04/24/2017 5:23PM

Bergman: Questioning the rise to prominence of Buzzy Sholty

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Should a trainer have to justify success?

I’ve never been a very big statistics guy. I let others chew the numbers. Most of my handicapping has come from visuals. As an original Sports Eye chart-caller, it was imperative to watch each race closely. Close enough to get the margins between every horse at every call, except the finish where a camera did the work. Keeping close tabs on horses throughout a mile was more valuable to me than driver, trainer or for that matter horse stats.

Success is measured in numbers, but sometimes you see things on the racetrack that defy logic and explanation. During those times you reach for the numbers and try to make logical sense of an effort that appears to stray from what normal past performances look like.

George “Buzzy” Sholty was called to task a week ago and his removal from racing at The Meadowlands was in fact made public by Jeff Gural. Sholty, as was his right, prepared a rebuttal that appeared in HRU on Sunday.

As a trainer Sholty is responsible for his horses and his explanation for the care and conditioning of one Brickman makes sense in every way. Sholty explained the horse had trouble tying up, a common condition among standardbreds these days. He explained how the problem was handled and how the eventual performance of Brickman was a direct result of his attention to detail.

Sholty’s explanation makes sense, but as in almost all explanations you have to wonder whether it is the complete story or just part of one.

Here’s where the numbers step in and one has to speculate how the effectiveness of Sholty’s training in 2017 has catapulted him from a conditioner who struggled to keep a .222 Universal Training Average to his current .355 number.

Though I know it’s just numbers, the struggle for me is just how popular Sholty has become as a location for new owners to drop good horses in his lap. Other than being the son of the late Hall of Fame trainer and driver, Buzzy wasn’t exactly setting the world ablaze when sending horses to the racetrack over the last five years. A combined 29 winners in the years 2014-16 should have been enough for every owner to look in another direction, but ironically they have not only given Sholty horses, they have given him some good ones as well.

With earnings of $236K through the first three and a half months of racing in 2017, Sholty has nearly eclipsed the entirety of the last two years of purse money taken in for his entire stable.

YEAR STARTS WINS PLACES SHOWS EARNINGS UDRS
2017 72 17 10 9 $236,531 .355
2016 107 11 9 7 $114,937 .171
2015 89 6 12 10 $83,979 .180
2014 137 12 18 9 $136,662 .182
2013 79 12 8 4 $125,200 .225
2012 124 10 14 7 $138,170 .162
2011 219 26 31 18 $549,400 .225
2010 282 38 22 37 $457,666 .222
2009 390 35 28 50 $461,184 .172

**Stats courtesy USTA

There’s an easy explanation for this and it includes the fact that his horses weren’t racing for the kind of money they are today. A better one is that his horses weren’t racing with the efficiency they are today.

It’s hard to make singles hitters into homerun hitters no matter how we juice the baseball. Whether Buzzy Sholty was fortunate enough to have quality horses in his stable or horses with less ability, his talent as a conditioner should have yielded similar results. After all, no one puts $10,000 claimers that are ready to win in a $50,000 claimer.

While there is no law prohibiting owners from seeking out any licensed trainer to handle their horses, it becomes a little surprising when some horses appear to be moving from one trainer that was no longer welcome into the suddenly revived Buzzy Sholty stable.

There will always be ways to explain away any sudden turnaround in a horses’ performance. Yet explanations tend to run hollow when additional logic is added to the circumstance.

Taco Tuesday was a decent enough 3-year-old for trainer Frank Antonacci. He then moved into Yonkers late last year with Tom Milici as his new trainer and won his second start at a mile and a quarter by nearly nine lengths over a sloppy track.

Taco Tuesday moved into Sholty’s stable after Milici was asked to stay out of the Yonkers entry box for a short period of time. Since that transition, the horse has blossomed into an Open Trotter with four wins in eight tries including an awesome first-over mile this past Saturday where he measured off the classy pacesetter D W’s NY Yank in a 1:56 seasonal best performance.

It’s not uncommon for trotters to improve with age and certainly Taco Tuesday may have just been missing a bit of experience, something he’s gained over the winter racing and earning his way up the class ladder.

It’s even possible that Milici made all the necessary changes that Taco Tuesday needed and Sholty is simply riding the wave of the former trainer’s impressive work.

Buzzy Sholty’s sudden success has certainly put him in the spotlight. Given the attention he received at The Meadowlands along with his willingness to exercise his rights to defend himself, Sholty’s horses will be looked at on a regular basis with a greater amount of scrutiny. If after years of struggles he’s finally found a system that works to improve all of his horses, he deserves all the rewards that come from hard work.

If not, there will be a new name on the program with owners finding the necessary licensee to continue to win.