03/21/2003 1:00AM

Letters to the Editor

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All concerned see a good life for this veteran

As the former owner of The Barking Shark, I wanted to give the other side to an image presented in a March 14 item, "The Barking Shark retired," in a Golden Gate notebook.

The item painted a picture of a horse who was suffering and deserved to be retired because of what he accomplished on the racetrack. What I saw when I went to see him run was a horse who was very still much enjoying racing.

According to my trainer, Dean Pederson, he was quite sound and thrived on running. I felt it was unfair for someone to say, "He needs to be under the care of someone who understands his condition," as quoted in the notebook. I'm quite sure Pederson was much more aware of his condition than anyone else at that time.

I am all for horses who are too sore to run being given time off or even being retired if their problems cannot be fixed, no matter how much money they have earned on the race track.

I think anyone who has had the pleasure of owning or training The Barking Shark agrees with the fan who said he wants him "to have a good life." From what I saw in the barn and on the track, "a good life" was exactly what he was having.

Bob Bone
Shingle Springs, Calif.

Retirement right move for The Barking Shark

Thank goodness for the kindness of big-hearted people. I'm referring to Kit Hilling, Andy and Connie Pansini, Letha Ehrenfelt, and Teddy Cole - all involved in the purchase of The Barking Shark. Without people like this, a much-loved old warrior would have continued to be a pawn in the claiming game. The Barking Shark should have been retired for good following the cannon bone surgery that required eight screws. Unfortunately, all too often the almighty dollar seems to overcome common sense when it comes to honest, hard-knocking horses like The Barking Shark.

When he was brought back to race, he did well, as big-hearted old warriors will. Too bad it was in a cheap claiming race.

Now The Barking Shark will get what he should have gotten after his surgery: a loving home with kind people who care about his welfare. These people deserve a round of applause for their efforts.

Phyllis Davis
West Covina, Calif.

Clues were out there to spot first-out winner

In regard to the letters of March 16, such as "Denying a coup is defying logic," I ask: Why all the crying over the spilled milk of Grand Hombre's first-out victory at Gulfstream after some slow workouts?

I have been playing the maiden game for over 20 years, and workouts are only a part of it. For one thing, anybody who follows the game knows that trainer Dennis Manning is quite capable with first-timers. Second, the colt is by Grand Slam, an exciting first-out sire. And, as the Racing Form's "Closer Look" for the race pointed out, the mare was a Group 1 winner in her native Chile.

I suggest to the crybabies who wrote in: Use your imagination in these races.

Steve DeMichele
Herkimer, N.Y.

Some races offer a chance for reflection

I have no sympathy for a horseplayer who loses a bet in a race that has six first-time starters in a field of 12. If someone experiences "anger" betting maidens - see the March 16 letter "Races for first-timers might lessen the mystery" - I would suggest they don't bet them. Simulcasting enables today's horseplayers to pick and choose the track and race conditions they are most comfortable playing.

Most bettors have only so much ammo, and they need to use it wisely. There's nothing wrong with sitting back and having a piece of pizza while watching a race you did not bet.

David DiLoreto
Erie, Pa.

Hine called people's choice for Hall induction

Third time's the charm? I hope so after reading "Hall nominees announced" (March 20).

I have been asking myself, along with many others, why a man the caliber of Sonny Hine has been nominated twice but has yet to be inducted into racing's Hall of Fame.

To reach the Hall of Fame, a trainer must have achieved something special in the sport. Although Hine was best-known for his accomplishments with Skip Away, there were other horses - like Guilty Conscience, the champion sprinter of 1981, and Norquestor - whom he trained to graded stakes victories. Talent is in the eye of the beholder, and Hine certainly had the eye.

The most impressive thing about Hine's work with Skip Away was that the horse excelled even with a bone chip. Many horses have done well with bone chips, but I have yet to see any trainer keep a horse in top form as long as Hine did with Skip Away.

Perhaps one reason Hine has been overlooked is that many voters don't understand how much he was recognized by the public. At last year's Travers, I overheard some people behind me talking about a trainer with whom they had been very impressed. I wasn't surprised to hear that it was Sonny Hine, but I was surprised that it was his horse's name they couldn't remember. I turned and told them Skip Away was the horse.

So if anyone thinks people knew Hine only because of Skip Away, think again.

Hine is a symbol of what racing is all about to many fans and owners. If we had more trainers that spectators could relate to, then we would have more people getting involved in the industry. Isn't this what racing is trying to achieve?

Hine made people feel that they could have fun and be a part of the sport of kings even if they didn't have the financial backing that some of the rich and famous do.

Hine's many accomplishments should be recognized and remembered for years to come. He is an inspiration to those people who believe that hard work and compassion are still the most important qualities of a winner. Horse racing can't afford to overlook a man of his stature.

Carla Shoppe
Somerset, N.J.

Florida Derby was sharp, but calm down already

I must disagree with the hoopla about Empire Maker's victory in the Florida Derby, as in "Empire Maker: Believe the hype" (March 19).

Even the knowledgeable Joe Hirsch was moved to write that Empire Maker "gave the most impressive performance in this race since Gen. Duke beat Bold Ruler in world-record-equaling time in 1957."

Empire Maker was indeed very good, totally demolishing a field of outclassed animals. The raw time was good, but nothing noteworthy.

Take a close look at the 1996 performance of Unbridled's Song in this race, where he was totally dominant in very fast time. Unfortunately, his career and legacy were sullied by rash handling and an ill-conceived attempt to win the Kentucky Derby equipped with a bar shoe. His Florida Derby still stands as a visual impression of a wonderful racehorse.

The other obvious performance was Spectacular Bid's in 1979, notable for the horrendous ride of Ronnie Franklin, who basically ran the colt into virtual stop signs throughout. Bid still drew off to win by open lengths in a dominant performance.

Either one of these performances qualify as greater than that of Empire Maker, who sat a perfect trip and then ran by the front-runner. He appears to be a very good horse and may become a great horse. It is very easy to be dazzled by a race we have just witnessed, but we've got to maintain perspective.

Jerry Lupu
Albany, N.Y.