12/26/2003 12:00AM

Letters to the Editor

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Let Eclipse ride on head-to-head confrontation

Andrew Beyer hit the proverbial nail right on the head in his Dec. 3 column, "Funny Cide won the right races," when he wrote, "Perhaps Empire Maker's half-length margin in the Wood Memorial was an accurate reflection of their relative ability." In horse racing, isn't "relative ability" what determines winners on and off the track?

In the Wood Memorial, Empire Maker did, in fact, toy with Funny Cide. It appeared to me that jockey Jose Santos was riding Funny Cide hard, but just couldn't keep up with a superior rival. Eclipse voters, ask yourselves this: Do you think that Santos was treating the $450,000 winner's share of the Wood purse as insignificant to his band of "little guy" owners? I'm sure that those owners would have been thrilled to split up that amount of money. Conversely, which do you think is more desirable to Empire Maker's owner, Juddmonte, and trainer, Bobby Frankel? A $450,000 Wood winner's check or a Kentucky Derby win? It's a no-brainer. The Wood represented the best and fairest racing conditions that these two Thoroughbreds encountered together, and the better horse won that day.

For me, though, the defining moment in the comparison of Funny Cide and Empire Maker for Eclipse consideration came in the Belmont Stakes when Empire Maker came to Funny Cide near the top of the stretch. Funny Cide had absolutely no response. This was hardly the way we wanted the Triple Crown to be decided - no drama, no pitched battle, simply what amounted to a "no mas" from Funny Cide. If Funny Cide could talk, he would have made his Eclipse concession speech at the three-eighths pole that rainy afternoon.

I believe that Funny Cide will be designated as a champion with an Eclipse Award in January. It will be a questionable victory, but I will be happy for his connections, for the New York-bred program, and for the fans who supported and cheered him. But whatever results the Eclipse voting yields, I will always know this: I felt that I was in the presence of equine greatness when I attended the 2003 Wood, Derby, and Belmont. I did not have that same feeling at the 2003 Preakness or Haskell.

Lawrence Smith
Jackson, N.J.

Don't make bettors pay for public workouts

The concept of distributing appearance fees to horses finishing out of the money in races - as advocated in the Dec. 14 letter, "Tracks working on some relief for California" - is an example of yet one more insult to the intelligence of racetrack bettors, while further jeopardizing the welfare of Thoroughbreds by forcing them to run more than they should.

Appearance fees will increase the size of fields while failing to increase the number of actual contenders in a race. Trainers will be entering unfit non-contenders for the sake of giving them paid workouts. The practice is unfair and exploitative of those bettors without information access. Casual bettors will be victimized by the choices of trainers or owners seeking to cover losses on horses not ready to compete.

It's not unreasonable to want to increase the flow of dollars into mutuel pools, but if you proceed in a manner that lacks an ethical basis, eventually the apparent gain in handle will revert to a loss caused by the customers who correctly infer that the system is rigged against them, and therefore, choose to abandon it.

Incidentally, last I checked, the handle at Calder, where appearance fees are made, isn't flying off the charts.

Rob Smoke
Boulder, Colo.

Claiming game needs new set of rules

It is high time that the National Thoroughbred Racing Association or some other racing organization combats the ongoing problem of medication, whether legal or illegal, in horse racing. Forget that it is killing the public perception of horse racing. More importantly, such use is crippling the quality of the gambling product and the long-term welfare of the horses themselves.

But I, unlike others, don't think the fault lies in the hands of the tracks, the trainers, the veterinarians, or any individual, for that matter. It is an inevitable result of an outdated system of unstructured claiming races, an unrealistic breeding business, and extraordinary gains in modern medicine that not only resolve equine injuries in the short term, but actually make horses run faster in the process.

Philosophies of "claim and drop" and "prepare them completely for every start" might make old-school horsemen's stomachs turn, but they are no-brainers for today's trainers, who have to consider the bottom line and the media's love affair of high winning percentages. The only trainers who are thriving in this country in the 21st century are those who are taking this short-term approach, but it is naive for racing jurisdictions to think they can keep up with backside technology or try to return racing to the "hay and oats" days.

The only way to fix this problem is to put a system in place that entices and rewards connections to keep horses at the highest level possible for the longest time and make those who don't seem foolish:

1. No maiden claiming races.

2. Fewer races but higher purses per race,

3. Different purse distribution, i.e. 40 percent to the winner, 30 percent to the second-place finisher, 20 percent for third, 10 percent for fourth.

4. Nationwide set purses for each claiming level, ideally 150 to 200 percent of the claiming price. The purse at the $4,000 level would be would be $6,000 to $8,000, and $50,000 would run for $75,000 to $100,000.

5. With the exception of graded stakes, races would have to have eight horses to be carded.

6. Bonus purses for each age level. Six-year-olds would earn an extra 10 percent, 7-year-olds 20 percent, 8-year-olds 30 percent, etc.

Something must be done, and soon.

Paul Matties Jr.
Ballston Spa, N.Y.

A fan's pockets are empty before he hits the windows

I have been involved in racing in a small way as a breeder and an owner for more than 25 years. I have watched the steady decline in track attendance over the past few years. I have read many opinions on what happened to the casual racing fans and ways to get them to return to the tracks to watch and wager on live racing.

I don't thing it takes a brain trust to figure it out. All you have to do is the math. If a guy wants to take his wife or girlfriend to the track in Southern California, first he pays for parking, buys a couple of general admission tickets, buys a couple of grandstand seats, buys a couple of programs. Perhaps they snack on an order of nachos and later they each have a hot roast beef sandwich, and during the day they each have a couple of beers. This guy has just spent $75 to $80, possibly a serious part of a whole day's pay, and he hasn't even made a bet yet, which is the real reason why he came in the first place.

Where have all the fans gone? They have gone to where they get a better value for their hard-earned dollar. The track management has priced the casual racing fan right out of existence.

Ted Rexius
Arcadia, Calif.

Industry's image has language barrier

I think horse-industry publications are making a mistake in using the language of their industry's opponents in the current debate over closing horse-rendering plants. "Slaughter" is a hot word. There is no way you can win this argument using the language of the opponents. We need to use the more accurate, more encompassing term, "render."

Slaughter just means killing, and that is not all that goes on in a processing plant. Rendering means finding uses for the carcass parts. We need to get everybody in the industry to start using the more acceptable term when dealing with our opponents whose true goal is to bring an end to our sport.

John McGourty
Levittown, Pa.