02/28/2003 12:00AM

Letters to the Editor


Kin decries conclusions about trainer

Until now, our family has resisted the temptation to respond to the ongoing rhetoric regarding the accomplishments of Mike Gill and Mark Shuman, my nephew, at Gulfstream - including, but not limited to, the horrific breakdown of one of their horses that led to a bevy of innuendoes and presumptions.

After reflecting on the Feb. 22 article by Andrew Beyer, "Time to confront real bugaboo: Drugs," where Beyer implies that racing needs to banish Gill and Shuman, I feel compelled to offer the rest of the story.

It is perplexing to us how he arrived at his verdict. All lab tests were negative, all the (unannounced) searches revealed nothing, and when all was said and done, there was nothing.

Beyer wants to banish all those who are assumed be breaking the rules - even if there is no evidence.

When Mark did finally break the Gulfstream meet record for wins (held by one of the country's greatest trainers, Bill Mott), the celebration we planned did not happen - no fanfare, no high fives, no champagne.

Since Gill and Shuman got on a roll, they have been subjected to unannounced searches and hours of interrogation. They have been vilified by some reporters and had the joy of going to the winner's circle compromised by the viciousness of certain fellow horsemen.

Here are the facts on the horse who broke down.

Within minutes of the occurrence, a veterinarian (one of three employed by the stable) asked Gill if he could have the leg for his own research purposes. Gill approved. He took the leg and later returned it. That's it.

Make no mistake, Gill's family and ours support any actions that are designed to preserve the integrity of racing. But what could possibly have prejudiced Beyer so much that bringing into question the integrity of Gill and Shuman was not enough? Racing secretaries should not allocate stalls to them, he suggests.

Beyer reinforced his hypothesis with the startling revelation that for the two weeks following the search fiasco, wins and "miraculous improvements" were hard to come by. Unfortunately for Beyer, Mark won three on the card the day before Beyer's column appeared and three more on the following Monday.

So much for that revelation.

If they win a lot, they are on the "juice" (the kind that defies detection). If they do not win, they are losing because they are being watched too closely to use the "juice."

The sad fact is that, in Beyer's attempt to discredit the accomplishments of Gill and Shuman by promoting and legitimizing the scandal that never was, he gives racing fans the impression that our industry cannot be trusted. He is wrong.

Mike Gill and Mark Shuman deserve better. Thoroughbred racing deserves better.

Bill Shuman - Cleveland

North Dakota outlet looks to game's future

The Feb. 20 article "Betting exchange bill could ruffle feathers," prompted this letter as a means of clarification.

The article dealt with North Dakota legislation, Racing Services Inc., and language referring to bet exchange wagering. That language had been considered on a preliminary basis, as an amendment to a pending bill, to meet a committee deadline. It was withdrawn the same day for further study.

The article stated that Racing Services pays 1 percent of its handle to "support racing purses within the state - compared with as much as 10 percent at live tracks." There are very few, if any, live racetracks that return "as much as 10 percent" to purses. In fact, 4.3 percent to 5.8 percent of Racing Services' handle is returned to the jurisdictions where it operates, a rate comparable to most "live" jurisdictions, and RSI pays very competitive fees to host jurisdictions. Simply put, in 1989, RSI created an economic model - through legislation - that built racing and continues to pay horseman's fees both locally and nationally, whereas many other simulcast outlets do not.

To date, Racing Services has returned more than $25 million to the state of North Dakota alone. From this revenue, a new racetrack is being built, designed by Joe King, and scheduled to open in August 2003. By North Dakota constitution, the track is required to be operated by a nonprofit organization. RSI is a founding member of the organization that owns and will operate the track (see www.northdakotahorsepark.org). The project is being developed as a total equine facility in conjunction with North Dakota State University and its new Equine Science Program.

The article also reached back to a purported "direct computer link" at issue in 2001. In fact, the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau was invited by Racing Services and Gulfstream Park to do its own study of this matter. As reported in the Racing Form on April 21, 2001 ("Dakota link said to be safe, fair"), the Protective Bureau concluded that no one had "any special access to information and did not manipulate any odds." Moreover, the Thoroughbred Racing Association was "assured . . . to its satisfaction" that RSI wagers were secure, and "go through the same system processing and validation any other wager goes through."

The upcoming Thoroughbred Racing Association/Harness Tracks of America conference will include a panel discussion dedicated to international simulcasting and bet exchange wagering. This new form of wagering potentially impacts the U.S. racing industry. In the face of this reality, Racing Services believes it should be studied in a forum that requires the involvement of regulators and the participation of the racing industry in an open dialogue.

Susan Bala, President and CEO Racing Services, Inc.

Racing should answer new market's opening bell

Especially after Andrew Beyer's Jan 8 column, "British weave new web of betting," relating to Betfair and the offering of buy/sell wagers on Thoroughbreds, I am curious whether the industry realizes the potential of such wagers.

There exists not only the threat to parimutuel wagering as it exists, but additionally, the opportunity for U.S. tracks to create such a wagering platform (along the lines of security-derivative exchanges/traders) where the commissions go towards purses, breeder funds, track operations, etc.

It seems as if racing officials are always behind the curve, and this problem may not be examined until significant damage to the industry is already done.

Seth Morris - San Francisco

History's great horses weren't held back

Just like Bob Baffert, who first said he wouldn't run in the Haskell last year when Came Home was scheduled to run, then went dashing to New Jersey with War Emblem when there was a weak lineup, Bobby Frankel, in backing out of the Santa Anita Handicap with Medalgia d'Oro ("Frankel: 124? No thanks," Feb. 27) represents the new breed of trainer who runs his big horse only when no one opposes him.

Gone are the days when handicap racing meant something, when Seattle Slew and Affirmed or Exceller, or Dr. Fager, Buckpasser, and Damascus would thrill the fans.

Racing people wonder why the sport is dying. It's because there are no thrilling matchups anymore in the older handicap division. The Suburban, the Brooklyn, the Santa Anita Handicap are all handicaps that feature $62,500 claimer action. The only race is to retire horses after they have a couple significant wins under their belts.

Does one or two pounds really make a difference to a 1,200-pound animal? Frankel should remember that losing a race does not diminish a great animal. Losing to Upset did nothing to Man o' War, losing to Dark Star did nothing to Native Dancer, and losing to Onion did nothing to Secretariat. Chances are, if Congaree and Medaglia d'Oro run five times they might each win two and both lose another time to Possibly Perfect, but the fans would win, and so would racing.

Steve Orton - Los Angeles

Eclipse story confirms racing as men's club

The latest example of how men dominate Thoroughbred racing was the way the most compelling story of the Eclipse Awards was under-reported by the male-heavy turf writing establishment. Laura de Seroux became the first woman - ever! - to train the Horse of the Year, and that horse, Azeri, was only the third filly or mare - ever! - to win the sport's most coveted honor.

De Seroux should have been the cover girl on every trade publication in the business. Heck, she should have been the cover girl on Sports Illustrated instead of the model on the current swimsuit issue, the magazine's annual reminder that you haven't come as long a way as you thought, baby.

Instead, de Seroux's training tour de force didn't get nearly as much attention as Bob Baffert's grousing about the prejudices inherent in the Eclipse voting process. Hey, Bob: You want to talk about prejudice? Talk to de Seroux, Julie Krone, Virginia Kraft Payson, or any other female who fights it every day.

It's odd, and unfortunate, that racing, the only major professional sport in which women compete head to head against men on equal terms, the only one in which women are such a large part of the workforce, tacitly supports a reward system in which the deck is heavily stacked against women.

As long as hard, cold statistics are the most important standard for evaluating breeders, owners, trainers, and jockeys, women never will win Eclipse Awards simply because they will never have the same volume of business as their male rivals.

Last year, for example, horses trained by de Seroux had 106 starts compared with 480 for Bobby Frankel-trained horses, 686 for Baffert-trained horses, and 1,810 for Steve Asmussen-trained horses. In the breeder category, Payson produced two champions (Vindication and Farda Amiga) from a broodmare band of only 20 or so. For that remarkable achievement, she didn't even make the final cut.

But at least Azeri won, while the woman who trained her was dismissed as being more lucky than good.

As much as affirmative action plans have fallen from grace during the Bush administration, it seems the only way to assure that women get proper recognition is for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association to establish a special set of awards for females only. Had these awards - maybe they could be named in honor of Penny Chenery - been in place for last year, de Seroux, Payson, and apprentice jockey Nicola Wright all would have been recognized for their banner years.

It wouldn't cost the industry much to start the awards, and they would generate the sort of positive publicity that racing needs. But beyond the practical considerations, it's simply the right thing to do.

With all due respect to Bobby Frankel, last year deserves to be remembered as the one when a female trainer and a female horse combined to make an important bit of history that deserved far more recognition than it received.

Billy Reed - Louisville, Ky.

Reed is a former president of the National Turf Writers Association.