04/22/2004 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor


Ruling in favor of Valenzuela has fans hot

Regarding "Valenzuela wins stay" (April 18):

Patrick Valenzuela should not be able to ride again in races for his own good, as well as that of other riders. The stewards made the correct decision both technically and morally in canceling his license.

Valenzuela has obviously shown through the years that the stresses, both physical and mental, of being a jockey are clearly greater than he can handle. He has repeatedly had drug-abuse problems when riding, and now self-reportedly has suffered depression to the point that he was unable to show up and take a urine test. I think it would serve him well if he was not allowed to ride just to keep him from succumbing from those problems.

Valenzuela could still be allowed to make a living at the track by working on the backside. Being familiar with the backside, I know that a gallop boy of Valenzuela's obvious talents would be able to make an okay living (admittedly not nearly as much as a jockey, but enough to keep his income well above the median).

For the safety of the other riders, as well as the protection of the betting public, it is inexcusable that an already overly aggressive rider with a history of substance abuse problems should be allowed to continue riding.

Bill Wolesensky
Ashland, Neb.

Breaking contract calls for lifetime ban

I want to commend Jay Privman for his April 22 column, "Valenzuela ruling off mark," on Patrick Valenzuela being allowed to ride again. Valenzuela should be banned for life - again. For John Harris, the chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, to decide unilaterally that a court of law would have allowed Valenzuela to ride is crazy.

Valenzuela violated the terms of his reinstatement, period. As Privman wrote, if you presented a judge the contract requiring testing on demand and the fact that Valenzuela didn't show up for a test, the clear ruling would be that he violated the agreement and should have his license taken away.

Let Valenzuela get a job flipping burgers or delivering newspapers and stop making a mockery of the California racing board.

Greg Scherr
Monrovia, Calif.

Racing rules shouldn't override basic rights

Jay Privman's column objecting to allowing Patrick Valenzuela to continue to ride pending appeal was dead wrong.

The purpose of the agreement between Valenzuela and the stewards was to ensure the safety of the horses and riders on the track. The purpose was not to deny the man due process to show that his suspension was in error.

The stewards were right to suspend Valenzuela temporarily from riding so long as they could not determine if Valenzuela was under the influence of drugs and posed a safety threat to himself and others on the track. The stewards, however, have no right to punish a jockey permanently for their suspicion of his drug use.

John Charte
East Windsor, N.J.

Sport needs the energy of a special talent

Horse racing in California is in serious trouble. In these days of dwindling fields, purses, handle, and crowds, racing has no room to beat itself to death.

Patrick Valenzuela is one of the all-time great jockeys. He is loved by racing fans for his all-out effort to win on every mount he is on, whether it is in a low-level claiming race or graded stakes. He needs racing, and racing needs him.

Gregg Anderson
Palmdale, Calif.

Better to face reality than offer sympathy

First of all, I am a huge fan of Patrick Valenzuela, and second, I am a bleeding heart at heart. I sympathize with Valenzuela and wish him nothing but the best. Unfortunately, though, tough love is clearly what the doctor has ordered. Because of the nature of fans, handicappers, and bleeding hearts like me, however, Valenzuela has once again been enabled down the path of self-destruction.

Life is tough even when all is well, but it's tougher in denial.

John F. Lynch III

How many breaks should one man get?

I just read that Patrick Valenzuela is going to get to ride again. That's great - in all the time I was a jockey's agent, I never saw the guy get a break.

How could the stewards think of giving him the rest of the year off? All he did was not show up for a drug test that he was supposed take. Oh, I forgot: He sprained his ankle so he couldn't show up. Then 30 days later he calls in and says he got depressed but he's okay now. Now someone has said forget what the stewards want, let Valenzuela ride until we can have a hearing. I think we should make him the poster boy for racing in California after all the good he has done for the sport.

Bill Barisoff
Long Beach, Calif.

First-time Lasix for Derby a troubling decision

The decision to run Smarty Jones on Lasix for the first time in the Kentucky Derby is quite disturbing ("For Lion Heart and Smarty, Lasix question looms," April 18).

The horse has never lost and never bled. Am I missing something? The decision to run the colt with Lasix shows that Smarty Jones's trainer, John Servis, is obviously convinced that Lasix is a performance-enhancer. How can a horse be entitled to run on Lasix when he has never shown he needs it?

Drugs will ultimately destroy the great game of racing. When will someone come forward and do the right thing? Ban all medications now. If a horse is a bleeder, he shouldn't be running. If he is not a bleeder, he shouldn't be on medication for bleeding. May the best horse win. End of story.

Anthony Napolitano
Staten Island, N.Y

Churchill selection process doesn't need fixing

In Mike Watchmaker's April 21 column, "Good horses excluded by bad rule," he attacked the method for determining Kentucky Derby starters. Watchmaker wrote that limiting the entrants to the top 20 graded-stakes money-winners might exclude horses who are "obviously among the best of their generation" (an educated guess at best). If the Derby is oversubscribed, he would favor (albeit grudgingly) having the first 10 or 12 entered based on graded stakes placings, and the rest chosen by committee a la the Breeders' Cup.

Two issues arise when considering changing the current method of selection. One is that trainers often enter horses without intent to win, and the other is the perception of collusion.

First, if graded stakes earnings or placings are not considered, it allows trainers of Derby contenders to run horses in prep races without any intention of winning. It also means they can enter lesser allowance races to pile up impressive records. Either way, it opens the door to questionable practices. Wasn't it nice for the racing public to know that the Coolmore Lexington Stakes was being contended with a ticket to the Derby on the line? If this had not been the case, perhaps that race would have simply been a nice workout for a few horses who had an inside track to the Derby by some other means . . . which leads to another issue.

If the selection of any horse to the Derby is made without publicly available objective evidence, it will only serve to taint the process. In fact, the appointing of the members to a selection committee itself could cause cries of conflict of interest. Who would appoint the members: The Jockey Club, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Churchill Downs, Magna, Visa, Frank Stronach?

It appears to me that the current selection process has been well thought-out and serves the racing public well. Let's not tinker with it for the sake of a couple of horses who may have been late getting to the races because of an injury, a needed equipment or medication change, or any number of other reasons. After all, there is life after the Kentucky Derby.

Frank DeRiso
Hicksville, N.Y

Hall ranks could use a touch of gray

All aboard the big gray locomotive.

That's what I say after reading of this year's nominations to racing's Hall of Fame ("Flawlessly gets fifth shot to make Hall of Fame," April 7).

I'm not talking about a freight train, I'm talking about a horse who was known along the backside as the Gray Locomotive. Most people know him better as Skip Away, or Skippy to his fans. He's retired now but he still has a large following. (The website for Hopewell Farm, Skip Away's residence, advises, "We appreciate the loyalty of Skip Away fans, but hope they will understand if we are unable to respond to fan mail.")

Skip Away renewed my love of the sport and strengthened a bond with my late father. I even went so far as to predict that he would be the best 3-year-old in training. After his loss in the Kentucky Derby I still kept to my prediction and I told my friends, "Mark my words, you wait and see - he is the best."

Skippy didn't let me down, and as his winnings accumulated I asked my friends, "Who's laughing now?" That year ended with a bang when he defeated Cigar. As Skip Away munched down his feed back in his stall, he coughed, and his trainer, Sonny Hine, said, "Hmm, must be Cigar smoke." Even Cigar got a taste of Skip Away's talent that year.

The name Skip Away is used by writers when comparing current horses to past racing greats. In appraising the racehorses of 2003 in "Horse of the Year by Beyers" (Dec 12.), Joe Cardello's opening was "In 1998 it was the obvious horse, Skip Away. . . . "

Let's talk figures. Skip Away banked $9,616,360, which puts him second behind Cigar. He won 18 of 38 races while being in the money all but four races. He carried significant additional weight in many of his handicap races, and carried 130 pounds or more to victory on two occasions: the 1998 Massachusetts Handicap (130) and 1998 Iselin (131). He holds the record time for both the Blue Grass Stakes and the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Many of Skip Away's achievements have been matched by only a select few of racing's legends. Only a handful have won the Jockey Gold Cup twice, like Kelso (five times), Slew O' Gold and, yes, Skip Away. So why not put him alongside these two great horses in the Hall of Fame? Perhaps years from now some future Hall of Fame discussion will begin with the comment "In 2004 it was the obvious horse, Skip Away"

Carla Shoppe
Somerset N.J.