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Letters to the Editor
Belmont gripes ignored essence of competition
The letters in the June 13 Racing Form deploring the rides of Jerry Bailey and Alex Solis in the Belmont Stakes were examples of either sour grapes or sheer ignorance.
In all of his previous races, Smarty Jones got the garden trip behind a front-runner who he was able to overcome and outkick to the wire. Why should you allow him the same tactics when that has proven unsuccessful? Logically you must force him into a different game to beat him. That is what top riders do to win races. I applaud Bailey and Solis and wish more riders were like them. I can't recall all the bets I lost because a horse was allowed an easy lead and coasted home while jocks were content to hit the board with horses who may have had a chance to win.
I bet against Smarty and I cashed not a dime, but I am content because all riders rode to win. I wish it happened more often.
Smarty Jones just the latest of many hard-luck stories
In his June 12 column, "Imagine there was no Birdstone," Steven Crist called it "hard to swallow the idea" that Smarty Jones's near-miss of a Triple Crown "was the most poignant or unjust in Triple Crown history."
Count me among those who believe Little Current - a seven-length winner in both the Preakness and Belmont after a horrendous trip in the record field of 23 starters in the 1974 Kentucky Derby - was very unlucky not to join the exclusive Triple Crown club.
Before the 2001 Kentucky Derby, I thought Point Given had an excellent chance to sweep the Triple Crown. He, however, ran the worst race of his life in the Derby. And then, much like Little Current, Point Given went on to win the Preakness and Belmont impressively.
It tells us just how extraordinarily difficult it is to sweep the Triple Crown when colts as talented as Little Current, Point Given, and Smarty Jones are unable to do it.
It also tells us just how great Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed were.
Conceding the Crown would have been ignoble
Mike Watchmaker's June 16 column, "Aggressive race riding part of game" was right on the money. The general public doesn't understand the strategies of the racing game, and anyone who would criticize Jerry Bailey for the way he rode Eddington (the most overrated horse in the country) in the Belmont should never attend another horse race. Speed battles, pinning rivals down on the rail, and fanning horses wide are the cornerstones of being a great jockey. Should Bailey just have let Smarty Jones set a slow pace crawling along the backside just so everyone could cheer after the race? In every sport, you take the advantages away from your opponent in order to give yourself a better chance of winning.
Should teams stop double-teaming Shaquille O'Neal, or should pitchers throw right down the middle to Barry Bonds? Everyone needs to remember that winning is still the name of the game.
History tells us all's fair with eye on wire
I have watched many great champion racehorses run in the last 35 years, and I was surprised that most DRF readers' frames of reference appeared not to take them back to the great Dr. Fager, a monster on the racetrack who won on all surfaces at all distances carrying ridiculous amounts of weight.
Frank Whiteley, the trainer of Damascus, knew that the only way he could beat the good doctor was to enter the rabbit Hedevar to soften Dr. Fager up for the potent stretch run of Damascus. Did anybody apologize for that, or was it just intelligent tactics used to beat a superior horse? Dr. Fager split his races with Damascus, losing only when the sprinter was entered as a spoiler. Possibly Dr. Fager could have been rated better in those two losses, but his desire not to let anyone pass him was legendary.
No one has to apologize for riding his race in a Triple Crown event where everything is on the line. Ask Angel Cordero when, on Codex, he parked Genuine Risk in the cheap seats to win the 1980 Preakness.
It's a great sport, and it's not for the faint of heart.
Chalk up loss in Foster to pilot error
Regarding Mike Watchmaker's June 16 column: I agree that jockey Victor Espinoza has only himself to blame for Southern Image's defeat in the Stephen Foster Handicap. A stretch battle was fought, and about 70 yards from the wire Southern Image had actually regained the lead - thanks to strong left-handed whipping by Espinoza. At that point he stopped whipping, though the horse was obviously responding to it. I believe he thought he had the race won and consequently relied on a strong hand ride to finish the race. I figure that lack of perseverance cost him the race, and it cost many folks like yours truly a pick four worth about $1,000 for a $2 wager. Naturally, it cost Espinoza a great deal more.
In the same circumstances, Jorge "Chop Chop" Chavez would have enabled Southern Image to win. He doesn't "get cute" before the finish line has been passed.
New York City
Rider's trial effort caused bettor tribulation
Regarding "Meche cleared to ride again" (June 16): I was unfortunate enough to have placed a large wager to win on the horse Clearing House at Delta Downs on Jan. 23, 2003. Turning for home, you had to think he was moving like a winner. No one can say for sure that he would have won that race, but Clearing House was never given a chance to run his best.
I am a huge fan of riders and the sport. I was outraged, however, at the way Donnie Meche wrapped up on the horse in the stretch. Realizing that this was a trial race, it became all too clear that he was saving the horse for the final (that he ended up winning pretty impressively weeks later).
I later learned that Meche was suspended for the ride. I will admit I was very happy to see him suffer the consequences. More than a year has passed, and the whole situation still bothers me. The money I lost is nothing compared with the feeling that I had been cheated.
But time heals most wounds, and although I have not forgotten, I will forgive Meche and wish him luck on a fresh start to his career. I hope all riders have learned that if you are not in it to win it, stay home and do us all a favor.
Complaint points out need for Derby also-eligibles
One June 13 Letter to the Racing Form, "Make it triple or nothing," suggested that horses should be allowed to enter the Preakness only if they had run in the Kentucky Derby, and allowed to enter the Belmont only if they had run in the Preakness.
It's an interesting idea, but one problem: Sometimes horses are barred from the Derby unfairly. The connections of Rock Hard Ten and Eddington would have been glad to run in the Derby when two horses scratched. They weren't allowed.
So the first thing that should be done is to allow also-eligible entries in the Derby. Funny how quickly people accused some jockeys of trying to prevent Smarty Jones from winning the Belmont, yet year after year, certain trainers prevent plenty of horses from just running in the Derby.