04/04/2003 12:00AM

Letters to the Editor

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Time-squeeze cost bettors at Gulfstream

At Gulfstream Park on Saturday, March 29, three races - the fourth, eighth, and 10th - were scheduled to be run on the turf. The fourth race went off without a hitch. Less than two minutes before the sixth race, however, the track announced that the eighth and 10th had been switched to the main track.

Surely Gulfstream management is aware that turf horses may not run well on dirt and that two minutes was not enough time to re-handicap a race that was the final leg of many a bettor's pick three ticket. Most horseplayers were now holding a ticket they did not want.

To make the day's matters worse, there was a five-horse field in the race that began the only pick four offered. The race featured two legitimate closers and two speedballs who figured to duel on a closer's track. At the gate, right before the race, one of the closers was scratched, leaving all pick-four bettors who had bet that closer holding tickets with the favorite speedball, who, predictably, dueled himself into the ground, allowing the other legitimate closer to jog to victory. Once again, I had been left with a ticket I did not want with no time to change it.

Why didn't Gulfstream give me the necessary time I needed to change my wagers? Why did I get the post-time favorite instead of my money back?

The above scenarios are obviously unfair to the bettors. In this skeptical era of a fixed pick six and bettors not having faith in track management, why isn't Gulfstream's management more attuned to its betting customers when making such crucial decisions?

Larry Rudolph - Miami

Northern California needs new gold rush

I recently read in my local paper that trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said he was not going to run at Arlington Park near Chicago this spring and summer primarily because of the dates scheduling. He said that the Bay Area had been to good to him and he wants to support local racing.

If this is so, then why is Hollendorfer running so many cheap horses at Thistledown? I will tell you why: California racing at the bottom level is for fools. With the recent increase across the board by the local trainers in their day rates - now as high as $55 to $65 a day - a horse would have to win at least once a month just to break even. What a great business model that is.

In the Midwest, with the day rates much less, the chances for profit are much greater. Hollendorfer knows that, and when Pennsylvania and Ohio get slot machines, many more of his horses will run there. I suggest two things for northern California. First, lower the percentage of the handle going to stakes programs to 5 or 10 percent and redistribute the money to claimers. A $4,000 claimer should be running for $15,000 as a base, and the scale adjusted up to $100,000 claimers. The effect would be to make northern California the only place for a claiming barn to be. Trainers will still be able to charge a living wage for their work, and owners will still have a fighting chance to profit.

The bettors will win, because the horse population will explode and races will fill with 12-horse fields with many bettable options. The state will win because of two reasons: more handle and more tax revenue from claims. The tracks will profit because more people will come to the races and concession stands will still be able to charge $5 for a few ounces of beer.

There will still be some stakes races, but not like before. (Besides, if you have a good horse running for six-figure stakes money in northern California, Bobby Frankel or Bob Baffert or Neil Drysdale will ship in and beat you anyway.) Let's keep the stakes money in the local population and revive northern California racing.

Pete McLaughlin - Lafayette, Calif.

Big Cap weight protest may hide real motive

In the March 30 article "A push to change the Big Cap," it was once again reported that trainer Bobby Frankel withdrew his handicap star Medaglia d'Oro from the Santa Anita Handicap because "he was unhappy with the colt's 124-pound weight assignment."

I suggest that the reason given is but a makeweight and that there is another, more plausible, explanation that avoids the trashing of the office of racing secretary. The alternative explanation? That Frankel found himself in a dangerous conflict-of-interest situation that, if not handled judiciously, could have seriously damaged his business.

Let's review the facts. Frankel trains not only Medaglia d'Oro but Milwaukee Brew as well. Milwaukee Brew won last year's Santa Anita Handicap and is owned by the present-day Caesar of racing, Frank Stronach.

Stronach owns and manages 11 Thoroughbred racetracks in the United States and runs a racing stable so extensive as to require the services of many trainers. To sum it up, this is an owner who must be handled with care.

Now, as trainer of the defending champion, Frankel had an imperative duty to run Milwaukee Brew in the Santa Anita Handicap. But if he had run Medaglia d'Oro as well, Frankel could have defeated a horse owned by a giant in the industry.

As someone who has owned Thoroughbreds over the last 30 years, I know of no owner in this business who enjoys the situation that arises wherein his trainer runs another horse against him.

The solution was simplicity itself. Frankel could scratch Medaglia d'Oro, using a facile and cunning explanation, and end up in a win-win situation for himself. If only he had done this without floating the red herring of weight, the Santa Anita racing secretary would not have received the unjust criticism that occurred.

Merrill K. Albert - Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.

Locking out Gill bites hand that feeds

I read with great interest the March 20 article "Gill solves stall problem" about owner Michael Gill's resorting to the purchase of a training center after he found himself being shut out of stall space at mid-Atlantic tracks. Then I saw the latest affront: "Delaware Park bars Gill" (April 5). For whatever reason, Michael Gill and his trainers come under intense scrutiny. Why? Because they win races.

This is nothing new in horse racing. Claiming trainers who win races are always under suspicion by the jealous ones who cannot. A few over the past years come quickly to mind: the late Oscar Barrera, Frank Passero, and, just recently, Scott Lake. Lake has won more than 800 races the last two years, and yet I have not read of an outcry by other trainers or racing secretaries to deny him stalls at tracks in the mid-Atlantic area.

I think Gill is good for the game. Year after year we read articles declaring doom and gloom for the horse racing industry because the economics of the game are staggering and most owners cannot make money and therefore leave the sport. Now along comes somebody who isn't afraid to spend a buck to win, and he is treated as a pariah. Well, the sport needs more Michael Gills.

Until some wrongdoing is found, this man and those who work for him should be applauded for their success. If track operators and jealous trainers object to Gill's claiming tactics, then bring back the old claiming rule whereby if you claim a horse you must next run that horse for 20 percent more than the claim price or leave the horse in "jail" for 30 days.

Denying stall space to the man who has given the game a shot in the arm is hypocritical and a detriment to a dying sport.

Charles E. Butler - New Castle, Del.