06/05/2003 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor

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A star is a star no matter what stage he plays

Having lived in the San Francisco Bay area for all of my 50 years, I have been able to watch, in person, some of the true greats in sports history. I saw Willie Mays in his prime at Candlestick Park. I watched Rick Barry, almost singlehandedly, win an NBA championship for the Warriors in 1975. I watched Joe Montana lead the 49ers to four Super Bowl titles. And for many years now, I have had the pleasure to watch a truly great jockey, Russell Baze, win races at a dizzying clip at Bay Area racetracks.

I took exception, therefore, to the May 25 letter "Raw numbers won't tell the story of greatness," which belittled Baze's accomplishments because of his base of operations.

When Baze first appeared on the northern California circuit, he seemed to some just another jockey. But here was a rider who had an unbeatable combination of strength, finesse, smarts, intuition, and fearlessness. Was he getting all the favorites to ride way back then? Not even close. Yet Baze would use his great skills to bring home longshot after longshot. Eventually, both trainers and horseplayers caught on. The longshots turned to favorites as Baze started getting better and better horses to ride.

I have watched Corey Nakatani, Laffit Pincay Jr., Pat Day, Jerry Bailey, and Patrick Valenzuela ride countless races. I have watched their "seat" on a horse, their strategies, their split-second decision-making, their stick-handling abilities, and their finesse, when strength won't get it done. I don't have to see them ride side by side with Baze to tell the difference. There is none.

If you took a great horse like Azeri and ran her exclusively for the rest of her career at Golden Gate Fields, would she be any lesser a horse? Would her skills suddenly diminish? No. A great horse is a great horse, regardless of what racetrack he or she competes at. The only thing that changes is perception. If you race at Santa Anita, you are perceived as being better than if you race at Golden Gate. But perception and reality are often very different things.

Azeri is a great horse, period. Baze, regardless of where he calls home, is truly worthy of his Hall of Fame stature, and one day, if his health and hunger for the sport remain unabated, he will become the leading rider in the history horse racing. And just like Mays, Barry, and Montana, his title of greatness will truly be deserved.

Bill Heib
San Francisco

A vet takes exception to 'pseudoscience'

The May 31 article "For injured horses, a healing hand" was, unfortunately, a sad account of the nonsense and pseudoscience that pervades the horse racing world, as well as the veterinary world in general.

From a self-proclaimed lay "chiropractor" (imagine if he were trying to treat humans and advertising himself as a professional), coming up with bogus diagnoses ("back out of whack") to even veterinarians advancing ridiculous theories about cellular energy (cancer cells have 15 volts of electricity? You could light a room with them!) or reducing lung pressure (what, did the horse get put in a vacuum?), Daily Racing Form readers are not well served by uncritical promotion of silly, implausible, and bogus therapies.

David Ramey, DVM
Glendale, Calif.

Canadian International needs shift to save prestige

Excluding the Breeders' Cup Turf, it seems safe to say that the most important 12-furlong turf race in North America is the Canadian International, run at Woodbine.

During the last two years, this race has been run in late September, but now the decision has been made to go back to its original date in mid-October. As this race will be run only six days before the Breeders' Cup Turf, the question that needs to be raised is: What type of horse is Woodbine's management intending to attract for this race? (Is the plan to promote the International and the E.P. Taylor Stakes, run on the same day, as consolation races for the Breeders' Cup Turf and Filly and Mare Turf?)

There will always be a number of European horses who will make the trip across the Atlantic for this race. Traditionally, European trainers have always had a very high opinion of Woodbine's turf course. It is, rather, the quality of North American horses that I am far more concerned about.

For American horses, this was a valuable last prep race before the BC Turf. In the case of Canadian middle-distance turf horses, there was previously a natural progression of stakes races for 3-year-old and older horses, which culminated in the Canadian International. If they proved their worth, they could then go off and take their chances with the very best in the business.

The simple fact of life is that if the Canadian International continues to be run in mid-October, it will become a second-rate Grade 1 turf race, and it is very unlikely that you will see any of the top-flight Canadian and U.S. horses in it.

The authorities who run racing in Canada, and Woodbine in particular, must work out a more suitable date for this race. Mid-October was fine when the Breeders' Cup was in November. But for such an illustrious race to be run at such a poor time is simply unacceptable.

Phill Chappell
Toronto

Racing 101: Educational and fun, too

The two tracks that I regularly attend, Arlington Park and Gulfstream Park, are not proactively educating new racing fans. Isn't it a track's responsibility to teach the beginning fan how to read and interpret comprehensively the past performances in the Daily Racing Form and program?

Arlington and Gulfstream are incorrectly assuming that the average fan has a basic knowledge of the racing game when he or she passes through the gate.

Gulfstream's prerace analyst this past meeting used terms that she assumed were already understood by all the fans listening. But do new racing fans know what Beyer Speed Figures, let alone adjusted speed figures, really mean?

At the beautifully majestic Arlington Park, there is a fine presentation of prerace insights, but with racing jargon and handicapping ideas that the beginning fan may not comprehend.

Tracks should educate fans so that they understand how to make intelligent wagers on their own. The positive experience will make for a satisfied and returning racing consumer (and in turn a bigger handle and better horses).

How can Arlington and Gulfstream better educate new racing fans?

1. Offer a structured class, "Introduction to Thoroughbred Racing" at the track, to teach all fans how to read and interpret past performances. Included in the curriculum should be a review of money management, strategies involving the jockeys, trainers, and medication, and many other valuable handicapping tools.

2. Arlington should offer free quarterly handicapping classes at all Chicagoland OTB's. The classes should be fun, challenging, and inspirational. Graduating students should be rewarded with a diploma and a free admission pass to the track.

3. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association should appoint a national director of racing education to help all tracks develop and implement educational programs. It should be a top priority.

I do hope Gulfstream and Arlington become proactive leaders in an industry that truly needs new and educated racing fans.

Jim Lentz
Wheaton, Ill.