04/02/2004 12:00AM

Letters to the Editor

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Nickerson left fond memories coast to coast

The passing of Victor J. Nickerson, better known as Lefty, is the end of an era. There is sadness among the rank of people who knew and loved him. Lefty's style, his sense of humor, and his dry wit will remain in our hearts and memory.

I first met Lefty on a cold winter day at Aqueduct - the kind of weather that Lefty called "refreshing." Pirate's Bounty was running in an allowance race way back in 1979. He won and I was hooked. Racing became a major part of my life, a sport I learned to love and share with my husband, Marty. Lefty and Marty had been a team since the mid-1960's.

When Lefty decided to move to California, he left behind his New York racing crowd. But he never forgot them. Speaking with Lefty was like taking a crash course in the world of Thoroughbred racing. He had his favorites, no doubt, but be assured he put his own slant, his own lingo, on how the horse trained, ran, or lost! Spending a morning or afternoon, or both, at the track with Lefty was an investment in racing history.

Before Lefty suffered his stroke, he moved to the Santa Ynez Valley to run our racing barn at River Edge Farm. A different lifestyle, no doubt. But he was with his beloved animals, horses. After a brief return to the track stables, Lefty had his stroke. That was almost nine years ago. He ultimately decided to return to his adopted home of New York and live with his daughter, Barbara, and her family. But we never lost touch. There were weekly phone calls, trips back East to visit, trips to Saratoga. He was family. I will miss answering the phone on Sunday morning and hearing a voice say, "Victor J. Nickerson here. How are the horses doing?"

Rest well, dear friend. We will miss you.

Pam Wygod
Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.

Rider gives credit for career boost

Victor "Lefty" Nickerson was a good friend of mine. He was a great trainer who conditioned many top horses, such as John Henry, Big Spruce, Go Forth, etc. I rode for Mr. Nickerson on the East Coast from 1980 until he fell ill. He was always an honest, funny, classy, good-hearted gentleman of old-school values.

Lefty made my career by putting me on many live horses during the 1980's. God bless you, Lefty. You will be sorely missed.

Nick Santagata
Garden City, N.Y.

Uninformed bettors get short end of stick

In the Racing Form's March 27 Santa Anita Notes, trainer Mike Puhich was quoted that he was "pretty pumped" about That's an Outrage's fourth-place finish in the Lane's End Stakes, and that he told jockey Robby Albarado before saddling that his horse would be "a little bit short."

I'm thrilled that Mr. Puhich is happy with fourth . . . but do you think perhaps the thousands of people who bet his horse to win or place or in the exotics are just as thrilled? Maybe he should have told the public his horse was going to be a little short.

I'm not naive. I've been playing a long time, and I can spot many misplaced horses out for exercise, but did this trainer cross that never-talked-about line?

Ron Sataloff
La Jolla, Calif.

An owner vouches for barred rider's value

This is in reference to a March 21 letter to the Racing Form, "With money on the line, trust Valenzuela." I agree 100 percent with the writer, but I would like to comment from a horse owner's point of view pertaining to Patrick Valenzuela.

Valenzuela, since Laffit Pincay Jr.'s retirement, has always been my first choice to ride any of my horses. He always gave his best and always tried, and made the horse more competitive than he might have been. You always knew that Pat was trying and that you had a better chance of winning because of his special talents and special efforts.

As a horse owner, I am disheartened because of the circumstances that have befallen Patrick Valenzuela. He has raised the level of all of the jockeys that he competes with, because of his special aggressiveness and desire to win. I speak from experience when I say that he has taken some of my horses and won with them because of his quality of racing. He has never shown any abusiveness, and he seems to have a wonderful relationship with the horses themselves.

Owners have a better chance of surviving in this costly game knowing that we have a chance to win a purse because Pat is on our horse.

I strongly urge the racing authorities in California to reinstate Valenzuela and give him back his license to ride. The racing industry will be better off for it, as well as all racehorse owners.

Leonard Fishelberg
Los Angeles

Valenzuela provides much-needed life to game

As a longtime horse racing fan, have learned a lot over the years. I know that the stewards and California Horse Racing Board don't like jockey Patrick Valenzuela. Even though he might not be a guy you want to take to dinner, you can't deny that he is the best rider in California today. Yeah, Russell Baze wins a lot of races up north, but he's no P-Val.

The excitement Valenzuela brought back to horse racing in California is incredible. The races ain't the same without him. I imagine a lot of the jockeys at Santa Anita are glad he's gone, but that's only because they can't outride him.

I plead with the state's racing board to let Valenzuela come back and bring with him some excitement back to California.

Leslie Powell
Las Vegas

Racing's leadership: Shortsighted, off the mark

I'm continually amazed by the goings-on in the racing industry: the obsession with slot-machine dollars, petty Internet wars, assorted turf battles. Does the prevalence of these topics signify anything other than a spiraling descent for horse racing? It's absurd: There is absolutely no leadership, no new ideas, no positive vibes.

I play Santa Anita because that's the only place where the broadcasters seem to be even marginally upbeat. And, if you're a simulcast customer and you e-mail a racetrack to ask for a better post-parade video, you might as well be talking to a wall.

By the way, thanks to the New York Racing Association, I'll keep betting California, as long as they're the ones who don't mind sending a video signal of the prerace warm-up

I can almost hear racing's powers that be as they confer:

Sure, let's squeeze the last dollar out of our diminishing fan base, since we know nothing about building a new one. Let's bicker and argue over every tiny bit of Internet money. Let's not get too hasty about things like "customer rewards."

Let's demand that trainers give us full fields, regardless of whether or not their horses are ready for another race.

Let's not have a strong legislative platform, because no one really agrees whether takeout should be going north, south, or sideways.

And, oh yeah, let's get slots up and running, because that's the only thing that's going to save us from ourselves.

Ultimately, I would be absolutely floored to see just one of racing's major players come up with a plan to create a model for a new type of offtrack betting parlor. One where you wouldn't be dealing with tellers, but would just play at your own table, with friends presumably, on an Internet connection, with a spruced-up set of amenities. How hard is that to envision?

Oh, excuse me, racing's bigwigs are busy - they have to clamp down on the guy who stole fifty cents from them on the Internet. Never mind.

Rob Smoke
Boulder, Colo.