09/13/2006 12:00AM

Glimpse of future a chiller


Along with the official apparel, the generous expense accounts, and the company cars (this year it's the sleek and sassy Honda Element), it is a little-known fact that Daily Racing Form columnists are issued a genuine crystal ball.

Most of the columnists - such as Brad Free, Steve Klein, Byron King, and to a lesser though far more entertaining extent, Mike Watchmaker - use the messages gleaned from the mysterious orbs to offer handicapping insights to Racing Form readers, in hopes that horseplayers will become rich beyond their wildest dreams and continue to purchase books written by Steven Crist.

This writer, however, has chosen to turn the prism (to mix crystalline metaphors) and peer into racing's future, as it pertains to a handful of hot headline topics. No promises, though. The future is a slippery world. But just for kicks, save this page for future flaunting, depending upon how right or wrong the following predictions turn out to be.

Dateline: Washington, D.C., July 23, 2011 - The Environmental Protection Agency today issued a directive to all horse racing tracks doing business in the United States to remove their artificial racing surfaces immediately or risk federal prosecution.

EPA Secretary Maria Shriver cited growing environmental concerns over the spread of the artificial surfaces to the vast majority of the nation's racetracks, noting that the open-air exposure of so many tons of inert, synthetic material has resulted in high-risk clusters of asthma, acid reflux, and chronic ennui.

"Remember Banlon?" Shriver said at a press conference outside the gates of the recently re-surfaced Bally's Pimlico Racecourse. "We're still dealing with the noxious effects of the millions of golf shirts manufactured out of that stuff in the 1960's. I just hope we've acted soon enough."

Synthetic surfaces became the rage with U.S. track owners beginning in 2006 when Turfway Park in northern Kentucky tweaked its year-old artificial material, adding tiny Spandex strands and plastic cable coating to the original material, which consisted of rubber bits, carpet fibers, and wax-coated silica sand.

As more and more racetracks jumped onto the bandwagon, literally dozens of international companies popped up with synthetic mixtures of their own, eager to tap into the booming market. One firm - which called itself Equine Astroglide - even offered a selection of colors, an option that made national headlines when Harrah's Churchill Downs put in a vibrant orange artificial racing surface in time for the running of the 2010 Kentucky Derby.

Among the array of finely ground, mostly non-biodegradable ingredients now being used at racetracks from Los Angeles to New York are cat litter, banjo picks, sprinkler heads, glow sticks, twist ties, crankcase oil, and shredded pieces of the U.S. Constitution left over from the presidency of George W. Bush.

"Look, this would be no big deal if they just had this stuff at the Meadowlands, or Nevada," said Todd Pancreas of the California Sierra Club. "It would be just another toxic site among many. But when they put a synthetic surface down at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds, up there in pristine Ferndale, that was going too far, especially when it's mostly made of foam packing chips and those plastic six-pack rings that used to kill so many dolphins."

Dateline: Sacramento, Calif., Oct. 14, 2018 - California Horse Racing Board chairman Patrick Valenzuela has denied an appeal from troubled jockey Javier Crandall in Crandall's attempt resume his riding career following an unexplained three-year absence.

"His excuse was, 'I didn't feel like riding,' " Valenzuela noted in a CHRB press release. "That is not acceptable. In fact, it sounds every bit as fishy as his previous 'reasons' for not showing up to fulfill engagements."

Crandall, a 32-year-old native of Maui who won the 2013 Triple Crown aboard Baby Barbaro, has been absent from the racing scene for several long stretches. Among his reasons have been joining the Peace Corps, a stint at hydroponic farming, and getting his master's degree in pharmacology. In each case he was granted a provisional renewal of his riding license.

"California has a long-established rule, and it must be respected," Valenzuela said. "Ten strikes and you're out."

Dateline: Elmont, N.Y., April 18, 2021 - A celebration marking the 30th anniversary of the term "racino" among North American horse racing and slot machine emporiums degenerated into a name-calling brawl on Monday at Boomtown's Belmont Park, where at least two well-known sports/business writers attempted to take credit for coining the popular term.

"I mean, come on," complained Bob Bartlett, whose syndicated column ran for more than three months in 1991. "Everybody knows I was the first one to take the 'r-a-c' from racetrack and breed it with the 'i-n-o' of casino, and then get the pronunciation right."

Dylan Spite, award-winning author and small arms merchant, scoffed at Bartlett's claim.

"It was me," Spite said. "I said it first and wrote it first, and then Stan Bergstein ran with it clear into the 21st century. I only wish I could have used my first choice for a term that described the short-term, stop-gap, relatively low-cost addictive fiscal highs provided by slot machines, by using the first letter in casino and the last four letters in racetrack."