05/24/2001 11:00PM

DRF's Letters to the Editor (5/27)

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Vets deprived

of attention they deserve

All of us involved with Thoroughbreds should thank ol' Doc Harthill for clearing up the mystery of Northern Dancer's great Derby win and his subsequent success in the breeding shed ("Kentucky vet raps column on Lasix use," May 20 Letters to the Editor). I always wondered how that little runt could beat all those bigger horses.

Perhaps other noble track vets will now come forward and help explain things like Secretariat's 31-length win in the Belmont or Dr. Fager's record in the mile at Arlington. Sure would like to clean up those mysteries.

It is clear this noble breed, the track vet, has been underappreciated and unsung for too long. Trainers, grooms, and breeders have been getting all the credit for great racehorses when it's actually been the track vet who has been watching out for the horses' welfare and performance.

The vets don't even get Eclipse Awards. If those Eclipse folks don't shape up, the veterinarians should get together and give out their own awards. They could call them the Golden Syringes. Has a nice ring to it.

Maybe it's time to ban European-trained horses from running in the Breeders' Cup because Europeans abuse their horses by not running on Lasix and Bute. What a bunch of barbarians.

And how about that mean old H. Allen Jerkins not running on drugs. What's the matter with him? Bet he had a Secretariat doll stuck full of pins hanging in Onion's stall before that 1973 Whitney. Somebody should turn him in to the Animal Liberation Front.

It's high time the Racing Form listed the track vet's name along with the trainer. Who cares whether Bullet Bob worked his charge four furlongs in 42 and change? Hell, I want to be able to bet the Harthill superfecta.

As we go to the Belmont Stakes, lose the cute stories about Monarchos's assistant trainer or groom. Let's hear from the track vet about the last time those hocks were injected.

Got to end here. One of my kids wants to be in the Thoroughbred business, so I've got to go help her with her chemistry homework.

Tom Rossman

Newport Beach, Calif.

Not even Lake the Great

tried next-day outing

At Belmont on Friday, May 18, I witnessed a Scott Lake-trained filly named Tax Affair win an allowance race quite easily. Later that afternoon, I noticed in the program that Lake had also entered her the next day in the Grade 3 Shuvee Handicap at Belmont.

Though recognizing that it would be impossible for the horse to return to the races the next day, I somehow thought that with the magic Lake possesses in his bag of tricks he would be tempted to pull this off.

At Belmont the next day, I immediately went to the scratch board to see if Tax Affair was still listed to run in the Shuvee. I was disappointed to see her included among the day's scratches.

I guess Lake is holding off on this particularly feat, running a horse back on no days' rest. Given what he has accomplished over the last few years, however, I have no doubt that we will witness this feat by him sometime soon. Nothing Lake accomplishes surprises me anymore. He is making believers out of the New York bettors, and fellow trainers as well.

Fred Hart

Jericho, N.Y.

Midwestern spark

keeps Fires burning

The indisputable numbers that Earlie Fires has put up in his riding career - top apprentice in 1965, more than 6,100 winners, riding titles at Arlington, Calder, Churchill Downs, Gulfstream, Hawthorne, Hialeah, and Keeneland - have gained him selection to the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame ("It's official: 5 for the ages," May 3).

But those are just some of the cold, bare facts Fires has piled up in his 36-year career to mandate a place in racing's shrine to its elite. (I won't quibble about the fact that his selection is a year of two late, or that, with all due respect, there is simply no way to justify Julie Krone's preceding him into the Hall, except to say that it is typical of the coastal bias of racing media.)

But to those of us who know Fires, personally or professionally, there is so much more to this man who personifies what sport should be. His competitive nature, the "fire in the belly," as many sports scribes like to call it, has always been fierce. Yet off the track he is as decent and kind a man as you can name, and a good deal more so than most millionaire athletes.

Uniquely Midwestern, Fires fits the hardworking, middle-class image of Chicago like no other rider in his lifetime. His blue-collar style of muscling a horse home in a stretch drive has probably cost him a lot of mounts on the more fashionably bred horseflesh, whose owners cringe at their steeds being forced to work as hard as they can by the crack of a whip. But it has endeared him to those of us who bet our hard-earned dollars on those horses, as well as the small-time owners (like myself and my partners) whose cheap claimers he has booted home so often.

There is probably no one who has given a more consistent, intense effort than Earlie Fires. Stories abound of the races in which he has picked up a horse who appeared beaten and seemingly willed him under the wire first, using his surprising strength to urge, pump, push, and, yes, whip him through the stretch.

During his brilliant career, Fires has exemplified class, honor, and integrity. In a world where athletes are so often spoiled and soiled, Fires's life has been a lesson to us all. He gets the best out of his mounts because he demands it, as he has always demanded, and given, the best of himself.Tim Vana

Des Plaines, Ill.

Misguided comeback

had horrifying ending

At Bay Meadows on Wednesday, May 16, a 9-year old horse named Sakura Honor was running last, many lengths behind the leader, many lengths behind even the next-closest horse. He broke down and had to be destroyed.

Sakura Honor was at one time a solid racehorse. He had earned more than $100,000, hitting the board in 11 of 24 races.

In his previous race, he had to be vanned off the track. The Racing Form's past performance comment line read, "lame after, vanned off." That race was at Hollywood Park, at 1 1/4 miles on the turf. The date was Nov 16, 1996. That's correct - Sakura Honor had last raced 4 1/2 years ago.

What the owner-trainer of this horse did was unforgivable. Sakura Honor did not belong on the track. He belonged in a plush green pasture enjoying his retirement.

It's incidents like this that give horse racing a black eye. It made me sick to my stomach.

Dennis Hubbard

Daly City, Calif.

One senior citizen

aging quite gracefully

Along with millions of others, I watched the 3-year olds try to capture the first two Triple Crown jewels. But with my weakness for older warriors, I found myself paying nearly as much attention to a 7-year old attempting his first Grade 1 victory in the Carter Handicap here in New York the day after the Kentucky Derby.

Say Florida Sandy has now had one more career start (71) than Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, and Fusaichi Pegasus (the four Derby winners preceding Monarchos) combined. More to the point, he has improved with age, winning eight races (two of them graded stakes) within the past thirteen months.

On top of that, his owner, John Rotella, told the Racing Form, "As long as he has the opportunity to run and is healthy and wants to run, I might run him until he's 9 or 10." ("Can Sandy say 'Grade 1' ?, May 6.)

Though he may never beat a field of top sprinters (he ran second in the Carter), though he may never enter the Hall of Fame, never win a championship, never live up to anyone's notion of greatness, "Sandy" stands as an exemplary reminder of the virtues of durability and consistency during the season of hype.

If Rotella means what he says, then Sandy will chug along long after this year's, and maybe next year's, Derby winner has retired.

David Forbes

Lindenhurst, N.Y