our lives.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


— Elizabeth Sanborn / Hiram, ME

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