07/24/2003 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor

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Let Ferdinand be the latest rallying point

Will a Ferdinand fund make a difference?

As a fan, follower, and supporter of Thoroughbred racing and the breed, I am keenly aware of the economic realities faced by those who may not necessarily have the assets of kings, but nonetheless invest their hearts and souls into the sport.

In the years following Exceller's undignified death in a slaughterhouse, nonprofit Thoroughbred rescues (such as the Thoroughbred Retirement Fund, ReRun, The Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses, and The Exceller Fund, of which I am a member) have succeeded in the re-purposing or retirement of ex-racers. Although countless Thoroughbreds have found a second career and lifetime home thanks to these efforts, the majority of aged, intractable, injured, or unwanted are shipped "down the road" to a less-than-dignified exit.

For years, industry leaders have declared "never again" in reference to Exceller's fate. The recent story of Ferdinand's sad demise ("Ferdinand dead in Japan," July 24) is surely an indication that hoping for the best is as productive as a fool's wager.

What can the Thoroughbred industry do?

* A fund, made up of donations or a percentage of betting handle, could be used to help defray the cost of euthanasia and disposal to save the next Kentucky Derby winner or gutsy gelding from an undignified and violent end. One would hope that if cash-strapped and/or frustrated connections had a reasonable, cost-effective alternative for a horse who had become a drain on profits, they would, mercifully, choose that option.

* Although a carefully worded and attorney-vetted buy-back option in a sales contract is certainly a positive step in the right direction, such a stipulation is difficult to monitor and even more difficult to enforce. A web-based database, however, administered by a respected industry association, could provide a sort of 21st-century clearing house that would alert the international racing community that a particular registered Thoroughbred is on his way out of racing, or ready to "come home."

At the very least, former connections would have a chance to bring home a once-cherished sire/broodmare/stakes winner/hard-trying claimer before the horse is sold down the road.

When you come right down to it, the economic reality is but one fact that every horseman, race fan, and Thoroughbred lover must face. The bottom line, so to speak, is that when the question "Gee, I wonder whatever happened to _______?" is posed, the sad reality is that it's usually too late for the horse.

Kathy Vespaziani
Weymouth, Mass.

Buy-back contract clause could ease anxiety

The death of a Horse of the Year, Ferdinand, possibly in a Japanese slaughterhouse ("Ferdinand's fate remains unsure amid speculation," July 25), requires immediate and swift action, beyond condemnation, by the Thoroughbred racing community. How a horse of Ferdinand's heart and courage could be destroyed raises a serious question about the exporting of stallions. The recent attempt to bring Strike the Gold back to the United States from Turkey further highlights the problem of imminent likely death for a stallion perceived as useless.

The idealistic response by the industry should be an outright refusal to sell stallions to foreign interests that have a demonstrated record of cruelty. A more realistic approach may be an industry-wide model contract for the sale of a stallion to a foreign interest with an enforceable clause under international law requiring that the foreign stud farm contact the seller or his heirs, or assigns to determine whether the seller wishes to take possession of the stallion at the seller's expense in order to offer a pensioned existence. The contract would provide for a reasonable (probably 30-day) period for a response by the seller, and severe financial penalties for the foreign stud farm's failure to adhere to this provision would exist.

A new approach to foreign stallion sales would eliminate the need for me to question where some of my heroes, such as Alysheba, Criminal Type, and Black Tie Affair, are today. Are they dead or alive? Isn't it disgusting that I have to ask?Mark S. Miller, Esq.
Revere, Mass.

Claiming Crown folks got unfair hard knock

Reading Jay Hovdey's July 19 column, "Claiming game needs old rules back," I found myself enraged that he would be so degrading to the Claiming Crown participants. Everyone involved in this event knows it is not to be confused with the Breeders' Cup. I have had the pleasure of competing in both the Breeders' Cup and the Claiming Crown, and, although I was treated wonderfully at the Breeders' Cup, the people at Canterbury go out of their way to make average owners feel like somebody special in this business for at least one day.

The owners of these horses are not multimillionaires like Bobby Frankel's owners. These are people who love the game so much that they are willing to invest all they have to be in this wonderful business at some level. To tear them down on the one day for them to be in the limelight makes me ill.

I would like to thank everyone who helped to put on a day to honor these magnificent animals even though they do not meet Hovdey's or Frankel's standard of what a good horse is. To me they are tremendous animals no matter what the size of the purse or claiming price they run for.

Scott A. Lake, trainer
Philadelphia

Bunches of winners lead to wild hunches

Bobby Frankel, in the Daily Racing Form television commercial where he says says hunches are for "idiots, morons, and suckers" is especially insulting to racing fans, especially since handicapping a Grade 1 race these days requires you to rely on a hunch that Frankel's horse will defy traditional handicapping rules.

I agree with Andrew Beyer's July 19 column,

" 'Super-trainers' make game harder than ever," in that you must take this new factor into account when playing the races. But, for me personally, I refuse to try to profit from these magicians. I'll be patient and wait for a more traditional winner from the barn of Shug McGaughey or Jim Toner in order to make my scores.

Mike Robertson
Camarillo, Calif.

When it comes to kids, the track is all right

I, too, was appalled at the column by Chicago Tribune senior editor Greg Burns, recounted in Steven Crist's July 20 column, "Duped by the morality police," about the presence of children at racetracks.

I am a father of two girls, ages 12 and 9. When a bit younger and having to deal with the responsibility of work and parenthood, I was forced many days to take my daughters to the track for morning workouts and/or afternoon races. The choice was either hire a nanny, which I couldn't afford, or take my daughters to a safe place in my supervision and company. I chose the latter.

The racetracks offered my daughters a chance to see horses in their beauty. They even got to recognize, by sight, horses like Free House and Silver Charm. They enjoyed the beauty of the sport. They didn't understand gambling nor wanted to. The enjoyed the racing and had a wholesome fun day.

I would rather be with my daughters at the track than any mall, movie theater, beach, etc., because of the violent, often obscene trends in modern-day culture. If it means that a wholesome family activity is at the racetrack, then I don't need some preacher or professor indirectly criticizing my choices with my children.

I wonder what would happen if I invaded their lives with my version of their immorality? Maybe the morality police could find themselves under citizen's arrest.

Bruno De Julio
Huntington Beach, Calif.