11/21/2003 1:00AM

Letters to the Editor

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Horsemen advised to grip purse strings

The Nov. 14 article "Separate accounts at NYRA" stated that the New York Racing Association officials admitted to federal prosecutors in February that they owed $14 million to the horsemen's purse account - the account containing horsemen's earned purses, claiming monies, etc. Now NYRA admits to owing the purse account $20 million - another $6 million in just nine months!

But not to worry, New York horsemen, because NYRA will no longer commingle its accounts, but will now keep a separate account just for horsemen. And just who will monitor this account? Not NYRA, I hope. That would seem to be similar to punishing the fox for eating the hens by making him guard the henhouse.

Several years ago in Florida, when Hialeah bounced almost $300,000 in checks from the horsemen's purse account and took a full three weeks to get all the money in the purse account transferred to Calder, the horsemen went ballistic. For several weeks Calder would allow horsemen to access only a half of the money in their individual purse accounts, because that's all the money that had been transferred to that point by Hialeah. The horsemen were quite upset by these transgressions and took some of their wrath out on the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, Our association then reacted by taking over the horsemen's bookkeeper (purse account) so that something like what Hialeah pulled would never happen again in south Florida.

I am amazed that the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association leadership has been so calm about NYRA apparently grossly misusing the horsemen's funds. I wonder, would they and the media downplay this missing $20 million if it were Frank "Magna" Stronach operating NYRA?

I would certainly hope that the New York horsemen would strongly consider operating the horsemen's bookkeeper office themselves. Currently, besides the Florida HBPA, I am only aware of two other horsemen's organizations that do so - the HBPA affiliates in Texas and Louisiana.

I feel it only makes good sense for a horsemen's organization to control their own purse account by operating the horsemen's bookkeeper office. First of all, it's not exactly rocket science to manage it, and secondly, the horseman will more judiciously manage their own purse account money than will a racetrack. Thirdly, and most importantly, it keeps the tracks from tapping into the purse account any time they need money. Of course, there's no need for other horsemen's groups to do so if they really think there are no more NYRA's and Hialeahs out there.

Kent H. Stirling, Executive Director, Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association

Two jewels have earned the year-end crown

Far too many people have been willing to crown Empire Maker as the 3-year-old champion, ignoring his spotty race record, his skipping the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, his failure to win after capturing the Belmont Stakes, and his absence late in the year.

Empire Maker's trainer, Bobby Frankel, was convinced the horse would win the Kentucky Derby. He did not. In fact, he was beaten so convincingly by Funny Cide that Frankel decided a Belmont ambush was his best bet to take a Triple Crown race. Frankel succeeded, but skipping the Preakness with a horse supposedly battling for division honors was not a very sporting thing to do. Funny Cide won that Preakness over what in retrospect was a very good Peace Rules, who showed by his victories - Louisiana Derby, Blue Grass, and Haskell - that he is as accomplished as Empire Maker.

Taking into account Ten Most Wanted's victories in the Illinois Derby, Travers, and Super Derby, this year's 3-year-old championship is far from cut-and-dried. I make Empire Maker third or fourth best (though he could move up depending upon how heavily you weigh Triple Crown victories). But in Funny Cide you have a horse who won both the most important 3-year-old race and two jewels of the Triple Crown, the second against possibly the second-most accomplished 3-year-old, Peace Rules.

Two jewels and a game third in the Belmont make Funny Cide the logical 3-year-old champion. I seem to recall a horse named Charismatic, who won the first two jewels and who was a game third in the Belmont, winning the honor in a year when his nearest competition, Lemon Drop Kid, had taken both the Belmont and Travers.

Martin Meyer
Naperville, Ill.

For a 400 hitter, Baze doesn't play in big leagues

So, I read in the Nov. 21 Racing Form that jockey Russell Baze "hits 400 wins again." If Baze is supposedly one of the best jockeys in the country year in and year out, why doesn't he ever leave Bay Meadows or Golden Gate? Besides riding the hopeless Toccet in the Breeders' Cup Turf, why isn't he ever asked to ride in big races around the country? A jockey of his supposed talents surely should be in demand for big races around the country, shouldn't he?Scott Pulcini
Chicago

Early retirement spoils marketing to new fans

Empire Maker's premature retirement ("Empire Maker sent to stud," Oct. 2) is just another example of the negative impact on racing when a solid figure is taken too soon.

Every marketing department in this sport must ask itself, How can we expect to gain fan appreciation and attention with no real heroes?

Fans follow sports because they become emotionally attached to its athletes. Empire Maker retiring at 3 is like Joe Montana, Mario Andretti, Dale Earnhardt, or Michael Jordan becoming a champion in his rookie season, only to retire to live off profits from a book deal.

How can racing expect to be successful without a clear strategy of winning over the hearts of fans who will in time become parimutuel players? I know, Empire Maker is worth millions of dollars as a sire. No offense, but do you think Prince Khalid Abdullah needs the money, or the amount of money he may risk by keeping him in training one more year?

Instead of pointing fingers about poor marketing, maybe the horsemen should be pointing their fingers at themselves.

Douglas Anderson
Del Mar, Calif.

Railbird cries foul over inconsistent rulings

Stewards have alienated fans everywhere with their inconsistency. Fans can accept decisions that are the same all the time. What we will not accept is stewards taking a horse down for something one day while another horse does the same thing the next day and is allowed to stay up.

In my 20 years of following racing, I have never understood stewards' logic. To me, the rules should say if you impede a horse you must be placed behind the horse you bother. It should not matter whether that horse could have won the race or not.

In football if you hold, you hold. It is not based it on whether you could have made the tackle or not - breaking the rule has to be punished. What stewards today seem to be saying is that you can foul another horse, just make sure he is dying and not going to hit the board. This is ridiculous, that you can break the rules and foul a non-contender and get away with it.

I see it all the time: A horse impedes another, forcing him to steady and lose ground and often position. Then the stewards rule that the horse was not going to beat the winner and let the result stand. Are you serious? If I have show money on a horse and he gets impeded and loses third in a photo, even if the winner is much best, romping by 10 lengths, he has to come down for costing my horse a better placing.

Stewards need to make the rules the same nationwide: If you foul any horse you come down, no questions.

Jeff Richardson
Lincoln, Neb.