11/30/2011 10:08PM

The rotating trainer game


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 Multiple regular trainers have been replaced by substitutes, many of whom I have never even heard of.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