07/16/2004 12:00AM

Letters to the Editor

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Runners need pension fund for later years

In all major sports, the athletes are provided pensions and health care when they reach retirement age or suffer career-ending injuries. Even mediocre athletes are provided pensions. Only Thoroughbred racing, the so-called sport of kings, sends its athletes to the slaughterhouse or the euthanizer when they have passed their prime.

Who can forget the great Ferdinand, ground up for dog food? And there is the lesser-known Banker's Jet, a stakes winner who earned nearly $700,000 in his career but was discovered infirm and knee-deep in muck before he was rescued.

Where are the millionaire owners and the high-profile trainers when the photo ops and the parties are over? Thankfully, there are a few individuals, like Pam Berg in Glen Ellen, Calif., who give their lives and their resources to saving unwanted, aged, and infirm Thoroughbreds ("Samaritan honored," July 9).

Why doesn't the racing industry (owners, trainers, track owners, and fans) provide a pension fund for the horses? Show the public that racing is truly the sport of kings and not just a heartless money mill.

Sandy Tonini
Sonoma, Calif.

Filly stakes double an unforgettable souvenir

Many a time has an article or a letter been published in the Racing Form regarding the shortcomings of the modern horse, viz. weight carried and/or the multiplicity of races, versus horses in the past.

Never before has the temptation to proffer an opinion on this subject overtaken me until reading about the dilemma Sam Semkin and Greg Unruh have created for themselves in trying to decide whether or not to run their undefeated Souvenir Gift in both the Sorrento and Del Mar Debutante races with a 21-day gap (Hollywood Notes, July 11).

Do they realize how few fillies have managed the feat of winning these two stakes and what a rush of pride there is in joining their ranks, which started with Windy's Daughter? We had that honor when our undefeated homebred Batroyale, like a little country cousin joining the Junior League, won both with a hiatus of only 18 days.

My memory has been clouded by the years since 1995, but it is a certainty Batroyale was not the leader of her division when she entered the Sorrento. A maiden win and the Solano County Fair stakes most assuredly wouldn't catapult her to that height, but by the end of the year she was acclaimed California's champion 2-year-old filly.

So, Messrs. Semkin and Unruh, why deprive your filly and yourselves of a marvelous experience and a chance at the history books? None of us in this business needs be reminded of how questionable tomorrow, or for that matter, Oct. 30 may be.

Mrs. Robert H. Walter
Vine Hill Ranch, Sebastopol, Calif.

Philly patrons far from lost souls

While I agree with Andrew Beyer's July 8 notion, "Slots push Philly in with the big boys," that the legalization of slots in Pennsylvania is a boon to the racing industry in the state, I totally disagree with his assessment of Philadelphia Park as a "soulless betting factory."

I am originally from Bensalem, Pa., home of Philadelphia Park. Like many horseplayers around the country, I got my first taste of horse racing at a local track - not one of the marquee tracks with all their history, $7 beers, $7 admission, and $3 parking fees. And while I cannot argue that the quality of horses at these smaller tracks even remotely approaches that of their more financially replete counterparts, it's easy to make a case for these tracks being responsible for keeping racing alive.

I was visiting home over the Fourth of July weekend and had a chance to visit Philly Park. Nowhere did I see the "soulless" bettors that Beyer portrayed. On the contrary, I saw fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, and grandparents huddled over Daily Racing Forms and passing on the tradition. On top of that, the facilities are clean and vibrant, the concessions are reasonably priced, and the staff is helpful and even friendly.

The experience was in stark contrast to those I have had on recent trips to Hollywood Park, where the patrons stumble around looking at bet slips, the concourses are replete with silent automaton tellers, and the atmosphere is more bus station than golden age of racing.

I think Mr. Beyer overlooked the obvious when he wrote that Philadelphia Park is soulless. Anyone who witnessed the local crowd rallying behind the local hero, Smarty Jones, during this year's Triple Crown run knows that there's more heart in Philly Park than in most tracks around the country.

Ed Zielanski
San Diego

So many years later, a debate still rages

It was in 1967 that I began to follow Thoroughbred racing, and I was a big fan of both Damascus and Dr. Fager. Damascus had a great year and should have won the Triple Crown. Dr. Fager, though, was not far behind. From his second-place finish in the Champagne of 1966, Dr. Fager did not finish behind a horse until the 1967 Woodward. This streak included the Gotham, Withers, Jersey Derby (where he was disqualified), Arlington Classic, Rockingham Special, and New Hampshire Sweepstakes.

As for the Woodward, the contention of a July 11 letter to the editor, "Woodward '67 result wasn't tale of a rabbit," that Buckpasser was "an even quicker horse" than Hedevar, the rabbit employed by the Damascus camp, is absurd. Buckpasser was a stone closer, and Buckpasser's trainer, Eddie Neloy, employed his own rabbit, thus forming a double-teaming of Dr. Fager. That's how much rival trainers respected Dr. Fager's blinding speed.

Beyond his career record of 22 starts, with 18 victories, two seconds and a third, Dr. Fager equaled the Aqueduct track record for 1 1/4 miles, set the track record for 1 1/4 miles at Rockingham Park, established a world record for the mile at Arlington Park, and topped off his brilliant career with a smashing track record for seven furlongs at Aqueduct, carrying 139 pounds.

Damascus was indeed a champion, but the belittling of Dr. Fager's ability simply doesn't match his race record.

Dave Dadetta
Fairport, N.Y.

Dr. Fager fell victim to heat treatment

The July 11 letter "Woodward '67 result wasn't tale of a rabbit" drew too broad a conclusion about the relative quality of Dr. Fager and Damascus.

While it is true that Damascus defeated Dr. Fager twice at 10 furlongs (in the 1968 Brooklyn as well as the 1967 Woodward), Dr. Fager handled Damascus in the 1968 Suburban two weeks before the Brooklyn at the same distance. The internal fractions suggest that rabbits, indeed, were the key. The two races won by Damascus, the six-furlong times were 1:09.20 and 1:09.40. The race Dr. Fager won, the three-quarter fraction was 1:11.

An appreciation of the overall record of Damascus and Dr. Fager is in order: aside from two losses to Damascus, Dr. Fager lost on the track only one other time: the Champagne by a length. (He was disqualified in the Jersey Derby, which he won by 6 1/2 lengths.) Without that DQ, Dr. Fager would have had a record of 19 wins from 22 lifetime starts - with two of those losses being at 1 1/4 miles dueling in 1:09 and change.

Damascus had a lesser record: 21 wins, 7 seconds, and 3 thirds from 32 lifetime starts. At 10 furlongs, Damascus finished behind Proud Clarion, Barb's Delight, Most Host, Dr. Fager, Bold Hour (twice), and Mr. Right (twice). Dr. Fager finished behind only Damascus (twice) and Buckpasser at the distance.

The facts demonstrate eloquently that Damascus desperately needed a rabbit to beat Dr. Fager.

Alan Miller
New York City