05/20/2004 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor

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Valenzuela tale of a struggle all too familiar

I realize that the Racing Form's letters page is not a medical forum, but I have been undergoing treatment for severe psychiatric disorders for many years now. After reading Jay Hovdey's exceptional May 21 column, "Does this ruling add up?" on the issues involved in the Patrick Valenzuela licensing case, I couldn't shake the idea that perhaps some Form readers might be interested in a couple of clarifications I feel qualified to make. I add the preface that I am a patient who has done a fair amount of reading, not a doctor or any other kind of health care professional.

In the overwhelming opinion of modern doctors, severe depression, whether short-term or long-term, is a biochemical disorder within the brain. For this reason, depression is often much easier to diagnose than to treat - you can't just reach in and pull some gray matter out to examine.

The researchers who send their data to pharmaceutical companies help create drugs that target different internal chemicals. The result is a whole bunch of drugs, and a whole bunch of doctors who can only guess at which drug will do the most good for their patients. And, as in my case, finding the right "cocktail" can take years of trial and error. Don't be too quick to blame any of Valenzuela's doctors.

Next, I invite rereading of Hovdey's paragraph on the nature of Topamax. If those of you who read it aren't quite sure what to make of that list of "possible" side effects - fatigue, confusion, kidney stones, weight loss - I promise you that they are just the tip of Smarty Jones's nose. I personally have taken drugs that caused weight gain, insomnia, deeper depression to the point of suicide attempts, and vitamin deficiencies. I'm on one right now that will kill me if I try to drink a beer.

Finally, I realize that the hardest part of believing Valenzuela's account of the events in January is believing that depression could ever be so debilitating that it could, by itself, prevent someone from making one simple phone call for days and weeks on end. I'll keep it simple: Yes, it can.

I have done the same thing, tried to just hide, and I have met others in the same boat. I'm not saying that that's what happened in Patrick Valenzuela's case, I'm just saying that I'm not going to be one tiny bit surprised if some evidence does appear that corroborates his story. And I don't want anyone else to be, either.

Alan Hawthorne
Port Arthur, Texas

California board member itemizes some points

In his May 21 column, "Does this ruling add up?" Jay Hovdey opined on the recent decision of the California Horse Racing Board regarding Patrick Valenzuela. Mr. Hovdey "forgot" to mention several key factors. Perhaps the following might assist him with his recall, so that he could form an opinion based upon an accurate platform:

1. The hearing was a "de novo" hearing granting the commissioners unlimited latitude with respect to penalty imposition. It was not a review of the stewards' ruling.

2. The only issue at hand was whether Patrick Valenzuela was in breach of his contract with the CHRB.

3. The penalty provided for 100 hours of community service.

4. The existing contract did not have a proviso for failure to test. The ruling by the CHRB states unequivocally that failure to test, for any reason, shall be deemed a positive test.

5. The CHRB did not call the witnesses. The witnesses were selected by the attorney for each side.

Had Mr. Hovdey been aware of all of the facts, he might have had a different view.

Roger H. Licht, Vice Chair
California Horse Racing Board

Belmont contest will be strictly to fill out exotics

In the next couple of weeks handicappers everywhere will seek to convince themselves that Smarty Jones will lose in his bid to become the 12th Triple Crown winner. Why? Unlike the non-betting public who are happy to embrace a new horse hero, handicappers like a price, and friends don't let friends bet chalk. Further, there are many fine horses who won the first two legs (recently, think Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Funny Cide) and were not able to finish out the string.

Unlike last year, however, there is no Empire Maker waiting in the wings, and Smarty Jones looks a lot more like a champ than Funny Cide. If you look over the past performances of the horses who may contest the Belmont, you will notice only one has run a Beyer Speed Figure as high as any of the figures Smarty Jones has run in his last four races: The Cliff's Edge. While undoubtedly a nice horse, The Cliff's Edge is a deep closer, recovering from a bad foot, and his Beyer Speed Figure of 111 in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland looks more like an aberration than anything to expect on a regular basis. Also, with the defection of Lion Heart, there is now no quality speed left for the Belmont. Does anyone believe Sinister G can keep Smarty Jones honest?

Unless Smarty meets with a mishap, we are eyeballing history in the making. And the price we are all seeking will be found in the trifecta and the superfecta.

Rock Hard Ten, while a very nice animal, is no mortal lock for second.

Eddington has been training well at Belmont, as have Friends Lake and Sinister G. Birdstone has a victory on the Belmont track, and Tapit had an eye-catching, if low-figured, hand-ride win in the Wood. The point is that the second through fourth spots are entirely up for grabs and good money can still be made. Let's all put this jones to good use and be able to smile (and cash tickets) when the new champ gets his crown.

Eric Singer
San Francisco

With two classics in tow, he looks like one of the elite

Observing (via large-screen TV at The Meadowlands) the Preakness starters in the Pimlico saddling area, I noticed that Smarty Jones didn't exhibit the same hauteur that day as he had before the Kentucky Derby. He concentrated on the job ahead, keeping to himself. During all the hullabaloo the gate crew encountered loading Rock Hard Ten, Smarty remained calm and unfazed in the gate. When the bell sounded, he bounded out like a rocket, but was content to have Lion Heart take the lead. Lion Heart floated him wide, and then Smarty's rider, Stewart Elliott, took him inside of Lion Heart up the rail, demolishing the rest of the field by 11 1/2 lengths. Neither rain, nor heat, nor wind, nor sand has stopped this iron man. Like the U.S. Postal Service, he delivers.

If he wins the Triple Crown, he will be compared to Seattle Slew. If he falls short, he will be remembered like Spectacular Bid. Either way, two great champions. Many thanks to team Philly for developing an athlete who flourished while seeking competition, not avoiding it.

Barbara Cripps
New York City

Doubts over Smarty Jones recall blasts from past

After reading Andrew Beyer's May 5 column "A superstar or another Funny Cide?" in which he expressed skepticism concerning the ability of Smarty Jones and the validity of any comparison to Seattle Slew, I could not help be reminded of Beyer's doubts regarding Seattle Slew before his Preakness victory.

Of the numerous similarities between the two horses, the most uncanny was Beyer's regard for them. His nay-saying of both horses before the Preakness seemed to provide good fortune, as, needless to say, both went on to win the Preakness despite, or perhaps to spite, Beyer's proclamations.

Michael Ahrens
San Francisco