09/30/2004 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor

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Azeri deserves shot to finish '04 a winner

As a huge fan of the sport of horse racing, I understand Azeri's value. She is one of the greatest female horses in racing history. Her victories in the Apple Blossom and Go for Wand this year were both gratifying and heartwarming.

A former Horse of the Year, she ranks alongside horses like Bayakoa, Lady's Secret, and Go for Wand. It is clear that the separation in physical ability between male and female horses is nowhere near as severe as it may be in humans. This, however, applies more to lower-end horses, not necessarily champions. It would be nothing less than barbaric to put Azeri in the Breeders' Cup Classic against male horses. It is simply not the race to test the opposite sex in.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas took a stab with Azeri against males in the Met Mile, and she beat one horse. Granted, she probably needs more than a mile, but she still was trounced. What happens when Azeri faces Pleasantly Perfect, the defending champion? What happens when she faces Ghostzapper, who earned the highest Beyer Speed Figure in two decades? What happens when she faces Birdstone, the only horse to finish in front of Smarty Jones? Let's not fail to mention new arrivals like Roses in May or Saint Liam.

Personal Ensign and Lady's Secret both faced males sucessfully, but not in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Azeri couldn't survive a speed duel with minor stakes runner Roar Emotion - what would happen in the Classic? She gets beaten, and badly. It would be unfair to her as a champion. She belongs in the Distaff. I'm sure there are many fans who want to see Azeri stride under the wire first at Lone Star Park. Please, Mr. Lukas, give us that chance.

Darin Zoccali
Staten Island. N.Y.

Owner should be given utmost scrutiny

As a long-term horse owner and loyal fan of the Thoroughbred industry, I ask: Isn't it about time owner Michael Gill, his trainers, and their entire operation were called on the carpet to explain the multitude of infractions so detrimental to the entire racing community. (The most recent was noted in the Sept. 29 article "Shuman hit for positive.")

Countless times, I have overheard racing fans rant and rave about improprieties in our industry. This issue must be addressed, and now. Let the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and other governing bodies focus on this issue as soon as possible to determine if the Gill operation is legitimate or not. The hearings and findings should be made publicly disclosed and the public assured that if there are illegal drugs being administered as frequently as it appears, the offenders should be out of the business. On the other hand, if the findings are inconclusive or random, then express those results to the public.

This crucial matter must be brought to the fore, not swept under the carpet.

Jim Quarto
Milwaukee

Time to end the reign of stewards over results

What's the topic that totally inflames the passions of every writer, owner, trainer, jockey, and, most of all, every daily bettor? It's the disqualification rule allowing stewards to change the outcome of a race after it has been run. The reason this is such an emotionally charged topic for everyone involved in racing is obvious: the money. Every person involved faces the prospect of losing potentially huge money whenever that red "Objection" sign begins blinking.

The biggest problem with this "rule" is the fact that it's not a rule at all. "Rule" should mean a clear, objective description of exactly what is not allowed in a race, so that a steward's decision to disqualify a horse should be no more difficult or subjective than calling illegal motion in a football game.

Instead, we are stuck with the California Horse Racing Board's Rule 1543, which states, "The stewards shall determine the extent of disqualification in cases of fouls or riding or driving infractions. They may place the offending horse behind such other horses as in their judgment it interfered with."

This rule gives absolutely zero guidance regarding the questions of "fouls," "infractions," or "interfered with." Essentially, a foul or interference is whatever a steward decides. In our legal system, any law written this vaguely would be found unconstitutional on the grounds of being overly broad, such as antiquated laws that used to prohibit "offensive" speech.

After witnessing one inexplicable disqualification after another over the years, I have finally embraced the idea that the authority of stewards to alter the finish positions of a horse race should be eliminated. Given the frequency of disqualifications in racing today, the current approach certainly doesn't seem to be preventing jockeys from riding recklessly.

A better approach would be to increase suspensions for offending riders to a period of time commensurate with the flagrancy of the foul. I'm talking five months, not five days, if the jockey's actions are particularly egregious.

It certainly makes no sense, though, to penalize everyone else involved with the horse, especially the innocent bettors, over a rider's actions during the course of a race. As a daily horseplayer, I would feel much better about stewards using their estimable judgment to decide the length of a jockey's suspension rather than who gets paid.

John W. Corrington
Malibu, Calif.

True championships need head-to-head matchups

I could not agree more with the Sept. 19 letter "A slight chill to autumn in New York."

Without a doubt, the Breeders' Cup program provides North America's finest day of racing. Unfortunately, it also devalues many Grade 1 races that at one time were the proving ground of champions. Diluting the talent in the top races is counterproductive. How does watching another 2-5 shot run away and hide from four overmatched opponents help promote the sport?

The time has come where champions in every division should earn their championships by winning Grade 1 races, not ducking each other all year and hoping things go their way on Breeders' Cup Day. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association should promote a national schedule of Grade 1 races in each division, award points strictly for for winning these races, perhaps add some new divisions, and award divisional championships to the top point-earners. This could encourage the type of compelling matchups that will attract some interest from both the media and fans.

The Breeders' Cup races will remain the anchor of the American racing season, but they should not have to come at the expense of the rest of the year.

Bill Boney
Northfield, N.J.