05/15/2003 11:00PM

Letters to the editor

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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Santos a victim of speculative poison pen

I freely confess to a certain amount of parochialism in coming to the defense of jockey Jose Santos, Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide, and his connections in the wake of the dustup sparked by The Miami Herald's reckless and irresponsible journalism raising the question that Santos may have used a forbidden device in the Derby. Although my wife and I have owned and bred Thoroughbreds for more than 30 years, I write as a former reporter who was held accountable for the veracity of his stories, and as a former editor who held reporters accountable for accuracy, fairness and balance in their work.

The Miami Herald's photo-gate had warning flags all over it from the get-go. Too few enlargements of the photos of Santos were examined, and it seems clear that Herald editors did not go the extra mile in examining videos of the Derby. One of the reporters had fair warning there were problems with his story when other jockeys interviewed said they never had heard of a "cue ring," which is what he thought Santos said he was wearing. Any editor should have been alert to the ambiguity, and, given the obvious language difficulties between reporter and subject, insisted the writer double back and seek absolute clarity.

The follow-up article and photos the day after the original story were obvious attempts by the Herald to hedge its bet, perhaps because more experienced editors became involved.

As far as racing officials are concerned, I have nothing but contempt for the knee-jerk declaration by a Churchill steward that the Herald's photo appeared "suspicious."

Who's quoting odds whether we will hear apologies from either the Herald or Kentucky officials?

Paul A. Schosberg

Katonah, N.Y.

Consider the source

From last Saturday through Monday the news media featured the speculation about what may or may not have been in Jose Santos's hand during his Derby ride, but far less was made of the outcome of the investigation. This left a large segment of the general public (about whom there is so much concern to get interested in racing) hearing all of the negative and little of the truth and vindication.

The source of all this needs to be examined very carefully. All of us who have to deal with the news media should be aware that negativity and controversy are the gods of many in the media. In the case of two writers, their apparent lack of a rudimentary knowledge of horse racing appears to have prevented them from seeing they were headed down the wrong course.

Where were these journalists this winter when Funny Cide was in Florida? Where were their articles about horsemen's favorable impressions about the new training facility, Palm Meadows? What about an article about the significant decline in racing and training injuries at Gulfstream, or the addition of computer radiology at the track's surgical facility?

D. Wayne Lukas got sick of this type of journalism and called some members of the news media "cockroaches." Since the two who caused the Funny Cide furor are in Florida, I guess they can be called palmetto bugs.

Stephen J. Selway, D.V.M., P.A.

Hollywood, Fla.

Selway treated Funny Cide over the winter for a throat condition.

Tarnished history

In the relatively inconsequential world of sports, perhaps no sport that this nation has to offer maintains as long and storied a history as Thoroughbred racing.

To be sure, the sport has, in many instances deservedly, faced more than its fair share of scandal and controversy - the unavoidable consequences of a sport at least partially defined by wagering.

Still, Thoroughbreds have provided us with some of sport's most moving and exhilarating moments. Who can forget Secretariat's 31-length victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes? Or the great and exciting duels between Affirmed and Alydar? Who can read Laura Hillebrand's brilliant re-creation of the 1938 match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral and not be swept into the moment, cheering on a horse who already won, more than 60 years ago?

It is this history, and this reputation of greatness, that has been sullied and tarnished by The Miami Herald's irresponsible reporting of this Saturday past. Speculation bordering on accusation certainly doesn't meet the standards of professional journalism, and it's very disheartening that a piece that was at best sloppy (who would run with an unchecked telephone quote from a man with a thick Chilean accent?) could make it past the editorial staff at one of the nation's largest and most respected newspapers.

Let us hope young writers learn from the mistakes of last Saturday.

David Pierce

Huntsville, Ala.

UFO at Churchill

Did anyone else see the hazy blue flying saucer hovering in the background over Jerry Bailey's right shoulder approaching the finish of the Kentucky Derby?

We all know that stewards aren't rocket scientists. In fact, by my observations they regularly see little that did happen and much that didn't happen. So thank goodness this Derby non-scandal was quickly cleared up.

Everyone let it rest, please. It wasn't the Arkansas Derby, it was the Derby. Come on now, folks, go see an optometrist before jumping to any conclusions.Jim Woodcock

Millersville, Md.

One step backward

Once again, racing officials have taken another misstep in managing the public's image of the sport. Like so many others, I was dismayed by the investigation and winced about the bad publicity after another huge race. More emphatically, though, I was appalled because the story never would have gained momentum if not for the unfortunate, poorly chosen response by a Churchill Downs steward that the photo was "very suspicious" after his initial review.

Freedom of the press will always mean that the racing world, like the rest of it, will be susceptible to irresponsible journalism. Racing's leadership, however, needs to be more sensitive to the industry's public image and more responsible in its actions toward protecting it.

Matthew McCumber

Cincinnati

Facts and heroes

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story seemed to be the credo of two writers at The Miami Herald. Does either one of them know the slightest bit about horse racing? Were they acting on a tip from a conspiracy theorist holding a $100 win ticket on Empire Maker?

Racing needs the likes of Funny Cide and his owners, the folks from Sackatoga, blue-collar everymen who are the future of racing. Racing needs heroes. It might have one in Funny Cide, and any group that travels to the Kentucky Derby in a school bus is okay by me.

Jim Tilton

North Merrick, N.Y.

Get over it!

I am outraged. I can't believe that anyone would think that a quality jockey like Jose Santos would even attempt to use something illegal in a race such as the Derby.

All that fuss just because a New York-bred gelding won the Derby over a blueblood like Empire Maker. It happens. Get over it! That day Funny Cide proved to be the best horse. Let his connections enjoy his victory.

Debra Pofelski

Palatine, Ill.

Speak no more, my lady

Let's be glad that this non-event was promptly given its proper burial. The amount of bad publicity that a very vague photograph generated is a sin.Chris Rudolph

Wallkill, N.Y.