11/30/2011 10:08PM

The rotating trainer game

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On the heels of Lou Pena returning to Yonkers Raceway, I couldn’t help but notice all the recent trainer changes. Multiple regular trainers have been replaced by substitutes, many of whom I have never even heard of. The most logical assumption is that each of the old trainers were suspended and all of their horses went into the care of their second trainer or another available conditioner.

Here is a list of the barn switches:

Old Trainer                         New Trainer

Mark Kesmodel                  PJ Fraley

Paul Blumenfeld                 Mitchell Mac Kenzie

Rob Harmon                       Kevin Hough

Ed Urbanski                        Andrew Hallett

While I understand that if a trainer gets suspended their horses deserve the opportunity to race somewhere, I question how an entire barn winds up with the same trainer. Okay, so maybe the second trainer takes over duties for a while. But if that is the case, shouldn’t the public be made aware that the horses are still in the same barn and possibly under the same conditioning regimen as they were under the previous trainer?

Starting at the top, Mark Kesmodel is one of the top trainers in the country. His replacement, PJ Fraley has one career training victory and four career starters, none since 2007 (all stats as of 11/30/11). Maybe he is an experienced second trainer who is qualified but in the background. As a bettor, what assumptions are we to make? It would seem odd that multiple owners would agree to hand their investments over to someone with such a light résumé. Do we downgrade the chances of each horse because Mr. Fraley has less experience? Are the horses still being kept at Mr. Kesmodel’s barn with PJ Fraley at the helm?

The switch between Paul Blumenfeld and Mitchell Mac Kenzie leaves us with fewer questions. Mac Kenzie is an accomplished trainer with 388 career wins. Back in 1999 (the last year he trained full time), he won 90 races with 463 starters (19%). So, I wouldn’t be very concerned as to the performance of the horses. I’d still like to know where the horses were being housed. If Mr. Mac Kenzie is his second trainer, perhaps the program could notate that fact (Paul Blumenfeld stable).

Kevin Hough has been training a small stable for the last few years.  He replaces Rob Harmon, who has won almost 2,500 races in his career. That would seem like a big barn change. Is this change a negative?

Perhaps the most interesting switch deals with the Ed Urbanski barn. Ed has been a 10 percent win guy since 2005. All of a sudden his horses have been transferred to the care of Andrew Hallett. Mr. Hallett trained three horses in 2000 and never trained another horse until this year. So far on the year he has accumulated three wins and two seconds in just 10 starts. Where has this guy been hiding all these years? Is this change a positive?

It is an accepted practice that when a trainer gets suspended he moves his horses to another trainer. The thing is, you rarely see horses move to another “name” conditioner. For example, Mark Kesmodel does not want to move all of his horses to the Ron Burke barn (751 wins in 2011). It could be because he does not want to take the chance that Burke will wind up keeping his horses, but one has to leave open the possibility that choosing a “no name” trainer allows the opportunity to keep all of the horses in the same stalls.

Let’s face it, if I stable horses at my farm, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board has no clue as to whether I’m calling the shots on my horses or if my “beard” trainer is in charge. As long as my substitute trainer shows up on race night, it is all good.

I’m going to assume that when a trainer is suspended he has nothing to do with the horses even when off the grounds of the track. Let’s assume he plays by the rules and sits in his house and watches The View. Assuming the trainers listed above were suspended (perhaps they went on vacation – Chris Marino moved all of his horses to different barns before he went to Florida last month), I would imagine that none of them has contact with any of their horses. That said, if the horses are under the same roof and being handled by the same grooms and assistant training staff, shouldn’t the public have access to this information? Isn’t it deceiving the public by listing a new trainer when the horses never moved from their stalls to a new location?

What do you think?

Read about the suspensions and fines of 16 NY trainers

jay More than 1 year ago
hi derick, speaking of switches, just got burned when bartlett took off all his drives on mon night @ yonkers. I was alive in the early pick 3 and the last leg i got g merton for bartlett. I think you did a segment on this , i f not please do. There has got to be a better way for the public to get info sooner keep up the good work jay [I wrote something about a switch in a driver after the Pick 4 had started one day at Freehold. Seems like Bartlett was taken off prior to the card starting; different scenario. Interesting, though, because a very positive driver switch was made after the Pick 4 started at Northfield last week; horse won. It is crazy that driver changes continue to be made after the start of multi-race wagers without regard to the talent level of the drivers. BTW, seems Bartlett is not at Yonkers on Thursday, either. - DG]
jay More than 1 year ago
hi, I do remember reading your piece on that day at freehold. If I remember correctly you might have touched upon the fact that a lot of times [myself included] we handicap early in the day or the night before, so that if a switch is made before the card starts it still throws a wrench into our thought process. Regardless It still hurts when you dont get the driver you thought you were. I am sure i will write you some more before the holiday , but if not HAVE A GREAT AND JOYOUS HOLIDAY SEASON AND LOTS OF WINNERS IN THE THE NEW YEAR JAY
JLB More than 1 year ago
There is little doubt in my mind that the suspended trainers are still very active in the training of their horses. Without suspensions of horses who come up positive, the industry will remain in the muck. Derick, as a longtime owner of standardbreds, I appreciate your continued focus on harness racing, but this column seems very much in contrast to your previous one on Lou Pena, which seemed very sympathetic to poor Louie having lost many of his previous horses. I would surmise that he continued to train them throughout the period in which he was not welcome at Yonkers, and, indeed, trailers with his equipment on it would continue their nightly visit to the paddock to deliver horses he was not supposed to be training. Care to comment? [I actually thought the Pena piece was somewhat neutral. I don't recall taking sides on whether I thought the ban was fair or whether I believed that he was using "beards." I'm not sure that anyone who follows harness racing on the east coast believed that Pena had no involvement once he was banned from Yonkers. My official Pena stance is: I have a hard time believing that he is a "hay and oats" trainer. That said, I refuse to convict him of cheating until I see evidence in the form of positive tests. - DG]
stick More than 1 year ago
way to keep them honest Derick, but im afraid its a losing battle,with all the suspensions, fines, etc., look at the windsor drivers, no wonder attendance is down, 3-5 shots nowhere on overnites, but romp at big money stake events, perhaps you could comment on another faction of the sport, allowing family members racing against each other, brother vs. brother, son vs. father, especially here at woodbine/mohawk, where scot zeron faces his father rick on many race cards, both accomplished drivers. How is it that casino employees cant play or gamble, heck not even buy a lottery ticket, yet on any race nite, son, father and perhaps two brothers are racing vs. each other, would you play poker against family members? Then why wager in a horse race with the same scenario. Is it any wonder that many bettors think the fix is in , wouldnt you?
Curt V. More than 1 year ago
John, What's up w/all the Capital's ? Had a bad day at the window's ? It isn't kram's fault..Rofl...
Walt P. More than 1 year ago
Didn't see the last blog on Pena returning to Yonkers until now. As I've not been as involved in Harness as much as in the past, I didn't realize Pena only trained pacers for the most part, and it brings up an interesting point: How many of these trainers actually race both gaits? I do know if I were involved in Harness Racing, I would race trotters almost exclusively because I always found trotters once in form held that much longer than pacers did, especially those that didn't break. As a bettor, I was one of the few when I was regularly playing harness racing that preferred to play trot races over pacing events because of this. Some very well thought out thoughts on Pena in the responses in the last blog.
kram More than 1 year ago
John Your analogy of Cat v. Bill Clinton and Lou Pena doesn't work. The reason is Cat didn't say I "went" to Yonkers because, He said I am "going" to Yonkers because. Not a matter of semantics. Last year Cat was the second leading driver at Yonkers. And by the way it takes a heck of a lot more talent to drive on a 1/2 mile track than a mile. As for George, I didn't say you said he was a bad driver, but you intimated that he was successful because he gets the good horses. Yes he does get good horses, but part of that is because he is good. Chicken or the egg? Last I looked he was winning over 20% of his drives at Yonkers- and they can't all be "Honest" Lou Pena's horses. As for Lou Pena, he is a joke. The guy should be in jail. Guys like him get caught sooner or later and it's only a matter of time until you see him doing the perp walk with a state trooper behind him holding a bagful of syringes.
JOHN More than 1 year ago
This is for KRAM I am not going to get in a pisssing contest on this. I will make a few points about your reply and that will be my final post on this subject A) If you read my post i never stated "GEORGIE" was a "BAD DRIVER". He is a future HALL of FAMER having a great time now driving (usually) the best horse against B rated drivers B) You state CAT told you. If somebody objective was reading that would'nt 2 things come to mind 1) Bill Clinton "I NEVER HAD SEX WITH THAT WOMEN" 2) LOU PENA " MY HORSES RUN GREAT BECAUSE OF TRAINING" now Cat goes to yonkers (we can differ on the reasons) against mostly B rated drivers, is better on a 1/2 mile, is usually first call for HARMON and is winning at a 9.6% WIN RATE. Cat is a real good driver but when up against SEARS,TETRICK,D.MILLER,GINGRAS, PIERCE and CAMPBELL(when he tries) he is OUTCLASSED. Think of it if he wins at 9.6% at YONKERS what would he do a a real track (MEADOWLANDS) with world class drivers You state GORGIES great drive a BALMORAL. Even the worst guy's look good now and then. BTW........... SAT nite at YONKERS GEORGIE did not win a race. Now we can differ on reasons but looking at it objectively first time (IN A LONG TIME) you had SEARS,TETRICK,GINGRAS there and even BUTER who is probably better than anyone at yonkers with the exception of GEORGE,CAT & DUBE (BARTLETT is a 1/2 track driver). One last thing on great drives check out SEARS drive SAT nite FIRST over on a dubious animal like TOBAGO CAY's. This is what GEORGE is usually not up against. GEORGIE did win his first MEADOWLANDS driving title last but do you honestly think he could have if he did'nt drive ALL of "HONEST" LOU PENA horses. In conclusion, when you analyze this objectively not only are CAT & GEORGIE driving against guy's with "HANDS OF STONE" they have the extra benefit of PANTALEANO,GOODELL & LaCHANCE not even using the UFO SULKIE. At least CAT/GEORGE have the sense to use it. Maybe we can get together and chip in to BUY ONE for these 3 guy's.
kram More than 1 year ago
This is for John: "Catman had to leave the Meadowlands because he was outclassed? You are sadly mistaken. Cat left the Meadowland because the purses are so much higher at Yonkers. How do I know this? He told me. I had the pleasure of playing golf with Cat a number of times and when Yonkers was talking about getting VLT's he told me that if that happened he was definitely leaving the Meadowlands. The man is a Hall of Famer. Outclassed? LOL As for Brennan you say he gets all the live mounts? Of course he does because he is so good. People used to say the same thing about John Campbell when he was king of the Meadowlands. A couple of weeks ago Brennan was at Balmoral to drive Better Than Cheddar. A couple of trainers used him on some of their regular horses. Go back to that night and watch the replay of a race with a horse called Sectionline Barack. A superb drive by George got the horse home first. The horse had nothing close to a win prior and hasn't come close since. Good drivers make a difference and George Brennan is a good driver.
Mike L More than 1 year ago
Good to see suspensions for medication violations if that's the cause for the suspensions. Gave up trotters years ago as handicapping seemed to devolve from evaluating horse's ability to trying to interpret the intentions of the drivers. Medication violations indicate, to me at least, a few trainers trying to gain an advantage in a fundamentally honest game. Still wont see me at the windows but I hope that those who like the trotters the way I used to get a fair shake for their wagering dollar.
gbones More than 1 year ago
Any person that wagers on harness racing on a regular basis knows what this is all about....all these new names are associate trainers of the people that got suspended. So it's business as usual and no need to guess the credentials or ability of the "new" trainers. Lets not be so naive to think the suspended trainer is still not active at the farms and stables...is any official going down to White Birch farm to see if Kesmodel or Don Campbell are there? My guess is NO.