06/21/2001 11:00PM

DRF's letters to the Editor


Board lacks proof positive in Baffert case

I have been owner-manager of a Thoroughbred breeding farm in Maryland for the past 30 years, as well as owner of a small racing stable. I was flabbergasted to read Stan Bergstein's column "Truth, justice, and a 60-day suspension" in the June 21 Racing Form praising the California Horse Racing Board stewards, as it is the opinion of virtually everyone I know in the industry that Bob Baffert is getting shafted in this drug-positive case.

Seventy-three nanograms of morphine could not possibly affect the outcome of a race, and the fact that the blood sample was one of many thrown out by direct order of the CHRB only supports this theory.

Two things don't wash. If, as a CHRB lawyer claimed, a blood sample is unnecessary if both splits of a urine sample test positive ("Baffert to appeal 60-day suspension," June 20), then why was the blood sample even taken? According to test veterinarians here in Maryland, contaminated urine samples show up fairly frequently as "positives," and nothing is ever said unless the test from the blood sample confirms the positive findings. Baffert, of course, was denied this avenue to prove his innocence.

Secondly, the chairman of the CHRB seems on very shaky ground to deny the stay of the suspension, pending appeal ("Baffert denied stay of ban," June 21). Why would the avenue of appeal be extended in the rules of racing if the punishment wasn't going to be stayed? How much good would it do if this appeal was allowed after the suspension had been completed?

Bob Baffert is known as an excellent horseman, who takes very good care of his horses and uses drugs sparingly. When horses in his care are unsound, they stop training. His many wins, and negative tests, surely should give him a benefit of the doubt in this case.

I am all for exposing owners and trainers who look to drugs to alter the outcome of races. But if a racing board is going to give the world's leading money-winning trainer a long suspension, it better have an airtight, damning case, and the CHRB does not.

Cynthia R. McGinnes

Chestertown, Md.

Lukas chose candor while others chose denial

Having read the many outraged responses to D. Wayne Lukas's comments on Chris Antley (Letters, June 17; "Lukas speaks out about Antley," June 10), I find myself with a much different feeling than most. The same people who did Antley no favors by ignoring his obvious problems when he was alive can't stop defending him now.

The story of Chris Antley, while sad in many ways, is unfortunately all too commonplace among celebrities, particularly athletes. Instead of asking why Antley struggled with his weight, while many other jockeys with similar problems dealt with them, some people now cry, "poor Chris." True, his story is tragic, but abetting somebody's problems by turning a blind eye is also unfortunate.

Wayne Lukas answered a question he was probably tired of hearing with the truth as he sees it.

Many racing fans thought Antley gave Charismatic an unnecessarily aggressive ride in the Belmont. But because of the events after the race, he was never really criticized. It is likely Lukas has been frustrated for two years by this and he finally reacted.

Isn't blaming Lukas once again avoiding the real issue? The public's coddling of athletes (or anyone) who are crying out for help does the athletes no favors. Stop diverting your attention and focus on the real issue.

Andy Serling

New York City

Modern-day breed falls short on stamina

The annual running of the Belmont Stakes is an appropriate trigger for reflection on the state of distance dirt racing in America. In a word: Nonexistent. Except for the Belmont, there is not one single dirt race of significance for males run beyond 10 furlongs in America.

We have a racing and breeding program in the United States that accents brilliance with absolute disregard for stamina. This blatant neglect of distance dirt racing has led not only to a banal torrent of sprint racing, but, more importantly, to a breed that has clearly atrophied since the classic decade of the 1970's.

Could you imagine the team of Secretariat, Forego, Wajima, Affirmed, Alydar, Spectacular Bid, and Seattle Slew pitted against more recent runners such as Holy Bull, Cigar, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Lemon Drop Kid, Fusaichi Pegasus, and Tiznow in a series of dirt races run at 10, 11, and 12 furlongs? My guess is that today's group would be hard-pressed to hit the board.

The implosion in staying ability shows no sign if stabilizing, much less reversing. Great broodmare sires and stamina influences such as Princequillo, Graustark, Hail to Reason, Buckpasser, Key to the Mint, Stage Door Johnny, Herbager, His Majesty, Tom Rolfe, and Nijinsky II are moving further and further back in Thoroughbred pedigrees. And who is there to replace them? Alleged, Pleasant Colony, Seattle Slew, and Alydar can't possibly fill such an expansive void. And with the importation of stamina-oriented mares from Europe and South America now down to a trickle - the commercial market views them as unfashionable - the void figures to get wider yet.

One has to wonder where American racing will be when our broodmare bands are overflowing with daughters of Storm Cat, End Sweep, Carson City, Belong to Me, Honour and Glory, Mt. Livermore, and Silver Deputy. Perhaps by 2020 the Kentucky Derby will be reduced to 1 1/16 miles; the Preakness run at 1 mile and 70 yards; and the Test of the Champion, the Belmont, will conclude the famed series at a grueling 1 1/8 miles.

The only way out of this abysmal cycle is for a major racing circuit - New York, Kentucky, or California - to schedule a lucrative

1 1/2-mile, open-company, weight-for-age dirt race. The late fall, after the Breeders' Cup Classic, seems like a good spot on the calendar. If such an event proved popular with horsemen and the betting public, the concept might catch on. Most importantly, we could start to recapture that which is now on the endangered species list here in America: Classic staying ability.

Kenneth C. Kush


Purse strings tied directly to slots

The staggering purse increases at Delaware Park, Mountaineer Park, Prairie Meadows, and Woodbine leave no doubt that slot machines and alternative forms of gambling are the future if we are to improve our economic base significantly.

While I commend the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and its efforts to increase public awareness of racing, the fact remains that public apathy remains, apart from occasional big events.

I respect the traditional viewpoint that racing can survive on its own merits, but can it prosper? Outside of communities like Lexington, where the horse is part of the culture, the bettor wants more action!

We live in a different time, and racing must move forward, responding to what the bettor demands. Lottery tickets are sold in gas stations, and competition for gambling dollars proliferates on the Internet, while we continue to do business as if our competitors didn't exist.

Those of us who enjoy "racing as it was meant to be" should continue to do so, while recognizing that slots have the ability to raise purses to unprecedented levels.

Slots are coming, and state governments hungry for revenue couldn't care less whether they are at hotels or racetracks. The time is now to milk this cash cow aggressively before our competitors do.

John G. Sikura, Hill 'n' Dale Farms

Lexington, Ky.