04/26/2007 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor


Vegas success doesn't translate into cure for racing

As spectacular as Steve Wynn's resort in Las Vegas may be, not even Wynn's impressive casino credentials can put a dent into the problem of how to fix horse racing ("Excelsior stresses plan's casino aspect," April 13). Not in New York State, or anywhere else, for that matter.

The so-called successful introduction of slot machines at Woodbine, Canada's premier racetrack, has been little more than an act of desperation, producing little or no tangible benefits for the typical horseplayer. Several years after this supposedly positive development, horseplayers continue to be inundated with far too many miserably short fields, consisting of far too many unreliable horses of little or no discernible class, and are levied with some of the most obscene rates of parimutuel taxation imaginable.

Canadian horseplayers, like other horseplayers, have not been told the truth. Namely, that the introduction of slots into the racing game is not a weapon designed to help racing win the war for the gaming dollar, but rather is the clearest indication that racing is losing the war, and badly.

If racing is to have a decent chance of winning this war, then it will not be with the likes of Steve Wynn leading the charge. It can be won through less reliance in the sport on all sorts of medication, both legal and otherwise, and with racetracks that are significantly fewer in number, and that levy parimutuel tax rates that are significantly more reasonable. This, and only this, will produce a horse racing game as it was meant to be played.

John J. Marshall - Toronto, Ontario

Keeneland surface best in the long run

Racing fans who were lucky enough to be at Keeneland on Saturday, April 14, or to have witnessed the event on television were treated to a great and exciting Blue Grass Stakes with a blanket finish of four horses.

This great race was tarnished by Andrew Beyer's April 18 column, "Keeneland surface made for mad dash."

I would suggest to Mr. Beyer that he should take a six-month leave from writing and apply for a license that would permit him on the backside for those six months, seven days a week, to observe what racing and training horses is all about. He would quickly see a group of dedicated people who live their lives 24/7 in caring for the most beautiful and graceful animal on this earth. Unless you have been on the backside of a racetrack for an extended time, you have no idea what goes into the care and training of a Thoroughbred racehorse. When you see that work, investment, and the love for the horse carted off in a horse ambulance to be euthanized on the backside, and riders rushed to the hospital with the possibility of death or maiming for life, I say hurrah for Keeneland's Polytrack. I realize that injuries will still occur, as in any sporting event. Synthetic surfaces, however, promise to reduce those injuries on safer tracks all over the world.

Keeneland's Polytrack surface vastly improves the chance that fans will have a great day of entertainment without having to witness a horrifying event. Todd Pletcher, along with other horsemen, has acknowledged the benefits of Polytrack and other synthetic surfaces for training purposes.

"In a perfect world, I guess, I'd like to see the opportunity to train on Polytrack and still race on the traditional dirt surface," Pletcher told a recent gathering of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club.

Maybe some day in a perfect world that will happen. Until then, let's hope that every racetrack in America will follow Keeneland's lead in adopting synthetic surfaces.

Being involved in the racing industry for 57 years, I have to come to realize that both horseplayers and horses will adapt to most situations. Players managed to cash a few ducats before the advent of Beyer Speed Figures, and they will cope with the challenge of synthetic surfaces.

Jim Chehardy - Maynardville, Tenn.

Northern California needs better plan

A ridiculous proposal was recently announced for 2008 racing dates in Northern California ("New schedule seen for Northern California," April 25). Led by Golden Gate Fields (owned by Magna Entertainment Corp.) and backed by the California Authority of Racing Fairs, Thoroughbred Owners of California, and California Thoroughbred Trainers, the proposed dates would serve only those associations. Never were the blood, sweat, and tears of rank-and-file horsemen taken into account.

Unfortunately, the politics of California racing will result in the rubber-stamping of this proposal or a similar version.

It would be nice to see the California Horse Racing Board take a strong stand and a page from the book of Philadelphia Park. If Philly Park can run year-round, why couldn't Golden Gate run most of the year, except when the summer county fairs are running? Even if four-day race weeks were held, it would be better than what is proposed.

Racing in one location for a prolonged period of time has benefits. For one, horsepeople love to be settled. With an aggressive recruiting campaign, Golden Gate could receive an influx of new stables and horses, especially with its synthetic racing surface. The track could alternate the use of its grass course - five weeks on and three weeks off.

It is time the racing board helps stop the decline of Northern California racing. Giving fair meets extra dates and allowing Sacramento on the calendar will only degrade California racing further.

Harry Hacek - Los Angeles