04/18/2003 12:00AM

Letters to the Editor


Leading trainer gets defense from home front

My husband, Mike Gill, has infused the sport of horse racing with a breath of fresh air. He has lifted the bar on the level of intelligence, dedication, tenacity, and passion for the sport and competition.

His dedicated trainers and staff have maintained their focus and direction even in the face of the storm.

The storm to which I refer is the barrage of slanted media coverage and the onslaught of negative attacks by various racing individuals who can't seem to deal with the "competition," or should I say they deal with it by lying and manufacturing suspicion that is completely unfounded.

For example, my husband has always referred to "the leg" as the pretty girl in the magic act. In this case, the audience is distracted by the leg, which is used to defame his character, to take away from what is really happening ("Dead horse's leg removed: The question is why," Feb 8).

He tried to tell anyone who would listen that he would quit racing, a sport he loves dearly, if anything illegal was found in the leg. But within 48 hours after the Racing Form reported test results about the leg ("Shuman cleared in leg case," March 28) - stating it was completely clean, that nothing wrong had been done - numerous racing secretaries told the Form they would not give Mike stalls ("Gill solves stall problem," March 30). Not one word about the leg issue, though: It was really all about competition. Do you get it now?

The laboratory investigation of the severed leg in question was completed by the University of Florida by Feb 21. The lab, however, made this information available to the general public only after my husband employed a team of attorneys who had to threaten to sue them.

There was a stream of negative articles concerning Mike and "the leg" issue, many run after Feb. 21. Sports Illustrated interviewed Scott Savin, the president and general manager of Gulfstream, and even after the test results were in, he proclaimed that a cloud of suspicion still existed. This was completely reprehensible. It is my opinion that track and university officials knew the truth, and they were going to bury the test results after they buried my husband's career. The timeline has never been printed that would substantiate our claim that this information was deliberately held.

It seems to me that if some so-called horsemen spent half as much time studying their own barns as they have Mike's, they might actually get their horses to perform rather than having to explain to their owners why they are not winning and Mike is. They have cornered the market in making excuses about Mike, and his horses are beating them.

Now this camp has found support among those who enforce the rules of horse racing to rid the sport of the threat of Mike Gill. (I wonder, would the sellers of 2-year-olds in Florida agree?) They like things the way they were, when they did just enough to get by. When a new guy reveals their complacency - well, he's just gotta go.

Deny him stalls - that'll stop him. Better yet, don't let him run his horses at our tracks - that ought to do it. Great, now we can get back to doing just what we did before he came: nothing for the sport.

To the people who support racing, to the trainers, to the horse owners, to everyone who lives under the fear of being banished for saying the wrong thing or claiming the wrong horse, I leave you with a quote from Winston Churchill that my husband often refers to: "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping that it will eat him last."

Who's next?

Sarah Gill
Windham, N.H.

Handicaps, daily purses both boost action

Sports other than racing do not handicap their stars, as the April 13 letter "Other sports use handicaps and stars shine" would have us believe.

Does the NBA raise the rim when Shaquille O'Neal gets the ball in the paint? Do they shrink the basket when Kobe Bryant sets up for a three-pointer? The last time I looked, when Barry Bonds came to the plate the pitcher was still 60 feet 6 inches away. If we used the letter's rationale, Bobby Frankel would need a new jockey for Empire Maker in the Kentucky Derby because Jerry Bailey would be drafted to ride a horse with no chance.

Let's get one thing straight. Horse racing exists because of gambling, and only because of gambling. The best horse does not win every race for a variety of different reasons, and this is why horseplayers gamble. Horses are handicapped by weight just as team sports are handicapped by pointspreads. This creates interest and opinions, which lead to betting. If there were not odds lines or pointspreads on football or basketball games, guess what: There would be no gambling on them.

One other point: Some day the tracks across America will realize they are in the gaming and entertainment business. Once they do maybe they will think twice about putting up million-dollar purses for small fields, handicaps or not. They would be better served putting this purse money into overnight races, where the majority of all money is bet. Ask horseplayers if they would rather bet on a five-horse stakes race or a 12-horse field of $10,000 claimers? We all know the answer, except for the tracks.

Rather than put up millions to attract marquee-name horses, track owners should inject their purse money into daily cards. This will attract more horses and more owners, which in turn will translate into more fan interest and wagering. This could be one step in helping to revive an industry I love that is dying a slow, ugly death.

Thomas A. Noone
Redondo Beach, Calif.

Keeneland strip paves a paradise

Keeneland is in a class by itself for horse racing fans. Its proximity to the major stud farms adds to the glorious ambiance of the track itself to give the fans an unparalleled experience. The competitive quality of the racing is always top-notch. There is, however, a large and troublesome fly in the ointment. It's that perpetual inner-rail/speed bias.

As a handicapper and bettor, one could say, "Well, why not just take advantage of the bias?" That's all well and good, though in exotic betting it's just not possible to predict what closers will get the "proper" trip to complete a trifecta or superfecta. But that still begs the issue, which is: When one assembles world-class horses at a world-class locale, one should provide a world-class surface to compete on. And as long as that bias exists, it just ain't world-class.

Gulfstream managed to negate its historical inner-speed bias several years ago (although it seems to crop up fairly often as the meets have progressed in recent years). Why can't Keeneland make some attempt in this direction so that a not-quite-heaven becomes a true heaven indeed?

Richard Helfman
New York City

So few horses, so many other ways to gamble

Last Sunday, April 13, at Santa Anita and Bay Meadows combined, 113 horses ran in the 18 races carded, for an average of 6.3 runners per race. With so few betting opportunities, and the resulting anemic parimutuel payouts, it is no wonder fans are staying home or choosing other venues for their gambling dollars.

What a sad commentary on the state of horse racing in the not-always-so-sunny state of California.

Glenn Alsdorf
Chino Hills, Calif.