06/25/2007 11:00PM

Keeping stars on track can only help


TUCSON, Ariz. - It is summer, with blue skies, a warm sun, and fresh, clean air after cooling showers.

And Thoroughbred racing celebrates this glorious season watching glaciers melt.

Wouldn't it be wonderful, the faithful speculate, if Street Sense, Curlin, and Rags to Riches could meet in the Travers on Aug. 25 after laying off since May and early June.

Despite the thousands of words in letters to editors, each giving the writer's solution to the decline of horse racing and pledging the deepest devotion to it, until the game's great horses race more often than they do, promoting them and racing is a fool's dream.

You cannot sustain the unsustainable. You cannot promote something with no continuity but with constant uncertainty.

You cannot expect the media to spend the summer salivating, along with the faithful, about unlikely events, which are subject to whim, fancy, avoidance, injury, sickness, or common sense.

So if Thoroughbred racing wants to get its stories told, its crowds back, and its aura of magic restored, it might start by giving up the preconceived notion that these delicate animals need three months to recuperate from two minutes of racing.

This is not anthropomorphism, attributing human characteristics to animals, but just the reverse, believing humans can think like horses.

Top Thoroughbreds run months apart because that's the way they are trained these days. As it is, these noble beasts break down now with schedules of idleness and long rest, so who is to say they would do better or worse on a diet of more frequent work.

You can believe, if you choose and it makes you feel better, that Thoroughbreds are that far apart from their equine cousins, the harness horses that race weekly or biweekly.

Tell that to the owners of the 75 trotters and pacers that, as of this writing, have won $2 million or more, or the 20 that have won $3 million or more, racing weekly or as close to that as possible.

Before readers point out that frequent racing has not spelled success for harness racing, let me acknowledge that and place part of the blame - as so many love to do - on track management. They have believed for years that they must race their feature races sixth, seventh, or eighth on a card to hold their crowds. In a night sport, this assures non-coverage in the next morning's press, nullifying any benefits of prerace publicity they might be able to scavenge.

Which leads us to slot machines and racing.

Everyone knows crowds now pack the racinos, leaving the tracks bare, but everyone also knows that purses are at an all-time high where slots are in place.

Slots will not leave anytime soon. Their monies, however, may be diverted to government rather than purses if racing doesn't help itself.

It is interesting to watch the play of tides. Las Vegas cries that greedy racing wants more money for its simulcasting, but Steve Wynn struggles mightily to take over the New York Racing Association and its coming slots at NYRA tracks.

Atlantic City, with its casinos holding all of New Jersey hostage, will not let the Meadowlands, Monmouth, and Freehold have slots, and, so far, the state is willing to go along and watch its green space and breeding and racing industries wither and waste away.

In California, internecine warfare flares at the highest level, even among racing commissioners themselves, and a San Francisco politician, out to save the unsavable Bay Meadows, is willing to wreck the progress made under racing board chairman Richard Shapiro and his associates.

In Chicago, mutuel clerks strike Hawthorne, and Springfield vacillates on giving slots to tracks because the casinos don't want them to, even with Indiana now building racinos next door and breathing down the neck of Illinois racing.

In Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley wants to save the state's historic Thoroughbred racing industry, and House Speaker Michael Busch still stubbornly bars the way, even with slots-fueled Delaware, West Virginia, and now Pennsylvania sapping the energy of Maryland's storied past.

This is not "Waiting for Godot." It is Waiting for No Go, for the big horses to recover from their arduous tasks and do that for which they were bred: race. It is only a part of racing's problem, but getting past it would help immensely.