08/21/2003 11:00PM

Letters to the editor

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Vet seeking middle ground on medication

After having read the Aug. 17 question-and-answer session "Phipps speaks out," I couldn't help think of Dinny Phipps as I watched the Arlington Million on television. If he noticed, every horse in the Million save two was on Lasix. Even the European runners who are not allowed to use this medicine at home opted for using it in this instance when they could. The example of one race is, perhaps, unimportant, except for its dramatization of how many top horsemen, worldwide, react to Lasix and non-performance-enhancing medicines when they are legit.

I have always admired Phipps's dedication to the game and the sport of racing. He nearly always speaks from the heart and always for what he believes is in the best interest of racing. His racing genes are A-1, and racing can count on him as one of its paladins.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that he might reconsider his blanket condemnation of medicines. As a lover of the equine, he might not be giving enough thought to the potential pain our noble steeds would be subject to if they were forced into the arenas of their sport when hurting, with no anti-inflammatories and no Lasix.

No honest man can deny that performance-enhancing drugs are not only bad for the horse, that they are utterly destructive of the integrity of our great sport. They rightly are and should be banned universally, and I admit that illegal drugs have, in some instances, been masked by other less-harmful and legal ones. On the other hand, to outlaw all aids in pain control and all those that control bleeding would ignore the fact that nearly all of our runners hurt and have problems. It is only a question of degree. The late B.A. Jones once told me that most great horses of the past bled. We were simply unaware of it.

At any rate, in spite of the few inevitable disagreements along the way, I am buoyed in the knowledge that men like Dinny Phipps are speaking out for what they believe is best for horse racing. The sport of kings is, in the long run, the better for it. In fact, even in those few cases where I am at odds with him, I know that Phipps's position is designed to help racing. So let us go forward and work together for more understanding and for our desire to build the area of our life's work to an even higher level of honesty and quality than it has previously attained.

Alex Harthill, D.V.M.
Louisville, Ky.

Million DQ seen as a puzzling injustice

I have followed horse racing very closely for nearly 20 years, but I still do not understand the rules by which stewards reach their decisions.

In last Saturday's Arlington Million, Gary Stevens narrowly missed being gravely injured. His mount, Storming Home, clearly veered outward, but did this unintentional maneuver change the outcome of the race? I believe the stewards made the wrong call. Storming Home was going to win regardless. It was obvious in postrace interviews with David Flores, rider of the declared winner, Sulamani, that he was shaken by the accident, and he never expressed that Sulamani might have won outright.

Maybe someone can enlighten me regarding the decision process that stewards utilize. But then, certain mysteries will forever remain unsolved.

Carlos J. Rivera
Houston, Tx.

Wrong number put up in Storming Home fiasco

The 2003 Arlington Million was a brilliant example of how inept stewards are. It happens every day at one racetrack or another, but there is no way that the decision of the stewards in this year's Million should have been allowed.

Paolini deserved to be placed first since he had second wrapped up and was initially interfered with by Storming Home. That was clear. I hope folks around the country boycott tracks such as Arlington that allow such injustices.

Chris Grabowski
Anchorage, Ala.

Arlington stewards alienated fans

Not that it probably matters to anyone, but it will be a long time before my son or I ever place a bet at Arlington Park again.

We feel the stewards totally blew the call for the Arlington Million finish. I have been watching races for more than 50 years, and it was about the worst call I ever have seen. Storming Home wins the race no matter what happens - place and show were all that were in question.

By the way, we had Sulamani in our pick four as well as Storming Home, so this is not sour grapes, just the complaint of an avid, die-hard, true-blue fan of the turf.

C.E. Watson
Council Bluffs, Iowa

Retiring a champion robs sport of potential hero

So the owners of Vindication have retired the animal because he "has already proven himself a champion" ("Vindication, juvenile champ, retired to stud," Aug. 14). The retirement is a microcosm of why the sport will be dead in the not-so-distant future. Every horse with a hangnail is retired as soon as there is some small excuse to begin the lucrative breeding process.

What a thrill it would have been to see if Vindication really was a great animal. Remember, there would never be a Seabiscuit story if he had not returned from injury to run in the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap. Today, the match race with War Admiral would have been his last.

Gary Singer
Woodland Hills, Calif.

Owners' priorities leave public wondering

What a shame that greed wins out once again. Owners and breeders are depriving the game of the racing superstars it deserves.

Vindication should have gotten the opportunity to show the general public just how great he could be on the track, not be whisked off to stud after four starts as a 2-year old just to make more money for Padua Farm and Hill 'n' Dale Farm.

Vindication might have ranked right up there with his sire, Seattle Slew, as one of the all-time greats, but we'll never know, will we?

Jon Woolsey
Burke, Va.

Weight assignments need standard measure

I was pleased to see Jay Hovdey continue the discussion of a national handicapping board in his Aug. 10 column, "Listen up, racing: Weneednewrules."

We know that some collaboration already occurs among racing secretaries. A committee of three of them annually assigns weights for the Experimental Free Handicap. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association provides a weekly list of top 10 rankings in each Breeders' Cup division by "an international panel of racing secretaries and handicappers."

Obviously there are ways to achieve a fairer, more objective system to establish weights for handicap races that may also be less subject to owner/trainer manipulation. Is there - or is there not - a will to do so?

The book "Seabiscuit" detailed Charles Howard's preoccupation with weight assignments. Bobby Frankel maintains that tradition today in outspoken fashion. Why wouldn't other horsemen support more competitive conditions that could provide them with greater opportunities to share the pie?

If Azeri actually was assigned a lower-than-competitively-justified weight to ensure her participation at Del Mar, then the current system is not only unfair to horsemen, it also exploits fans willing to bet against great horses. If her connections continue to play it safe within the female division, Azeri should carry enough weight to make those "workouts" competitive.

Steve Abelove
Lawndale, Calif.