09/09/2004 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor

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Stevens scare calls attention to riders' plight

After reading the Sept. 9 item "Stevens okay after scare," I wonder if I am the only one with concerns about the demands placed on jockeys to maintain their weight. Other than hand-to-hand sports, I can't think of any other sport where athletes are more driven to control their weight.

Can you imagine sitting in a sweat box trying to lose a couple of pounds, as Gary Stevens had on Monday? I love this sport more than any other, but the sacrifice we ask of these performers borders on the unreasonable, especially when one considers the fact that we would be more globally competitive with higher weight assignments.

The sad part is, until jockeys band together as one against the current weights that allow inadequate horses to contend, we will still be American racing, where a fast return on a race (or breeding fees) is more important than the welfare of not only the jockey, but the horse itself.

One day, I hope to be fortunate enough to purchase a 2-year old: If I am, he'll be trained as a European highweight from the start.

John Jones
Clearwater, Fla.

Security measures seem halfhearted

I have read the Sept. 4 article "Security measure proposed." Let's see, to eliminate any perception of cheating on the backstretch, horses from three races a day at Santa Anita will be put in unfamiliar surroundings in a detention barn for six hours before racing. Santa Anita management said the track will institute this at their winter spring meet starting Dec. 26. Does that mean there will be cheating only on the other five or six races a day?

Milkshake anyone? The same article noted that tests at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park showed that 1 percent of horses tested with more than the accepted 37 millimoles of bicarbonate per liter of blood in their systems. At Del Mar, 10 percent tested over 37 millimoles. A different laboratory was used, but thankfully they used the same type of testing machine. So from here on, trainers can get their own tests run and concoct a mixture that will test only at, say, 36 millimoles. Problem solved.

The California Horse Racing Board and the tracks need to impose the same rules, restrictions, and testing procedures on all horses in every race. Only a blanket system for all will be fair. But please let's go one step further, Do the racing board and tracks really want to improve perception? Then they need to grab the industry by the throat and tackle real perception concerns.

Stop the late odds-drops - bring the parimutuel systems into the 21st century. Have odds and money calculated every 10 seconds. Bettors are more concerned with the tote system than they are with the few trainers who might be manipulating the rules and testing procedures.

But wait a minute, the detention barn will only cost $530 a day and overhauling the tote system will cost, what, millions? So, for $530 a day the tracks will deal with their perception and not reality.

Thomas A. Noone
Redondo Beach, Calif.

Azeri's court didn't abdicate reigning queen's throne

In the aftermath of the retirement of Smarty Jones, everyone should realize that every aspect of horse racing is risk-oriented. Part of racing's heritage has been the sportsmen and women who were aware of the importance of equine star power, and the value to the game as a whole when the public is allowed to see a star compete as often as possible. It is unfortunate that most of these people have been replaced by cold, calculating banker types, who care nothing for the romance that once was racing's lifeblood.

It sure would be good for racing if one of these people would fend off the shortsighted money-grubbers long enough to allow their horse to compete at 4, and - dare we say it - 5. Isn't there anyone out there anymore with the guts to campaign a champion against all comers?

Apparently, only the connections of Azeri fit the bill. Roundly criticized for putting the multiple Eclipse winner back in training, they have taken the sport for an audacious roller-coaster ride that has seen her win an unprecedented third straight Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park, lose to females she should have beaten in the Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs, be curiously spotted against males in the Met Mile at Belmont (with predictable results), then come back at Saratoga in the Go for Wand, beating her nemesis, Sightseek, in the process.

Many racing purists were up in arms over that fact that trainer D. Wayne Lukas was given Azeri to train this year, apparently feeling that he can not train an older horse. But whatever you think about the situation, that the great mare has lost a step, or that her owner is crazy for risking her when she has nothing to prove, or that the redoubtable Lukas is the last guy you would want to see train her, the point is that it is impossible not to think about her. She is one of the few recognizable names in the sport as another season enters the homestretch.

I would personally like to thank Mr. Michael Paulson for allowing us to see this wonderful mare compete again this year. And if she wins the Breeders' Cup Distaff, how is she not an Eclipse winner again, maybe even Horse of the Year?

Tim Vana
Des Plaines , Ill.

Promote the athletes, not the payoffs

The third-to-last paragraph in Andrew Beyer's Aug. 4 column regarding the retirement of Smarty Jones, "As usual, breeders call the shots," pointed out precisely the number-one reason horse racing has lost its popularity: "The sport suffers from a shortage of recognizable stars."

Horse racing's greatest asset is not the gambling involved. As in all of the other sports, the premier attraction is the athlete. The magic of the racehorse has to be promoted, pushed, sold! When the sport starts allowing stars to be developed, the public heads to the racetrack and the money begins to flow.

Horse racing does not concentrate enough on promoting its athletes. Instead it promotes the gambling angle - which, of course, has a negative connotation to many people.

Most people love horses. That's the niche the sport should go after. Sell the magic of the majestic creatures that make this sport the greatest. If racing's promotional efforts reach into the public's imagination and heart - bypassing the pocketbook - the rush for the racetracks will naturally follow.

Carol Luttrall
Sagebrush Lane Thoroughbreds Weatherford, Texas