07/03/2003 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor

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Two-way street when it comes to coverage

I found Steven Crist's June 29 take on the jockey advertisement issue ("An illogical double standard") a bit on the narrow side. One of the factors in Crist's assessment of the situation is that jockeys are independent contractors and therefore should be able to derive income from selling ads on their pants, etc. In the very same Racing Form, however, I read that the California trainers would be charged as much as $172 per starter to cover the jockeys' insurance. So: Jockeys are independent when it comes to income for them but not when it comes to expense for them? That seems like the double standard.

With the impending insurance crisis for trainers and, subsequently, owners, how come no one ever suggests that the jockeys donate a fractional percentage of their 10 percent of winning mounts to cover their own insurance expenses? It just seems wrong that while the trainers are struggling to pay ridiculous premiums, the jockeys are grabbing the cash and not even trying to help to defer costs directly related to them.

Charles Simon
Louisville, Ky.

Belmont criticism denigrates top-notch barn

The Monday-morning quarterbacking of Funny Cide's Belmont Stakes loss - in the June 15 letter "Pedal to the metal was way to go with Funny Cide" and elsewhere - has irked me to doing something I never had before: write a letter to the editor.

Barclay Tagg is a consummate horseman, respected by the best in the business. He has developed Grade 1 stakes horses in the past and will continue to do so. He is widely known within knowledgeable circles in the industry as a master at training a horse to run a distance of ground. Funny Cide might not have achieved such success in someone else's hands. He and Robin Smullen found ways to harness his talent. His pedigree and over-exuberant galloping may have put him in the third string in a higher-profile barn, and he might never have received the time and attention he needed to succeed. Tagg and Smullen accomplished a feat of exemplary horsemanship.

Horsemen know that even fractions win the Belmont Stakes. Had Funny Cide been allowed to "run freely," as our Monday-morning quarterbacks suggest, he might have gone six furlongs in 1:10 and change if he had gotten away from Santos, suicide at the Belmont distance. Not only would it have cost him the race, it likely would have cost him third, too. I'm sure all his connections would have been much happier if he had relaxed under a light hold and made it easier on himself, but it was not meant to be that day. The Triple Crown grind is tough on a horse, both mentally and physically. Funny Cide performed admirably in all three races, giving it his best every time.

It's no mystery why no one wins the Triple Crown any more. The Belmont has been won many times by a fresh horse, some of whom faded into obscurity. Funny Cide danced every dance, and did it beautifully. He is a joy to his owners and they have passed their excitement and enthusiasm on to all of us, even the general public not previously familiar with horse racing. He and his connections deserve congratulations, not criticism.

Susan Runco
Charles Town, W.Va.

In speaking his mind, Frankel does the sport good

Re: the June 22 letter "Frankel's remarks made it hard to cheer him on," what was Bobby Frankel supposed to say about beating Funny Cide with Empire Maker in the Belmont Stakes? "Sorry I beat the hometown favorite and spoiled a Triple Crown" that some think the sport needs.

Empire Maker got beaten when he was less than 100 percent in the Kentucky Derby. He waited for a rematch on the big turns of Belmont and simply outran Funny Cide.

This sport doesn't need a Triple Crown winner whose name no one would dare speak in the same breath with Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed.

Frankel's comments were justified if for no other reason than they could serve to create rivalries in this sport, and that's a good thing.

Miles Johnson
Ruidoso, N.M.

HRTV spells trouble for serious bettor

Do other horseplayers feel as I do about Magna Entertainment's coverage of racing on HorseRacing TV: that it stinks?

HRTV's format is a hodgepodge of cuts from one track to another, punctuated by various long-winded talking heads. The resulting chaos makes it virtually impossible to bet with confidence any race HRTV covers.

Important information is either omitted or provided inconsistently. For example, knowing how many minutes remain until post is of paramount importance to the serious bettor. This information is often missing thanks to HRTV's kaleidoscopic format.

Worse is the way HRTV switches from one venue to another. Last week I was tracking the odds on the 1 horse at Colonial when, bam, I suddenly found myself looking at the odds for the 1 horse at Great Lakes. I never did get to see the Colonial odds again.

HRTV directors also have the aggravating habit of leaving the camera on a track long after its race is run, to the exclusion of other venues. Once an event is over, it is time to get on with new business.

While we're at it, why does HRTV insist on taking up airtime with sideshows? The highest handles and largest number of viewers are products of Thoroughbred racing - not harness racing, not Appaloosa racing, and certainly not mule racing. Those events are at best curiosities and at worst wastes of time.

Watching HRTV is like playing racetrack roulette: The venues go round and round, while the bettor prays that the camera will stop on his track. This is no way to run a racing show.

Sam Allen
Beaver Falls, Penn.

Baze numbers soar as field sizes sink

The last sentence of the June 8 letter "A star is a star no matter what stage he plays" touched a nerve with me.

About Russell Baze and his accomplishments as a jockey, the letter read, "And just like Mays, Barry, and Montana, his title of greatness will truly be deserved."

Any athlete - human or horse - needs to prove his greatness by excelling against top competition. Willie Mays wouldn't be considered a great ballplayer if he had set his records in the minor leagues. Ditto for Rick Barry and Joe Montana. They are considered truly great precisely because they accomplished what they did while competing in the highest echelons of their sports.

The same is true with horses. Hallowed Dreams won 16 races in a row, comparable with truly great racehorses like Citation or Cigar, but she won't be inducted into racing's Hall of Fame.

Why? Because she competed on a non-major circuit, against non-major league horses. She didn't earn her gaudy record competing against better horses, just like Baze hasn't earned his gaudy record competing against the top jockeys.

Baze is an excellent jockey, just not a great one. When he rode in Southern California regularly a few years back, he showed what he could do against top riders: He did well, but nothing spectacular.

Contrast that with Pat Valenzuela, who since his latest return to racing has quickly shot up to the top of the standings.

As the fields in northern California continue to shrink, I am sure that Baze's stats will get gaudier and gaudier, and those unfamiliar with the setting that provides the context for his stats will continue to be unduly impressed.

Gian Carollo
San Jose, Calif.