07/12/2001 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor

Email

Handicap fault lies in practice, not the theory

After reading Steven Crist's description of handicap races as "primitive," "detrimental," "pointless," and "boring" ("The trouble with handicaps," July 8), I must make the usually erudite Crist the 109-pound lightweight on this one.

First, to claim that other sports offer a level playing field is downright ludicrous. While horse racing stuffs lead into horses' saddles, cash-heavy teams like the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves stuff money into star players' pockets. Level playing field? Please.

Second, stating that the elimination of handicaps would be popular among the fans is a completely baseless assumption. Perhaps the Racing Form would like to publish the results of that poll?

Next, we're told that carrying weight is not a test of quality in the racehorse. In fact it's "nothing of the kind." In that case I'd like to revise my previously high opinion of a little filly named Ta Wee, and there's a couple of overrated geldings I'd like to have banished from the Hall of Fame.

While I agree that handicaps generally do not increase field size in the present racing environment, what do you suppose would happen to the already minuscule fields if there were no handicaps? Hint: "Ladies and gentlemen, race 8, win wagering only."

The real target here should be America's racing secretaries and the tracks they represent. Together, they have created an environment that breeds small, diluted fields in America's biggest races. Trainers don't whine about weights and skip town for an easier spot because they want to. They do it because they can, and that is the real problem. With a poorly designed racing calendar that boasts the likes of the Hollywood Gold Cup and Suburban Handicap on the same day, trainers have a ready-made excuse to jump ship at the first site of a staggering 122 pounds. Racing secretaries at rival tracks surely know this and are all too willing to pucker up if it means drawing another big name for their race.

Lastly, the last thing we need to do is give the Graded Stakes Committee more clout. Anyone for a Grade 1 Jaipur Handicap?

For Mr. Crist's next column might I suggest an equipment change: blinkers off.

John Mousis

Louisville, Ky.

Old-fashioned notion weighs racing down

Finally, we hear a voice of reason on the issue of weight and the ridiculous premise of "handicap" races. I have never understood the rationale for it, although as pointed out in the article, a case could have been made for it in the old win-place-show-only betting period.

It always amazes me how bettors place such emphasis on one or two pounds of weight on a 1,200-1,300 pound animal. What's worse is hearing trainers, who should know better, lament about it.

Why would anyone want to beat Albert the Great, or any top horse under a handicap situation? Where is the satisfaction? Should the Tampa Bay Devil Rays get five outs when they face the New York Yankees?

Its this kind of nonsense that contributes to racing not getting the respect it deserves. Well done, Mr. Crist.

Howard Welsh

Summit, N.J.