12/05/2003 12:00AM

Letters to the Editor

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Owners find Southern Cal. not so sunny

Recently, we sent 11 horses to race in Southern California, under the care of Bobby Frankel. We have a home in Rancho Santa Fe, three miles from Del Mar, and thought it might be nice to see our horses run occasionally. In spite of discouraging words from many people about that track's being hard on horses and having uncaring management, we elected to send the horses anyway. We thought, maybe we can help.

We did not get a "Hello" or "Thank-you" from anyone associated with racing from Southern California. We didn't expect to - their reputation for arrogance is well deserved.

Something else we did not expect was a purse cut at Santa Anita ("Purses hit 10 percent; fires, strike blamed," Oct 31), and then at Hollywood Park ("Hollywood reduces purses," Dec. 3). That appears to be an ominous trend. When the decision on where to send our horses for the winter comes up again next year, we will certainly remember all this.

We would like to know, specifically, what Southern California track management teams are going to do to increase the size of their fields. Please, no psychobabble, just straightforward talk that simple people can understand. We all know this is the only thing that will increase handle, and ultimately purses. Racetrack executives constantly act like bad politicians, giving lip service but nothing more to addressing the real issues.

If the answer is, "There is nothing we can or will do," just say so, and that will make next year's decision real easy.

Gary and Mary West
Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.

Gill outfit has earned year-end honors

One would have had to have been locked in a cave in Afghanistan to be unfamiliar with the controversy over owner Mike Gill's stable as he and trainer Mark Shuman (my nephew) started the year by dominating one of the premiere meets of American racing - Gulfstream Park's.

Gill's unanticipated success was received with such inexplicable hostility that noteworthy writers felt compelled to get involved. It has been more prestigious to jump on the anti-Gill bandwagon than to enter the fray with an open mind.

This year Gill will surely win more races than any outfit in the country. And he will combine that with the most purse money earned. Who, then, will capture the coveted Eclipse Award as owner of the year? Who will deserve it more than Gill?

There is an opportunity here for the racing industry to demonstrate some gratefulness for Gill's willingness to invest millions in it. There is an opportunity here to balance the unprecedented scrutiny and harassment his barns have had to bear. Plainly, there is an opportunity here to do what is proper and right.

If the Eclipse voting in the owner category is not a landslide ballot, then every single voter should be polled to explain how one plus one equals zero.

It is doubtful that Mike Gill has reserved his tuxedo for the awards banquet as yet, because he is all too familiar with the system that sentences before there is a verdict, convicts before there is a trial, and punishes before the facts have been reviewed.

Bill Shuman
Pembroke Pines, Fla.

Don't give or deny Eclipse for the wrong reasons

How impressive was Funny Cide's nearly 10-length victory in the Preakness? How does his win compare to other Preakness conquests? If Empire Maker had run in the Preakness, how would he have done? Would he still have been fresh enough to turn back Ten Most Wanted's late bid in the Belmont?

I think the stretch run in the Preakness, the way Funny Cide ran that day, would have taken something out of Empire Maker for the Belmont. I feel he would have finished second in all three Triple Crown races (and that I would have lost money on him in all three).

Those three races are extremely grueling on a horse. Since Affirmed became the last Triple Crown winner in 1978, the nine horses who have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown have each lost the Belmont. A win by a fresh horse in the Belmont should not carry the same weight as a win by a horse who ran in all three.

Racing needs new fans. Funny Cide ran in most of the big races, and Empire Maker did not. Eclipse voters should not penalize a horse for running, nor should they reward a horse for not running.

David DiLoreto
Erie, Penn.

Hirsch's Grade 1 career warrants a race in his honor

I was disappointed to hear of the retirement of Joe Hirsch ("Hey Joe - say it ain't so," Nov. 2). For so many years, he has written a terrific and informative column that I have always looked forward to.

It's great that the new Churchill Downs press box, scheduled to be ready for the 2005 Kentucky Derby, will be named The Joe Hirsch Media Center ("Churchill to honor Hirsch," Nov. 23), and that a scholarship will be established in his name to continue his influence ("Scholarship to honor Hirsch," Nov. 26).

But I also would like to see a track - any track, but perhaps most appropriately one in New York - honor Daily Racing Form's longtime executive columnist by renaming a stakes race - preferably one with Grade 1 status - in his honor.

An event at racing's highest level of competition and excellence would bear enduring testament to the legacy of one of the sport's giants, Joe Hirsch. Leighton Worthey
San Diego

Drop-down vet exams could reduce breakdowns

On a regular basis the Racing Form is filled with articles, columns, and letters citing reasons for horse racing's decline in popularity: Bad marketing, high takeout, and betting scandals grab the majority of attention. These are all legitimate concerns, granted, but, unequivocally, the number-one reason the industry has trouble attracting and keeping the casual racing fan boils down to this: the treatment of the horses themselves.

Don't believe me? Next time a horse breaks down on the track and attendants shield the doomed animal with a screen, take a look around and watch the reaction of fellow racing fans. Not the hard-boiled mercenaries who have become calloused to this gut-wrenching sight, but rather the young couple sitting next to you, or the father and his two kids down at the rail. Their faces paint a picture words cannot describe.

Sure, most breakdowns are unforeseen and unavoidable. But as educated handicappers can attest, often the recipe for these incidents is laid out for all to see in the past performance charts. How many times have we looked at a horse who just ran a close second or third in a $40,000 claimer and is now being dropped into a $20,000 or $16,000 race? What's the first thing that pops into your head? Something is wrong with the horse.

I can't tell you how often I have seen this scenario result in disaster, so here's an idea. It's called the 40-percent solution. Any time a horse ran competitively in his last race and is being dropped by 40 percent or more, the trainer would be required to have the horse fully scoped and examined by the track vet. If he passes, then he runs. If he fails, he doesn't.

Yes, it would cost a few hundred dollars and might take the horse out of action until he is healthy again, but by virtue of the steep drop itself the trainer and owner are already admitting they are willing to eat a few bucks anyway.

A drastic reaction? More like a humane precaution. Unfortunately there will always be breakdowns, but with the 40-percent rule I'd be willing to bet they would drop significantly. And who knows, maybe that dad and his two kids down on the rail would get to witness a clean, pleasurable day of racing and decide to come back tomorrow. They might even bring mom.

Brad Isaacs
Valley Village, Calif.