04/11/2003 12:00AM

Letters to the editor



Other sports use handicaps and stars shine

Arguments for eliminating handicap conditions from Grade 1 races - as suggested by trainer Bobby Frankel in the March 30 article "A push to change the Big Cap" - are usually accompanied by the complaint that horse racing is the only major sport where the best performers are penalized for their victories. This is simply not true.

The National Football League and the National Basketball Association, two organizations whose success is generally admired and often envied by other sports, each year conduct their drafts of incoming talent in such a manner that the best teams of the previous season are penalized for their success by being awarded the lowest draft choices while the least successful are given the highest choices. Win the Super Bowl and you draft last. Finish with the worst record and you get the first draft pick. This is a deliberate and calculated attempt to help the worst and thereby hinder the best.

In the NBA, where a single impact player can dramatically alter the fortunes of a team (remember Magic Johnson and Larry Bird), the highest draft choices became such coveted rewards for poor performances that teams out of contention for the playoffs were perceived to be openly "competing" for the worst record and the right to pick first in the draft. The draft lottery was a response to this situation.

True stars in any sport are those who can excel despite being burdened with handicaps. The basketball player who can make the last-second game-winning shot despite a defense keyed to stop him, and the wide receiver who can catch the game-winning touchdown despite double coverage in the secondary, are the type of athletes who really bring out the fans.

Horse racing has traditionally tested its greatest runners by making them concede weight to their lesser rivals. Ack Ack, the first winner of an Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year, earned that honor by winning the Santa Anita Handicap under 130 pounds and later taking the Hollywood Gold Cup under 134 pounds.

In today's racing environment, it seems unlikely that any horse will ever be given the chance to attempt such heroics.

There may be some compelling reasons to discard a tradition that served racing so well for so many years, but the fear that racing is doing something that other major sports don't do is definitely not one of them.

Jeffrey Tufts

Sierra Madre, Calif.

Pick-six wrist-slaps send insulting message

A one year sentence for the white-collar cons responsible for the crooked Breeders' Cup Pick Pix is outrageous (March 22). It is as if the court is giving them a reward for ingenuity, and sending the message that it's OK to steal from gamblers.

I don't believe the questions of thieves tapping into pick sixes have been answered yet. Is anybody asking questions whenever there is a an improbable winner of a pick six? Does anybody question the winners when it's suspicious, even now that it has been shown that thieves have been at work?

It is aggravating to read that the pick six scandal has been resolved because Autotote has installed video cameras in its computer room. Are we really expected to be so naive? I would appreciate some news from time to time on improvements made to the system, if any.

How about a published list of pick six winners by location? It might be helpful in taking the edge off the now-legitimate suspicion harbored by investors.Steven Gagnon

Bakersfield, Calif.

Expanded show would have added attraction

On Saturday, April 5, three major races on the road to the Kentucky Derby were showcased in a one-hour telecast on ESPN: the Aventura Stakes at Gulfstream, the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne, and the Santa Anita Derby. They made up a special pick three wager. While this was a good way of building interest for the Kentucky Derby, there were two Grade 1 Stakes and a Grade 2 on the same day that basically were tossed to the back burner: the Ashland Stakes for 3-year old fillies at Keeneland and two major races for older horses at Oaklawn Park, the Oaklawn and Apple Blossom handicaps.

That Saturday's NCAA Final Four games didn't start until the evening, leaving racing with very little real competition on the national sports front. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association could have worked with ESPN to expand a one-hour broadcast into a two-hour show.

While the 3-year-old stakes could have been highlighted as a package, the other events could have been added with perhaps the Ashland first, followed by one of the two Oaklawn races, the trio of Derby preps, and finally the other Oaklawn race.

This way, there could still be the national pick three that was offered on the Derby preps, and also a national pick six on all the stakes events, a rolling pick three on each possible set of stakes races, and a pick four on the 3-year-old races and one of the Oaklawn events.

While not part of the road to the Kentucky Derby, the additional races could have exposed their divisions to people who right now think the sport begins and ends with 3-year-old colts. While maybe not changing many minds in that regard, these races still could have made for some very creative wagering opportunities for hard-core fans and more casual ones alike.

Walter Parker


Nevada regulation unfairly causes info blackout

During the past year, I have been thrown out of all of the Station Casinos in Las Vegas for using a laptop computer in the race book. They don't care if you have a wireless connection or not - out you go.

The reason for this, I have been told, is that cell phones and any other wireless communication devices are forbidden in the race books by Nevada regulation. You can step a couple of yards outside and make a phone call on your cell phone, though, which is totally crazy, because you can still see the odds and payoffs.

At racetracks and other simulcast facilities around the country this isn't a problem, only in the state of Nevada.

Printing out handicapping information for 10 or more tracks daily eats up a lot of printer paper. Plus, making adjustments for late scratches is not so easy without your computer being right there.

How many more years is Nevada going to remain in the 19th century? This regulation should be repealed.

Reginald Johnson

Sun Valley, Calif.

Last-minute changes call for a little extra time

Perhaps if Magna Entertainment Corp. cared about their customers a bit more, racing would not be in such a poor state of affairs at Gulfstream Park.

In the second race at Gulfstream on March 28, Misty Wager, the "live" half of a favored coupled entry, was scratched by the track veterinarian with two minutes to post. Though the track announcer invited patrons to change their tickets (I had the entry in a live daily double), I was closed out at the window, as one would expect in the last minute before post.

Of course, the rabbit part of the entry did not make the stretch, making losers out of many frustrated patrons. Why couldn't post time be delayed at least a couple of minutes in that circumstance?

Steve Mathes

Hollywood, Fla.