12/12/2003 12:00AM

Letters to the Editor

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Tracks working on some relief for California

In response to the letter from Gary and Mary West, "Owners find Southern Cal. not so sunny," in the Dec. 7 Daily Racing Form, please note that the tracks in California have volunteered legislation, supported by the Thoroughbred Owners of California, the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, and California Thoroughbred Trainers to pass legislation that would increase the takeout on exotic wagers by one-half of 1 percent. Even with the increase, only Kentucky's takeout on exotics will be lower than California's. The legislation passed the Senate in August, and we expect it to pass on an emergency basis when the legislature reconvenes in January.

The revenue generated from the increased takeout, roughly $10 million, would ordinarily be paid in equal measures to purses and tracks. The tracks, however, are allocating 100 percent of their shares, about $5 million annually, to reduce the cost of insurance and other expenses incurred by horse owners, as follows:

1. The bulk of the $10 million will be used to pay down the cost of workers' compensation insurance from the current level of $35 to $20 per $100 of payroll.

2. A participation bonus of $400 will be paid to each horse that finishes worse than fourth in any race. The bonus in northern California will be $300, $250 on the fairs.

In addition to forfeiting the $5 million described above, this past year the tracks in California have issued letters of credit in the amount of $4.8 million to guarantee the current alternate insurance program now available through AIG insurance, which has resulted in workers' comp rates at 30 percent below those currently offered by the State Fund.

Finally, both Churchill Downs and Magna Entertainment have agreed to fund the campaign for a constitutional amendment that could bring 12,000 slot machines to racetracks in California. Should the tracks get slots, horsemen will receive 18.5 percent of the gross, i.e., net win, which should double and could triple purses currently paid in the state. That compares very favorably to the 7-10 percent allocated for purses in New York.

Those are some of the things we're doing to put more horses on the racetrack.

Rick Baedeker
President, Hollywood Park

Hirsch a reminder of racing's glory days

Dear Joe Hirsch, like a much-loved veteran racehorse, is off to pastures green ("Best game in the world," Dec. 5). And North American racing will be much the poorer, for Hirsch not only loved the great game, he knew it too - something so rare these days.

While at school in England, I first read Joe Hirsch's accounts of the exploits of Sir Ivor and Lester Piggott at the Washington D.C. International back in the 1960's, when international competition was in its infancy, and marveled at his ability to sum up the occasion so concisely. Later, in 1975, I was most privileged to be introduced to the doyen of American turf writers at Aqueduct by the late Reggie Halpern, a onetime bookmaker and all-round racetrack character, who had watched more great races than most people have had hot dinners.

These men were lucky enough to have enjoyed the heyday of American racing, when The New York Times devoted entire pages to the venerable sport. But times have changed, and the sad fact is that if you can't find a Racing Form you haven't a clue what's going on. So is it really all that surprising that so few people care any more?

Joe is right on. Racing is a great game. And the epic duel between Carson Hollow and You at Saratoga that he recounted in his farewell column was no different than those between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, Affirmed and Alydar, and countless other great racehorses over the years. By the same token, Pat Day and Richard Mandella are every bit as good as Eddie Arcaro and Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, and Saratoga and Del Mar are as beautiful as ever.

The only difference today is that the sport is run by people who do not understand it, or what makes it so magical. The fact that so many racetrack owners don't appear capable of running their facilities successfully without slot machines is a very sad but clear confirmation of their cluelessness and the apparent hopelessness of the situation overall.

I suspect Joe Hirsch knows this. But he would never say so, because he'd prefer to remember the good old days, and who can blame him?

Robin Dawson
Toronto

Two classic victories the stuff of a champion

I am in complete agreement with Andrew Beyer's Dec. 3 column, "Funny Cide won the right races," regarding the Empire Maker-Funny Cide debate over championship honors. Empire Maker didn't conclusively prove on the racetrack that he deserved to be champion. Better breeding and talent doesn't automatically entitle him to be awarded the big prize.

Funny Cide won the races for 3-year-olds that mattered, two-thirds of the Triple Crown. If winning those races isn't that important, why even have a Triple Crown? Funny Cide, who excited the populace, was the top 3-year-old colt by all measures.

Jon Woolsey
Burke, Va.

Underdog merits his rightful recognition

I totally agree with Andrew Beyer's thinking regarding Funny Cide vs. Empire Maker. The Kentucky Derby is the most prestigious race in America, and Funny Cide won it convincingly. The Preakness was a blowout after Bobby Frankel chose not to run Empire Maker.

Seeing as how Funny Cide was not supposed to win classics and was considered the underdog - and how Empire Maker was supposed to win the Derby and didn't - there is your 3-year-old male of the year: Funny Cide.

Loretta Tarnowski
Brick, N.J.

Scrooge crashes Maryland party

So, I read in The Washington Post that the Maryland Jockey Club and/or Magna Entertainment has been forced to cancel the Dec. 16 Christmas party for jockey club employees. It's hard to believe that a corporation that has spent hundreds of millions of dollars buying racetracks nationwide doesn't have the financial resources to spread some holiday cheer with its unsung staff. I'm sure that the next announcement that we'll be hearing will be the elimination of holiday bonuses for all high-level Magna executives.

Obviously, the recent success of Magna International's stock has not translated to better fortunes for subsidiary holdings at Magna Entertainment. Could the party cancellation be part of a Magna sympathy ploy to help the implementation of slots at the state's racetracks? Can times really be this tough? Could the MJC Christmas party really be this lavish?

Perhaps at next year's Preakness, collection buckets with bell-ringers could be placed at the track, with the proceeds going to the Christmas party fund. Maybe all cans, bottles, and Racing Forms from the 80,000-plus patrons could be recycled as well. Is there a MJC Christmas party fund that all concerned racing patrons can contribute to?

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus (but his first name isn't Joe or Frank).

Robert H. Levy
Westlake Village, Calif.

Owners get a taste of everyday reality

I read with disbelief the Dec. 7 letter by Gary and Mary West, "Owners find Southern Cal. not so sunny." You can certainly understand my shock in reading that the Wests were not told "Hello" or "Thank you" for stabling horses on the grounds at a Southern California racetrack.

Imagine the horror they experienced as track management ignored them as if they were, I don't know . . . a handicapper?

Robert A. Whitehead
Phoenix