07/11/2003 12:00AM

Letters to the Editor

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Sponsor deals show priorities are misplaced

While I admire Jerry Bailey's skill as a top jockey, his comment "I guess I missed the chapter where VISA invented horse racing," as noted in the June 29 letter "Bailey on wrong page knocking Crown sponsor," about a longtime supporter of the game, really struck me the wrong way.

Bailey is a top jockey, no doubt, but apparently he has spent a little too much time reading his press clippings and has way too high an opinion of himself as a factor in racing. I'm sure he would have changed his tune if Empire Maker had won the Triple Crown and he had shared in the $5 million bonus VISA put up.

The earnings from turning any horse into a running billboard should go to the only logical place it belongs: the owners. If the top 20 jockeys all retired tomorrow, the game would go on and do every bit as well. Instead of Jerry Bailey we might have a Ramon Dominguez or Corey Lanerie getting a shot on some of the top horses, and while the quality of race riding might suffer a bit, it also might not. Conversely, if the top 10 breeding farms and the 10 top private owners all left the game tomorrow, the game may cease to exist. Even with purses inflated by slot-machine revenue, racing has still struggled to attract new money into the game (check out the pathetic fields at Delaware Park if you need convincing).

What Bailey did would be the equivalent of Kobe Bryant putting on an NBC hat while doing an ABC interview at the NBA finals because they gave him $50,000 to do it. This game has been very good to Bailey, and he should give back to the game and the sponsors who have stuck with this game when nobody else would. He should honor the deals negotiated by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association instead of taking a few thousand self-serving dollars. What if he offended VISA enough for them to pull out of their deal? Does anyone think Wrangler will come in with the millions of dollars VISA did? That's one bet I'd really like to get down on.

Rob Clayton
Elkton, Md.

One bettor feeling pantsed by game

Here's a typical day at the races:

I bet on five-horse fields.

Bobby Frankel wins at 3-5 with a no-fig rat who he's had for a week.

I'm past-posted by some computer twerp from Maryland.

Then the mutuel clerks steal what little money I have left.

And people want to talk about Jerry Bailey's pants? Jockeys could all have rubber ducks glued to their heads for all I care.

I'm one step closer to the bingo hall: "Come on, one time, with G-47!"

Kurt Paseka
Long Island City, N.Y.

Baze's success reflects public's savvy

The July 6 letter "Baze numbers soar as field sizes sink" cannot go unchallenged. It was one of many in recent memory denigrating Baze's record because he does not compete against "top competition." I suggest that anyone who truly feels that to be so simply doesn't understand the probabilities in horse racing.

Horse racing is not football or baseball. Horse racing is probability - period. The only important athlete in horse racing is the horse. Not to downgrade the fine work of the brave riders, but their work is of very little importance in the final result of a horse race. Horses win in almost exact ratio to the probability assigned by the public through the mutuels, regardless of the rider. Baze's winning rate at the recently concluded Bay Meadows meeting was .30, which equates closely to approximate odds of 9-5, the average odds of his horses.

The public assigns probabilities very accurately. If Baze had ridden horses that Pat Valenzuela has ridden and the odds were the same, the result would be the same. In fact, if the greenest apprentice had ridden the same horses and the odds were the same, the results would be the same. If Baze were to come to Southern California and ride horses at average odds of 9-5 he would make a shambles of the jockey percentages here just as he does up north.

In horse racing it doesn't matter in what venue the numbers are racked up. A good record by a cheap horse in a minor venue is just as noteworthy as one in a major venue. The probabilities are the game. The public sees to that. The rider is along for the ride.

Bob Salin
North Hollywood, Calif.

Small-pond shark would be minnow in open waters

For years there has been heated debate about the accomplishments of Russell Baze, and the mind-boggling numbers he puts up. I have been a serious horse player for more than 15 years, Baze, is the most overrated rider I have seen, not even close to Hall of Fame caliber. This guy and his agent hand-pick the best mounts available in every race in northern California, and the riders there are far, far below those on major tracks like New York's and Del Mar. Baze does what he should do, dominate mediocre riders, because he is usually on a superior animal. All riders start out on small circuits, become successful, and look for bigger challenges, better purses, etc. Kent Desormeaux, Chris McCarron, and Edgar Prado are a few examples: They dominated Maryland, then went to prove themselves with the best, which they all did. Apparently, Baze has no desire to test his ability with the best. He is a solid rider, but would not crack the top 10 in New York, Southern California, or Gulfstream.

A couple of years ago in northern California, Baze actually had fierce competition for leading rider from Jason Lumpkins. Lumpkins is an average rider - yes, he dominated the riders at Turfway, but he can barely win a race at much tougher - yet he gave Baze all he could handle.

I would love to see Baze show some guts and ride a meet at Saratoga. Let's see him get exposed. When Breeders' Cup and Triple Crown time comes around, the trainers, who know best who can and cannot ride, do not seek Baze out. His stats will always have an asterisk in my mind, and if I owned a top Derby prospect, there 25 other riders around the country I would choose to ride before Baze.

Jeff Richardson
Lincoln, Neb.

Unsung hero developed Mother Goose winner

Indisputably, Bobby Frankel is a top trainer, but I am surprised by the lack of credit given to Spoken Fur's former trainer, Austin K. Smith, for the filly's smashing win in the Mother Goose.

As has been reported, Frankel did not discover Spoken Fur, Smith did. Smith sent Spoken Fur to Frankel on behalf of her former owners because he recognized her talent and knew she was good enough to compete in New York for the summer season.

Smith also wanted to put her in the best hands possible so if she were returned to Smith for the Kentucky fall racing season, she would be in good shape. After training the filly one week, Frankel encouraged his owners to purchase the filly, and the rest is history.

But let's give credit where credit is due. Smith was instrumental in the purchase of Spoken Fur's dam, Siberian Fur, when she was in foal to Notebook, carrying Spoken Fur, at the Ocala Breeders' sale for $20,000. He watched Spoken Fur grow up from the time she was foaled until the day she left his barn three years later. He was able to nurture her through that famous Notebook temperament and was patient enough to wait for the filly to develop, and develop she did, into a Grade 1 winner in the Mother Goose.

Now, Frankel is great, but is he the only one responsible for this filly after only 21 days in his barn?

Amy Hunter
Dayton, Ohio