10/14/2004 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor

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Signal squabble prompts notion of fan boycott

In regard to Steven Crist's Oct. 9 column, "Whole lot of losing going on," I feel that we, the fans, can get along. It's the wacky world of racing that is having trouble. What else is new? The industry has for years deprived many villages of their idiots. The simulcast snafu that has erased the Belmont signal at Suffolk Downs and Rockingham Park, among other tracks, is just another slap in the face of us, the supporters of the breed.

To borrow a phrase from the turbulent 1960's, What if they had a race and no one came? I wish we fans could overcome our laissez-faire attitude and join together in a boycott. The New York Racing Association and the MidAtlantic Cooperative just might get the message that without us there would be no joy in Raceville.

This sport is too precious to be continually treated in the manner that it has. A final plea: Take 50 percent of the effort wasted in this current fiasco and redirect it to making the greatest sport on the planet an even better one - for the horses, the owners, the jockeys, and, last but hardly least, the fans.

Robert J. McKenna
Billerica, Mass.

Lengthy impasse may be Maryland's swan song

At the rate this asinine dispute between the MidAtlantic Cooperative and the New York Racing Association is going ("No end to simo dispute," Oct. 9), the horseplayer is once again a victim of this horribly managed sport/business. I can't think of another sport that treats its fans this poorly.

My only wish - albeit a longshot - is that this dispute continues for months and further cripples Maryland racing. From Magna Entertainment's incompetence, to the horrendous facilities at Laurel and Pimlico, to some of the worst horse racing on the planet, to the outrageous takeout on the handle, to the disastrous power outage at the 1998 Preakness, to the state's inability to approve slots, etc., no state deserves a horse racing death sentence more than Maryland.

But that's likely just wishful thinking on my part.

Brian Ward
Williamsburg, Va.

Racetrack conglomerates devaluing the sport

Andrew Beyer's Oct. 10 column, "Maryland slip sliding away," put in print what racing fans have feared: the imminent death of Maryland racing. Maryland racing has been a tradition in my family, and my late father is, I'm sure, looking down from heaven with disgust at his beloved Pimlico dwindling away. What next? Moving Pimlico to Baltimore's Inner Harbor so occasional or inexperienced racing fans can throw a few bucks their way?

I remember the day when Pimlico and Laurel, especially Pimlico, were the gold standard to nearby Virginia race fans. The Preakness Stakes was the annual pilgrimage. That was before Colonial Downs. I fear that Colonial Downs, my neighborhood track, under the managing interest of Magna Entertainment Corp., will imitate the Magna debacles of a dying Pimlico and the ghost town of Laurel.

But, look at my other favorite, Churchill Downs. Was its purchase of Fair Grounds a smart move? Churchill's emphasis seemed to be ill-placed: Buy everything in sight and create a half-baked product. Churchill should expand and accentuate what it has and stop shopping the marketplace.

Maybe megatracks should hire horse racing fans and devotees, people schooled in the racing industry and history, rather than corporate execs, to run the show.

Elaine Puricelli
Richmond, Va.

Big Sky operators look for a break

Montana Simulcast Partners, a nonprofit group comprised of the six live race meets in Montana, is the only licensee in the state importing simulcast signals. All profits and legislated percentages go into the racing industry to support the summer meets. But in the past three years, MSP has seen not only handles dropping, but net margins as well. There are two related reasons.

The larger conglomerates have raised simulcast fees as well as decoder charges. They tell us to take it or leave it, because they distribute their signals into Montana homes through satellite services in search of the wagering dollar. Therefore, more patrons are staying at home to wager (although telephone or Internet wagering is illegal in Montana). The horsemen and racetracks in Montana get nothing from telephone wagering. Thus, the larger racing organizations keep all the wagering.

A letter recently was sent to the Thoroughbred Owners of California requesting the TOC take another look at the signal rate increase of 25 percent they recommend Southern California tracks charge Montana Simulcast Partners for the horse signal. The rate was higher than what is paid by some greyhound tracks taking California racing. And to top it, many of the Montana people involved with the live racing also race horses in California.

Decoder charges have reached $300 per site per month, where before some tracks gave them away. Patrons stay at home watching the Dish Network or Television Games Network for $40 a month and get multiple signals. Eleven sites are needed in Montana to generate $8 million a year in handle (compared to the $400 million video poker industry). One California signal costs $3,300 a month in decoders. We are slowly losing this numbers game.

The more tracks there are equates to more horses, owners, trainers, industry opportunities, and support. In Montana, we are working hard to keep six of those tracks from closing.

Bill Nooney Sr., President
Montana Simulcast Partners

Insurance should be a federal case

That jockey Shane Sellers has ceased to ride because of his inability to obtain personal health insurance, as stated in his Oct. 10 letter to the Racing Form, "Jockey: Lack of insurance needs to be addressed," is significant.

The unregulated power of the casualty/ health insurance industry caused the recent workers' compensation crisis in California and, to a lesser degree, nationwide.

There is a solution.

Racing should take the lead in demanding that Congress repeal the McCarron-Ferguson Act of 1945, which deprived the federal government of the power to regulate the insurance industry. If Congress had the power to regulate the insurance industry, the outrageous, irrational tripling and quadrupling of rates, or the pulling an entire line without so much as a by-your-leave, would be subject to a federal commission that would have the power to reject raises of rates and cessation of the writing of insurance.

Nathaniel J. Friedman
Beverly Hills, Calif.