07/06/2001 12:00AM

DRF Letters to the Editor

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Little grace under pressure in California

I find myself compelled to respond to Stan Bergstein's misguided column "Truth, justice, and a 60-day suspension" of June 21.

First, in the matter of the morphine positive of Nautical Look, trained by Bob Baffert, Judith Seligman acted as trial counsel for the California Horse Racing Board, not as an administrative law judge. The fact that Bergstein attributed the roles of prosecutor and judge to the same person certainly makes one wonder about his sense of justice and concepts of conflict of interest.

Proper performance of judicial functions is not an occasion for machismo. It calls for the execution of a position of public trust by skillfully evaluating evidence and by possessing sufficient knowledge of the law to apply it correctly to the facts of the case.

The scientific evidence in the Baffert case, presented by highly qualified chemists/pharmocologists, established that this "positive" most likely resulted from an idiosyncratic environmental contamination rather than from the administration of a chemical to the horse. Under CHRB rules, environmental contamination is a complete defense to the trainer-insurer rule.

I am sorry to be so technical, but the proper administration of these cases depends on analytical skill and knowledge of the law, not "bravery," as Bergstein put it.

Unfortunately, the stewards in these kinds of cases are faced with some difficult-to-reach "desired" decisions by certain high-level CHRB administrators, These stewards are not possessed of sufficient legal education, training, or experience to evaluate evidence in the face of these pressures.

Having previously served for more than two years as an independent hearing officer for the CHRB, I am personally aware of and was the target for direct and indirect attempts by a high-level CHRB administrator to influence decisions before and during the taking of evidence. Imagine the difficulties faced by California stewards, whose job assignments may hang in the balance if they don't reach the "desired" result.

Capitulation to to outside pressures, gross conflicts of interest, inadequate legal analysis, and simply taking the easy way out on the trainer-insurer rule is not a profile in courage.

Steve R. Schwartz

Los Angeles

Columnist shows marketing savvy

I just finished reading Stan Bergstein's great column of July 5, "Racing just gets curiouser and curiouser." I especially enjoyed the item "More baffling developments" and Bergstein's take on the absence of a national pick three or pick four when there is a nationwide telecast, as was the case on CBS last Sunday.

Bergstein obviously should be doing marketing and product development for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, because those people don't have a clue to what is going on. It's no wonder that critics like Frank Stronach are leery about giving them even more money.

Mr. Bergstein, keep these great ideas coming - maybe these Young Turks in the NTRA will listen.

Michael Bronzino

Princeton, N.J.

Hollywood stewards tarnished Gold Cup

As a horse owner, gambler, and fan of horse racing for many years, I found the stewards' decision to take down Futural in the Hollywood Gold Cup just another black eye for our sport. Never mind that at the time of the incident Skimming was done, and his rider, Garrett Gomez, completely embellished the contact. Futural was by far the best horse, and the incident did not cost any of the horses their rightful finishing places.

The bottom line is that Southern California racing desperately needs new blood in the stewards' room. These guys are way past their prime.

I totally understand and agree with people who cry that we cannot have a bunch of rough riding, but let's get serious for a minute. This is not the bush tracks of the hinterlands. The jockeys we have on our circuit are the very best in the world. Why isn't anyone talking about how Gomez floated Gary Stevens way out into the middle of the track on Captain Steve going into the first turn, or how both Stevens and Gomez put the clamps down on Power Wing into the far turn? The reason is that both tactics were good race-riding, there was a ton of cash on the line, and these guys were riding for their lives.

I feel sick for Futural's rider, Chris McCarron, and especially his trainer, Craig Dollase, as well as the owners.

(For the record, I did not wager a dime on the race.)

Bo Kelly

Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.

DQ of Futural recalled blast from past

Sunday's result of the Hollywood Gold Cup via the stewards' ruling immediately reminded me of the DQ of The Wicked North from what would have been the biggest win of his career, the 1994 Santa Anita Handicap.

Although in the case of The Wicked North, I guess one could argue that there was a slight chance that Myrakulu may have finished third rather than fourth had he not checked, but the lack of justification was obvious to most racegoers.

But this decision in the 2001 Hollywood Gold Cup was even more of a travesty of justice. All year long, we watch as incidents similar to the one that occurred in the Gold Cup are ruled as "no change," because they did not affect the original orders of finish.

Plus, to add further insult, Aptitude and Skimming are owned and trained by the same people, so what would be the change to owner, trainer, or the betting public if Skimming had beaten Aptitude for second, even though it's incredibly obvious that Skimming would have never made up those three lengths.

This is the kind of decision, on Hollywood Park's biggest day and biggest race, that tarnish this sport terribly. The lack of consistency displayed in this decision is really a travesty.

I trust the stewards will include a bottle of Tarn-X with Aptitude's trophies, as well as an Academy Award for Garrett Gomez.

James Sternberg

Newport Beach, Calif.

Much to be desired in Bay Area racing

When will someone address the real issues that hurt Bay Area horse racing besides small fields?

For one, the facilities are terrible. The only effort to improve Golden Gate Fields is its annual coat of paint. The mutuel clerks are rude, slow, and in short supply, especially to handle simulcast betting in the morning. And what kind of marketing effort is Friday-night concerts with no-name musical groups no one has heard of?

The track's management, which seems to want to do nothing about the situation, needs a housecleaning from the top down.

I recently visited Sam Houston Race Park. I found a clean facility with a friendly staff, free parking for simulcast wagering, great simulcast selections, and a concert schedule with groups people have actually heard about.

Also, the San Francisco Bay Area is the fourth-largest market in the country and can you name one race hosted in the Bay Area that is shown across the country?

Will we never see a Breeders' Cup? We host Super Bowls, All Star Games, and the World Series, but racing seems perpetually to take a backseat to other sports.

I wish there would be a open forum of Golden Gate management, Magna Entertainment, the California Horse Racing Board, local media members, and racing fans. Let's put it all out on the table and try to make it better.

Dan Blades

El Cerrito Calif.