Joe Takach

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One of the great things about having a weekly publication (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA HORSE TO WATCH) is that over the past 8 years, my clients have kept me “on my toes” with thought-provoking questions.  I never sit at my computer wondering about what to write for my weekly syndicated column that first appears in the SCHTW and a month or so later, finds it’s way onto selected first class websites on the internet.

Whenever I get a query that is new and interesting, I like to pass it on to all my other clients in hopes of improving their game as well.  Here’s a “fresh” one that made me stop and think before replying.

“Joe, I’m having a difficult time getting a read on trainer Eric Kruljac.  I believe his base is in Phoenix, yet he seems to frequently run horses in Southern California.  How capable do you feel he is?  Any info would be appreciated.  Thanks, Paul”.

My reply went something like this:

Regarding Eric Kruljac, I put him into the category of "crossover" trainer.

These are conditioners who in essence are “minor league” trainers, but at times have a few horses good enough to compete at some level on our major Southern California circuit.

Other good examples of “crossover trainers” are Ed Moger, Kathy Walsh, Bill Morey, Jim Cassidy, Don Warren, James Chapman and Leonard Duncan to name only a few. 

Whenever any “crossover” trainer has a horse in a race, I treat their runner as I would any other contestant---I handicap his horse first and if warranting any further consideration, I then go on to things like overall past “physicality” of the horse, trainer capability, jockey, post position, etc., until I come up with my final contenders for my paddock inspections the following afternoon.

If you start by handicapping any “crossover trainer” first before handicapping the actual horse, you end up tossing out all these conditioners assuming all their stock is minor league as well.  In most cases it is, but these minor league trainers do win races every day! 

If you were to do a small study on these crossover conditioners, you'll find that most often they do very well on their own circuit and are generally near or at the top of their minor league standings.  If a minor league trainer is winning a lot of races, at least he knows "what to do" to visit the winner’s circle.  If given better animals, he might move them to the major leagues and win allowance races and minor overnight stakes.

Very few of these "crossover" trainers win "Graded" races, but it does happen occasionally on the major Southern California circuit.  Kathy Walsh (certainly not one of my favorites) has been known to win a "Graded" turf race as has Leonard Duncan on the dirt.

Again, so there is no confusion, these conditioners are still mostly 3rd tier trainers in my overall trainer standings that are based on much more than simplistic win-loss statistics. 

Few (if any) of the “crossover crew” will ever become a Neil Drysdale or a Bobby Frankel, unless getting extremely lucky and finding owners who can afford to buy untried million dollar horses.  And even if getting flawless stock with which to work, they usually don’t have the needed hands-on experience of supervising “Graded” stock on a daily basis and knowing how to put up with their many “quirks” and idiosyncrasies.

It’s one thing to pit common, no-legged, 8-10K stock against each other and win races, as many “crossover wannabes” do every day at the bottom claiming ranks on the Southern California circuit-----you just need a good veterinarian who can keep you runner “together” for one another race and a jockey who can get your “goat” out of the gate.  This is where the 3rd tier trainers live.  This is where they win.  They rarely aspire to be more and as a result never become such. 

On the other hand, it is quite another thing to have the ability to win a “Grade 3” race.  You first have to understand that you have a runner with tons of talent and then you have to find a way to get the horse to perform to his optimum potential.  And finally, you have to have enough intelligence to properly place your runner with overnite mini-stakes’ horses or “Graded” stock where he actually can win, rather than over his head where defeat is a foregone conclusion.  The very last thing you want to do with a “good horse” is to teach him bad habits (losing) early in his career.  Building confidence in your runner with wins as he gradually ascends the class ladder is half the equation, with the other half keeping him racing sound and mentally well disposed.

This is much easier “said” than actually “done” on our circuit with our legitimate “crossover” trainers in better races.  They sometimes can, but infrequently do.

At any rate, I’m sure you get the idea.

Always handicap the horse first!

If confronted with 3 contenders in 8 to 25K claiming races on our sunny circuit, anybody and any trainer can win. 

Keep in mind that even a broken clock is right twice a day!  Or put another way, every blind squirrel trips over a “nut” sooner or later!

When you're talking Santa Anita Grade 1 "Big Cap" or facsimile thereof, the names Kruljac, Walsh, Duncan and Moger will NEVER be found as the trainer of record of the winning horse until “pigs” have learned  to fly.

All these legit “crossover conditioners” can win the easy ones.

They all have trouble with Grade 2s and rarely win them on a continuing basis----if they did, they wouldn’t actually be “crossover trainers”  They’d get much more respect, better owners and therefore better racing stock.

Their names would be mentioned in the same breath as Bobby Frankel, Neil Drysdale, Bob Baffert, Richard Mandella, Ron McAnnally, D. Wayne Lucas, Ron Ellis, Dave Hofmans, Wally or Craig Dollase, Jennine Sahadi, Vlado Cerin, Ted West, or Darrell Vienna .  If you really like a horse in a Grade 1 race on our circuit, I’d have no hesitation and wouldn’t even doubt these trainer’s abilities to have their horses race-ready on race day.

But betting a steady diet of “crossover trainers” in the better races will never buy you a winter home in Aruba!


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