04/29/2004 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor


Let's let jockeys do their jobs on human scale

The HBO documentary "Jockey," about the self-imposed punishment that far too many jockeys must put themselves through to meet mandatory riding weight requirements, may have come as a shock to casual observers of Thoroughbred racing. The subject is certainly no secret, though, to anyone who has ever spent time around the backside of a racetrack.

Jockeys are ruining their health (some to the point of endangering their lives, as in the sad case of former rider Randy Romero) from bulimic practices and daily rituals of excessive hours in steam baths in a never-ending battle to adhere to an unrealistic scale of weights. They plead fervently that the minimum limit be raised by a few pounds, a request that seems perfectly reasonable given the fact that athletes in all sports have increased their average size with every passing generation.

Yet some trainers become positively paranoid if one of their horses is asked to carry an extra pound or two over the originally assigned weight because the jockey couldn't regurgitate enough of his last meal or sweat off enough pounds in the hotbox. But upon further review, the arguments of these trainers have little validity after comparing weights carried by horses at U.S. tracks with those in other countries.

A classic case in point is Hong Kong. Here are the weights carried by the highweights in each of the 10 races of last Sunday's program at Sha Tin Race Course: 130 pounds, 130, 128, 132, 133, 133, 126, 126, 133, 130. Of the day's 133 total starters, about one-sixth packed 129 pounds or greater. And that day was no exception. Hong Kong horses routinely carry such weight.

Having closely followed Hong Kong racing for the past 12 years, I can attest that those horses are remarkably robust and compete, on average, at least as often as their North American counterparts, if indeed not more. And they do it without any medication.

The complaints of U.S. trainers about an extra pound or two seriously affecting the welfare of their horses lack merit. The time is long past due for bringing U.S. racing into the 21st century with a more reasonable scale of weights. Jockeys in America aren't asking to raise the upper weight limits; all they want is to have the minimum raised by two or three pounds. Is that really too much to ask?

It is the very least racing can do for the men and women who daily put their lives on the line.

Jay Richards
Las Vegas

Split the proceeds from racing billboards

The recent ruling allowing jockeys to wear advertising (May 1) should be applauded by all owners and trainers in the business. This will allow all of us to benefit from the lawsuit the riders won.

I for one will be happy to share in the money this could bring in for any horse I own, since it is my product and the jockey works for me. I will either be compensated for my work and expense or I will find another rider willing to wear no advertisements or reach an agreement on how the money will be shared. (Don't forget the groom's 1 percent.)

Walter Bindner
Goshen, Ky.

Rockingham redux has New Englander riled

The last time that I visited Rockingham Park was to view the final running of the legendary New Hampshire Sweepstakes, won by Del Mar Show. I was shocked and appalled that Rockingham management didn't even commission embroidered saddle cloths for the running of a race previously won by Dr. Fager.

Del Mar Show was photographed in the winner's circle wearing a cheap Rockingham claimer's saddle cloth. This fact demonstrates the attitude of Rockingham - skimp, save, be cheap, and insult the Thoroughbred racing enthusiasts of New England.

So when I read that Rockingham is considering running a turf meet "Rockingham eyes dual meets," April 22), I just laughed at its usual display of greed and avarice. Its callous disregard of the Thoroughbred horsemen of New England in cheapening the product threw the entire New England racing circuit into jeopardy. Rockingham put Suffolk Downs on the brink of extinction.

So what does Suffolk do? It canceled last year's Massachusetts Handicap to run a longer meet to keep the industry alive. This year Suffolk is bringing back the Mass 'Cap to demonstrate its commitment to producing a race of national stature. Now that Rockingham management figured that it could find a way to make use of their inner turf track with some legislative help, are we all supposed to stand up and applaud? Give me a break.

Thanks for nothing, Rockingham.

Mark S. Miller
Revere, Mass.

Mystery first-timers will scare away human ones

Consider this a gripe from racing's money stream, the bettor.

On the second day of the Churchill Downs meet, in the very first race for 2-year-olds, Passageway was entered with just one work showing: three-eighths in 35.80 seconds at Churchill, the best of 15 at the distance that day, and not from the gate. A first-time starter, he won by 1 1/4 lengths.

It's time to put a stop to this nonsense. Fine the entry clerk who took the entry $500. Fine the racing secretary $1,000. Fine the trainer $1,500 (in this case D. Wayne Lukas).

Place the horse on the starter's list for 30 days, so that the owner gets into making sure his trainer doesn't do it again.

We all talk about the integrity in this game. How about starting here. The days of the trainer standing in the winner's circle after the race saying, "Aw shucks, I didn't think he could run that fast" are over. Racing must go to where where the stink is and get it cleaned up, or there will not be new horse bettors.

On Thursday, Lukas was at it again. Consolidator was entered in the third race at Churchill without a gate work showing.

Is there something that I'm missing, or isn't every first-time starter required to have a published gate work and a starter's okay before being entered?

As long as this is allowed to happen, horse racing will never attract young new players.

Joe Messina
Tulsa, Okla.

Riders take telling stance in Valenzuela case

Have you ever noticed how often certain working entities (police chiefs, baseball umpires, etc.) will go out of their way to protect one of their own in a sticky situation? I'm going to assume, therefore, that when 18 jockeys go to the extent to file a formal protest against allowing Patrick Valenzuela to ride during his appeal of his license revocation, that they are as fed up with his act as is the general betting population ("Jockeys protest Valenzuela decision," April 24).

It is true we are living in a world that affords people second chances when mistakes are made in life, but not double-digit chances.

Rick Higgins
Columbus, Ohio

Colors some rivals wear seem mostly green

How interesting that it is the individuals who must compete against Patrick Valenzuela are the ones protesting his reinstatement. Who could blame them, as he has just exhibited what he is capable of, capturing all five major Southern California riding titles?

Valenzuela should be out on that racetrack. Perhaps more so than anybody else, as he has a God-given talent that supersedes that of many, if not all, his rival riders. Perhaps that, in truth, is the underlying factor for the protest of his fellow jockeys.

Tiffini Brinson Whittingham
Norco, Calif.