02/20/2004 12:00AM

Letters to the Editor

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A fan roots for new comeback for Valenzuela

I have been a huge fan of Patrick Valenzuela since the 1980's, and I was certainly interested to read the extensive coverage in the article "Talented but troubled, Valenzuela may be out of miracle comebacks" (Feb. 8). I really need to take issue, however, with a few points.

The article stated that "Valenzuela is a pariah in the jockeys' room" and fellow jockeys "feel he crosses the line between intimidation and danger." I have seen virtually every race Valenzuela has ridden since his comeback in December 2001, and I challenge any jockey, journalist, or fan to find one example in which Patrick ever endangered another jockey - you won't. He rides aggressively, he holds his position, and he rides every $10,000 claimer like a Grade 1 animal - period. There's nothing dangerous or reckless about him.

Furthermore, I would have loved for the article to mention by name the "Hall of Fame trainer" who refused to ride Valenzuela for his "taking advantage of the sport," whatever that means. I'm sure that genius would lose half his owners if they knew he could have gotten the top rider in every race meeting for the past year in Southern California and passed him up. I will bet that Hall of Fame trainer has got millions in the bank and doesn't stress over photo finishes in the last leg of a pick six or whether his horse came in fourth place to make a superfecta.

Valenzuela man be many things, but since the retirement of Laffit Pincay Jr., he is mainly one thing: the gambler's best friend, and some people seem to forget that is the only reason this sport exists.

Get well, Patrick. Do whatever it takes to heal your spirit and psyche and come back soon, because we miss you. Very few athletes in any sport will ever have the competitive fire and soul that you displayed on a daily basis for all of us lucky to watch and wager on you.

Marc Bonagura
Green Brook, N.J.

Late-season foal was pushed too hard

Recently we witnessed another classic example of racing horses who are not mature enough physically to sustain the pressures of a shot at the Kentucky Derby.

Second of June, a 3-year-old (in reality a 2 1/2-year-old, as borne witness by his name) making his seventh start in six months, ran an unbelievably game second in the Fountain of Youth last Saturday at Gulfstream Park, and he returned with a fractured cannon bone. This is not an uncommon injury in young, immature horses.

When will people learn about pressing young horses too hard too soon?

Gary Peasley
Pacific Grove, Calif.

Preakness a vital part of Maryland's culture

I moved to the Baltimore area within the past month because of my desire to be a part of the city. This is an energetic city with more going right then wrong, the beautiful Chesapeake Bay, great transportation, fantastic professional sports teams, proximity to so many other cities and ocean resorts - the list is endless.

Another draw was my love of horse racing. To me, Pimlico is one of those venues that is special in the sporting world. So it came as a great surprise that I read in Stan Bergstein's Jan. 1 column, "States control racing's fate," that the speaker of Maryland's House of Delegates, Michael Busch, had made the proclamation that he believes no one would really care if Preakness were not run in Maryland.

This man has thrown Gov. Ehrlich's legislation to allow slot machines at racetracks into a quagmire, but exactly how shortsighted is he? More than 100,000 people showed up in the cold and rain last year for the Preakness. Many were from Maryland and care that the event is held here. Many came from out of state to spend money, which local businesses care about. I don't have the figures at my fingertips, but the financial impact of this event must be enormous. I doubt any Indiana or Florida politician would say who cares if they run the Indy 500 or Daytona 500 here, or that a Louisiana politician would go on record as saying New Orleans doesn't need to hold Mardi Gras.

The Preakness has an advantage that neither of the other two Triple Crown races possesses. Unlike in the Kentucky Derby, it is known which horse has a shot at the elusive crown. Unlike in most Belmonts, the hype and festivities that precede the race still hold the promise of a Triple Crown winner. In those regards, the Preakness has more going for it than the Derby and Belmont. People care, Mr. Busch, and more local people will care when they realize the unique position this race holds in the sporting world.

As the new guy in town, I just want to ask the people of Baltimore and Maryland: Who is this Michael Busch? Is he capable of changing his mind? If he isn't, how soon can voters get rid of him?

Paul Pasqualini
Nottingham, Md.

Handicap weights match greats from different eras

Steven Crist's Feb. 8 column, "Grade 1 handicaps belong in past," reminded me that every few years the argument that Grade 1 handicaps should be eliminated is raised, but then a series of races comes along that foils the handicap critics.

The last time I remember the anti-Grade 1 arguments gaining traction was in 2001. And then Point Given's Haskell and Travers races came along to pretty much silence that argument for a while. If you remember the races, the Haskell was a classic, the Travers a yawner.

In the Haskell, Point Given, carrying 124 pounds, had to dig deep inside himself to run down the longshot Touch Tone (115 pounds) in the stretch. The longshot players were yelling their hopes, and Point Given's backers were yelling prayers, and everybody who was present at Monmouth on that glorious day of pandemonium knew they had seen something special. Two weeks later Point Given dismissed his peers at equal weights in the Travers, and the hushed crowd began walking to Siro's.

I guess where one comes down on this argument depends upon what one wants from racing. If you want to see horses prove their courage and test themselves against the great horses of the past by conceding weight to their contemporaries, you want to see Grade 1 handicaps remain. If you're looking for something to single in a pick three with all-all, I guess even weights in Grade 1's makes sense.

Edmond Saskel
Jersey City, N.J.

Stewards' room kept in shroud of secrecy

I wonder whether you'd agree that there is something 19th-century about the custom of the stewards' role in the matter of inquiries and objections. As you know, when there is an inquiry or objection, the audience sits like cows in a pen dumbly awaiting the result, and, more important, unaware of any information about the inquiry or objection.

It seems strange that the public never learns anything about the details and nature of the decision. All we get is the decision. Don't you think the reason is that Daily Racing Form and other such publications do not press the industry to change its paternalistic ways?

I believe that it would make racing more interesting if the stewards, through the track announcer, shared the details of the inquiry/ objection: which judges voted to uphold it and which voted to dismiss it, and maybe even some analysis of the film or the excuse of the jockey involved? All of this is immensely interesting to the audience, and some sunshine on these goings-on would be good for the entire industry.

Herman Gordon
Las Vegas