05/27/2004 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor

Email

Far too many jumping gun in classic race

A race is on before the "real" race is even run. The race, that is, among members of the Thoroughbred racing community to declare that Smarty Jones is one of sport's all-time greats. Comparisons to Secretariat are flowing as if Smarty Jones had already won the Belmont Stakes in overpowering fashion. Similarities to Spectacular Bid are pronounced before Smarty Jones ever lines up in a starting gate against older horses.

It seems as if everyone - journalists, trainers, and jockeys alike - wants be be quoted on the record about his adoration of Smarty Jones. Nobody wants to been seen as a nay-sayer in the face of the second coming of Affirmed. Serious people are saying some seriously silly things.

At this point in time Smarty Jones is a very good 3-year-old at sprint and middle distances. His quickness and rateability have and will put him in the ideal tactical position for American dirt racing. If he remains sound he will most certainly win more races of significance. His ability to stay the 12 furlongs of the Belmont, however, and his true "greatness" are totally open issues that only time and racing will resolve.

So far, in this year's classics, everything has broken Smarty Jones's way. In the Derby he handled a surreal racing surface - most of the others didn't - stalked and then ran down a non-staying miler (Lion Heart) without a single challenge from any horse behind him. In the Preakness he again stalked and put away the same non-stayer, and again he was not once engaged from behind.

This run of dream scenarios will inevitably end, and Smarty Jones will be tried in earnest by a legitimate racehorse. In the Belmont, his stamina should be tested by Rock Hard Ten and Tapit. Beyond the Belmont, there will be serious challenges when Smarty Jones faces his elders.

So let's allow the races to be run and the leaves on the trees to turn. Then we can properly assess whether or not Smarty Jones deserves residence in horse racing's pantheon alongside Man o' War, Secretariat, Citation, Seattle Slew, et al. The free pass to greatness he has already been given by far too many people is needlessly impetuous.

Kenneth C. Kush
Chicago

If Smarty Jones fails, don't blame his family

After studying Smarty Jones's pedigree, I don't see why the 1 1/2 miles of the Belmont is a problem. First, he is inbred 3x3 to Bold Ruler. Secretariat is by Bold Ruler, and he got the distance. Smarty also traces to Raise a Native, the sire of Alydar, who, had he not been born the wrong year, probably would have won Triple Crown. Also, on the bottom of Smarty's pedigree is Smile. If you go back five generations from him, you will find Man o' War twice.

With all these horses in his pedigree, why would he not relish 1 1/2 miles?

Patrick Converse
Northville, Mich.

Ideas on California ruling didn't tell whole story

Is there any doubt that Jay Hovdey was offended by the California Horse Racing Board's recent action regarding the reinstatement of Patrick Valenzuela's riding license? He is certainly entitled to his opinion on this subject, as described in his May 21 column, "Does this ruling add up?"

What I find amazing, however, is that Mr. Hovdey (and his editors) were not required to include a disclosure in that article that underscored the self-serving nature of his analysis. He has a personal and financial interest in the racing board's decision that must be publicly acknowledged.

His wife, Julie Krone, is a leading jockey on the Southern California Thoroughbred circuit, although currently not riding because of injury. Her victory and purse totals, like those of every other rider on the circuit, will be adversely affected by Valenzuela's reinstatement. Last year Valenzuela won every riding title in Southern California, and is currently leading the Hollywood Park standings despite a late start at that meeting. When Valenzuela rides, the quality of mounts for other jocks declines.

If Mr. Hovdey is going to publicly articulate his disdain regarding the Valenzuela decision and the process used by the CHRB in reaching it, should he not also be required to admit that the end result of his inferences and innuendoes, if implemented, would benefit his wife's success and their income?

Bruce Julian
Monarch Beach, Calif.

Racing board and rider equally irresponsible

Both the April ruling of the California Horse Racing Board calling for a stay of the suspension of Patrick Valenzuela's jockey's license and now the board's May 18 ruling to reduce Valenzuela's suspension for missing a drug test to four months were absolutely wrong. The board should have unquestioningly supported the original stewards' decision for a one-year suspension and enforced the contract Valenzuela signed. The contract didn't say if Valenzuela was depressed, or had sprained his ankle, or if it's snowing in Alaska, then it was okay not to test for drugs.

I'll never be convinced that Valenzuela's "depression" came on suddenly like a tornado and that he did not have a chance to contact the stewards and ask for some time off to clear up his personal problems. If he was really concerned about his riding career and had an ounce of responsibility for his actions, he would have done that.

Valenzuela has thumbed his nose at the stewards, any authority, and the other jocks. Now he is trying to get a stay to allow him to ride in the Belmont. It appears as though he feels the rules and stewards' decisions are only for others.

C. D. Smith
Gardnerville, Nev.

Azeri rider switch based on flighty thinking

Owner Michael Paulson recently announced that Mike Smith was being replaced by Pat Day as Azeri's jockey primarily because Azeri will race predominantly on the East Coast this year ("Azeri set for Met with Day," May 27).

In Azeri's 18 lifetime starts, all with Smith aboard, Smith guided her to 15 wins and 3 seconds - not bad. If you are looking at Azeri's record through Paulson's glasses, though, it is not good enough, so you replace Smith with Day. Pat Day is obviously a great rider, but Mike Smith should have remained on Azeri.

Also, the last time I checked, the airlines were not on strike. Azeri can run on the East Coast and Smith would gladly get on a plane to meet her.

Lastly, if Azeri is fortunate to stay healthy - which I hope she does because racing needs horses like her - she will have to get on a plane going to Texas for the Breeders' Cup. For Paulson's sake, I hope the airlines and airports are not on strike.

Damien Scott
Toluca Lake, Calif.

Several signs point to a coronation

Some of the reasons why Smarty Jones will win the Triple Crown:

1. He doesn't want to lose and have Donald Trump fire him.

2. Because Woody Stephens doesn't have a horse in the Belmont.

3. He doesn't want to lose and have to change his name to Sorrowful Jones.

4. Because it will take only a minor bit of chiseling to change that Philadelphia statue of Rocky Balboa into his likeness.

5. He had a dream that he lost and Tony Soprano was riding him in his kitchen.

6. Because he whinnies in Aramaic.

Jerry Hauck
Studio City, Calif.