10/09/2003 11:00PM

Letters to the editor

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Empire Maker third in line for Eclipse

I respect Steven Crist's accomplishments and his handicapping acumen, and I very often find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with his opinions. Heck, I'll probably even read his book. But his piece on Empire Maker regarding this year's 3-year-old Eclipse Award couldn't be more off the mark ("Don't blame Empire Maker," Oct. 5). What is it about this horse that engenders such passion in some fans? I know a few serious handicappers who think not only that he was by far the best of his generation, but also that he may well have been one of the most talented racehorses ever to look through a bridle. I'd like to take issue with the argument that this horse deserves an Eclipse Award.

If Ten Most Wanted wins the Breeders' Cup Classic, there should really be no argument regarding this year's Eclipse for 3-year-old colts and geldings. It would cap a campaign that included three other graded stakes victories, including the Travers (which admittedly set up perfectly for him), a prestigious Grade 1 at the classic distance of 1 1/4 miles. He would also presumably have defeated the best older horses still racing in the Classic, something neither Funny Cide nor Empire Maker (nor Peace Rules for that matter) has managed to date.

If this should not come to pass, then I really don't see any argument that can deprive Funny Cide of the title. If you haven't won a race since June and expect to win the 3-year-old title, you better have won at least two-thirds of the Triple Crown, including the Kentucky Derby. I don't care what the head-to-head results were - it's what the r?sum? looks like. I mean, the White Sox beat the Yankees four out of the six times they faced each other this year, yet I don't hear the argument that the White Sox were the better team, and I don't see them in the postseason.

Empire Maker was a talented, well-bred colt who was a superior mud horse. It's a shame he isn't being given the chance to prove on the track that the accolades his trainer and many of his fans bestowed on him are appropriate. But, given his retirement, the gulf between the reputation and the actual accomplishments is vast.

Mark Brucker
Clifton Park, N.Y.

Derby win the key in sorting top 3-year-old males

I found Steven Crist's advocacy of Empire Maker as 3-year-old champion unconvincing.

Shortly after the Kentucky Derby, many Empire Maker partisans launched their dogged lobbying campaign, complaining about Funny Cide's "perfect trip." I think most racing fans will note that Derby winners often get excellent trips. That's typically what it takes to win the race these days. Further, it was Funny Cide's tactical speed that enabled the "perfect trip." Speed and the willingness to rate kindly are part and parcel of the horse's quality, not some sort of dumb luck dropped on him from the heavens.

Horses like Funny Cide can make their own luck - with the benefit of a good ride he figured to get a good trip. In addition, Empire Maker's supporters had curiously ignored Funny Cide's trouble in the Wood, where he was bumped early and taken out of his game, yet still very nearly collared Empire Maker. After ducking Funny Cide in the Preakness, Empire Maker legged out a Belmont win over a sinking bog of epic proportions.

The track conditions at Belmont Park that day were abysmal, with constant rain and the track a sea of ooze. In other words, these were unusual and aberrant track conditions, and thus the Belmont was not the true bill of vindication that Empire Maker's fans allege. Elementary handicapping demands that an asterisk or two be put next to any race run on a sloppy track. It is bizarre to suggest that the Belmont, run over a swamp with a field of six horses, was a more decisive result than the Derby, with 16 horses on a clear day over a fast track. It's far more likely that the Derby showed the true measure of the two horses.

I had no interest in that whole sentimental David vs. Goliath narrative presented by the media, either. But hey, don't blame Funny Cide. All I saw was a very obstinate, tough gelding with brilliant speed. On the contrary, I feel there is a strong undercurrent of sentimentality on behalf of Empire Maker, a strange blend of cult worship of Bobby Frankel and awe over the horse's pedigree. How else to explain this hard-sell lobbying effort?

Jared McCarthy
Easthampton, Mass.

Gelding's people not doing him any favors

I am a big fan of Funny Cide's, but he needs a new trainer. Everyone is getting tired of Barclay Tagg's making excuses not to run him. Oh my gosh, people may think that this colt ran over his head for two races, and now his trainer is trying to parlay that into a championship that he does not deserve. Not that his so-called arch-rival, Empire Maker, is any better. What has he done? Absolutely nothing. Unless one of those two steps up to the plate and does something in the next two months, the 3-year-old championship belongs to Ten Most Wanted in my book.

Bill Lafield
Arlington, Va.

This year's running a Classic in name only

This year's Breeders' Cup Classic once had the potential to be the best field in 20 years. Now it has sadly crumbled into a debacle.

Even before Mineshaft's retirement, his owner had stated his horse had nothing left to prove and probably wouldn't run in the Classic. If pundits can knock Azeri for beating up on less-than-stellar fields, then the same can be said about Mineshaft. Mineshaft would needed to have run against the likes of Megdalia d'Oro and Congaree before Horse of the Year honors could be considered.

Candy Ride's owners won't pony up $800,000 to supplement their horse to the Classic. Thus, the sport and its fans lose out on seeing possibly the best horse in the country because the industry has set a ridiculous amount as a supplementary fee. Who in their right minds would pay it?

Empire Maker's injury retired him to stud, and Funny Cide's connections have made other plans. Any faint hope of seeing Azeri in the Classic was dashed by her loss in the Lady's Secret, as she will be likely to defend her Distaff title.

Two months ago, I thought that perhaps all of these horses would constitute perhaps the greatest Classic field ever assembled. It has now, however, been reduced to probably the weakest race on the card.

Jon Crain
Huntington Beach, Calif.

Safety net would rob future bet of its value

An Oct. 5 letter, "Future bet needs sweetener in event of scratches," bemoaned the "thousands of dollars lost by gamblers who backed Candy Ride in the future bet," before his trainer announced that the horse needed time off and would not be running in the Classic. The writer called for changes to be considered "to stimulate interest" in the bets.

Future book wagers offer good value primarily because there is exactly that risk of a horse not making it to a certain race that is weeks or months away because of injury, sickness, or other reasons.

The letter suggested replacing a scratched horse with (a) the field, (b) the longest shot, or (c) the post-time favorite. Each future bet pool offered 24 wagering interests (23 horses and a field). With only 14 horses allowed to run, at least 9 individual horses would have to be scratched, replaced by a suggested option. If this were to happen, odds would change dramatically. Gamblers who took a shot on a horse making it to the Breeders' Cup and actually winning their race would not get the true future book value, would they?

If you're not willing to take a risk of a horse making it to a future race, you shouldn't be making a future bet.

Glen Miki
Monterey Park, Calif.