04/08/2004 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor

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Derby prospect unfairly put in hard place

I would like to offer my sympathy to co-owner Mercedes Stable, co-owner and breeder Madeleine Paulson, and trainer Jason Orman on the unlikelihood of getting the Santa Anita Derby runner-up, Rock Hard Ten, (who was disqualified to third) into the 2004 Kentucky Derby field. You shouldn't have to go through this ("For a few dollars more: Derby spots," April 7).

I would like to offer a suggestion: Get a good lawyer and fight the mindless system of selecting Kentucky Derby starters based on graded stakes earnings. A lawsuit would not only generate media interest and a potential public clamoring to invite your wonderfully talented horse to Louisville, it may finally expose the current Derby selection process.

Shouldn't the best 3-year-olds be given first opportunity to run in the Kentucky Derby? Isn't that the intent? Rock Hard Ten is too good a horse to sit back and do nothing.

Jeff Mende
Howell, N.J.

Maryland slots push goes in wrong direction

In his March 31 column, "Squeeze play endangers Maryland," Andrew Beyer lamented the lack of legislative support for a slot-machine bill in Maryland and warned that, unless slots are approved, 20,000 jobs and 10 percent of the state's land mass may be at risk. He argued that allowing Maryland tracks to operate slot machines would generate revenue for the horsemen, thus saving both jobs and green spaces. Absent this bonanza, he wrote, the quality of racing in Maryland will sink, and, "as the quality sinks, people bet less on the races - and the track's revenue drops."

But consider:

1. You can count on your fingers the number of Thoroughbred legends bred in Maryland.

2. The quality of Maryland racing falls well below that in, say, Kentucky, California, or New York, and has been declining for years. With OTB now firmly established as the predominant artery for wagering, more horseplayers are opting for venues where horses run faster and form holds up better.

3. "Improvement of the breed," you should forgive the expression, is now a dead horse as Maryland owners and breeders lobby for a cornucopia that will conveniently pour profits from slots into their own accounts through the statebred program - a boondoggle that effectively shuts out better horses who would otherwise spoil the party.

Whether taking gains from slots and using them to subsidize local horsemen is sound fiscal policy, I leave to the voters and legislators of Maryland. Jobs may well be saved and the green spaces preserved, and the taxpayers may be only too happy to play their part. But, with the state restricting competition, more and more Maryland platers will get more and more Maryland platers that are only good for racing in . . . Maryland. You get more of what you subsidize.

As the Sunland Parks of this world offer bigger and bigger purses to horses who 100 years ago would have been pulling milk wagons, any remaining vestige of excellence in breeding vanishes.

So, please, let us be done with these straw-man "quality of racing" arguments in support of slots legislation. Racing needs to come to grips with its fundamental flaws - permissive medication policies, high takeouts, statebred boondoggles, split entries, and track security - in order to win back its natural constituency and restore its luster. I'm not holding my breath.

Meantime, if Maryland racing does go south, I still have my souvenir program from the 1973 Preakness . . . and I'll see you at Keeneland.

Kenneth M. Steele
Bensalem, Pa.

Don't take trainer to task for being honest

This is in reference to the April 4 letter, "Uninformed bettors get short end of stick," complaining about trainer Mike Puhich's statement about his satisfaction with That's an Outrage's fourth-place finish in the Lane's End Stakes. The problem is not with Puhich's statement, it is with the fact that an honest comment gets a negative reaction and that Puhich is somehow perceived as cheating the player.

Any professional knows, and any longtime fan should know, that any good trainer who has a horse he thinks is capable of winning a major race, especially a race like the Kentucky Derby, is simply not going to have him at 100 percent for a prep. On the other hand, a good trainer with a very good horse - albeit not good enough in the trainer's mind to win or even run in the upcoming major race - will have his horse cranked to the gills in an effort to beat the better horse, knowing that the better horse will only be running at about 75 to 85 percent of his best form.

This is just part of the evaluation process, and any experienced player should know how to apply it. The fact that so many longshots win so many "preps" is evidence that most players don't know and why smart players make money and the rest complain.

This is no different than any sports team that takes out key players and hides its best strategies in the last few games of a season after it has already clinched a playoff berth.

The fact that so many fans complain so much about these kind of issues is why so many trainers are reluctant to be honest about their intent.

Horses are not racecars that can be tuned to maximum efficiency for every event, or sports teams that have multiple backups for every position. They are animals that require special care and expert handling to help them put forth their best effort in the best races.

Peter Patrick Kane
Miami

Editor's note: Because of a production error, the ending of the following letter was omitted on April 11, as were the writer's name and location. It is reprinted here in its entirety.

Racing's leadership: Shortsighted, off the mark

I am 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, here's my 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.