05/08/2003 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor

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Glory days just starting for Funny Cide

It's shocking to me that relatively few people picked Funny Cide on top in the Kentucky Derby. This horse was brilliant at 2, steadily improved in nonwinning trips, and is peaking at the right time. His tenacity after being passed in the Louisiana Derby and the Wood Memorial showed a gameness rarely seen in a horse stuck on the rail after being passed.

Taking nothing away from the talented Bobby Frankel duo of Empire Maker and Peace Rules, but Funny Cide should be a prohibitive favorite in the Preakness, although he won't be. The public will find a way to bet against him, and they will lose. This is the best Derby winner since Silver Charm (maybe better) and the most likely Triple Crown winner in years.

Give this horse the credit he deserves now and watch racing history unfold. The gelding is a champion in the making who can be promoted for reasons other than breeding value. It will be incredible to watch him perform over the next four weeks, and even more satisfying to see him become as highly regarded as Skip Away, without the Triple Crown debacle.

Seth Morris - Mill Valley, Calif.

Great day for Empire State, if not Empire Maker

At a time when New York looks for heroes to help ease the pain of the past few years, how great was the Kentucky Derby victory of the New York-bred Funny Cide for New York State owners and racing fans throughout the world?

Imagine, a three-horse finish consisting of a winner trained by an astute New York-based trainer, Barclay Tagg, and two horses trained by the Brooklyn-born Bobby Frankel, a fabulous trainer.

Hollywood could never produce such a movie, or could this be a preview of "Seabiscuit"?

All hail New York for a glorious day.

Gary Zweifach - West New York, N.J.

First Saturday in May labeled just another day

Steven Crist's May 3 column, "Whither racing's enduring greats?" did well to touch on the dynamics of this year's Kentucky Derby compared to the 1970's versions. Well, this year's Derby participants have taken the bar to a new low.

Of the 17 original entrants, five could run in nonwinners-of-three-other-than conditions, nine in N2X conditions, and one in N1X conditions. Fifteen of the 17 runners would meet the conditions for a typical Wednesday-afternoon allowance race. Yet the buildup and hype leading up to the race continued to escalate to an almost nauseating level.

Everyone needs to stop treating this race like it is the crown jewel of horse racing. The participants are not worthy of that attention. Winning one or two lifetime races before the Kentucky Derby should not qualify a horse for stardom.

The Derby has now become part of a crowded category in racing that was initially created by the Breeders' Cup - it's called insignificant Grade 1 races.

Chuck Seeger - Alexandria Va.

Class of '03 looks to be bunch of underachievers

This 2003 crop of 3-year-olds is, unquestionably, the sorriest collection of manes and tails I've ever seen.

So bad, in fact, that a New York-bred gelding - who previously had never beaten anyone but statebreds - won America's most important horse race. How sad, indeed.

Even sadder (if that's possible) is the fact that Funny Cide has apparently scared off "the competition" for the Preakness - a race that looks like it will have perhaps six or seven starters.

Then, on a related note, there remained, for a while at least, the good chance that there would be two - count 'em 2 - uncoupled entries in the Preakness: Two horses from Bob Baffert's barn, plus two from Bobby Frankel's.

So what, say you? Well, if there is a six-horse field and two trainers have four of the starters, then, aren't those two then controlling 67 percent of the horse race?

This game that I once loved so much continues its inevitable plunge into the abyss, with the goofy reigning supreme.

Nikki L. Schwartz - Medford Lakes, N.J.

Besides trailing the trainers, NBC put on a fine show

In regard to the May 7 article, "One hole in NBC's coverage," and its praise for the network's coverage of trainers making their way to the paddock: I object to that coverage.

I think television reporters should interview trainers after the horses leave the saddling area. The trainers have a lot to think about at the time, and details can make or break the race. They need to think about the safety of their horses, strategy for their jockeys, and reassurance to anxious owners. They don't need reporters shoving microphones in their noses asking stupid or unanswerable questions.

As for postrace coverage, trainer Barclay Tagg seemed like an interviewer's nightmare. I think Charlsie Cantey got as good a response from him as possible. His type of trainer just plain doesn't talk to anyone, doesn't explain to anyone, and doesn't apologize to anyone for anything. Cantey knows her way around the track and the trainers' territory. Trainers respond better to her than to a stranger who knows nothing about horses or racing. I think she is one of NBC's greatest assets at the track.

Bob Costas is a good partner for Cantey in the winner's circle. I suggest, however, that he should interview the likes of the governor, track officials, and sponsor representatives. He does that very well. Questions about horses and their training should be left to the person with experience in the field, Cantey. Horse people will take time to talk to someone who has actually mucked stalls rather than to someone who thinks they know how to do it.

All in all we out in this corner of TV-land thank NBC for its good work making sense out of one crazy day in Kentucky.

Marcia Waddell - Napa, Calif.

Classic event demands sharpest images

In its Kentucky Derby coverage, NBC should make a thorough review of its stagnant racing coverage and offer some new elements.

Why not employ the infield-based roving camera used for the Dubai World Cup card? It moves with the field fantastically.

Station a cameraperson on the track at about the finish line for a surface-level head-on shot of the break, and the camera operator would have ample time to get off the track.

Why not place a few microphones near the track to capture the thunder of the field? Santa Anita does a great job of that.

If the traditional wide shot is to be a permanent fixture from the start to the first turn, then NBC should mimic NASCAR coverage and have an electronic display of individual runners.

NBC should also scrap Bob Costas. We don't need an erudite recollection of every runner from Derbies past. Charlsie Cantey does a great job and can ask winning owners, trainers, and jockeys the right questions.

Why couldn't NBC have found out if syndicate owners were watching the race from somewhere else? For instance, an NBC affiliate might have been stationed in Sackets Harbor, N.Y., for a live reaction from some of Funny Cide's co-owners.

Year in and year out, it's the same pre-packaged, boring, antiquated coverage. Classic horse racing contests need exciting, cutting-edge imagery - different thinking for high definition.

Robert Lanson - Rochester, N.Y.