11/19/2004 1:00AM

Letters to the Editor


Insurance mess can be solved by purse tax

The solution to the current jockey insurance issue seems obvious to me. Yes, the jocks are independent contractors, but they do all of their work for the owners of the Thoroughbreds. These owners - who reap the profits the jockeys bring in for them - should be required to contribute to the costs of increased insurance coverage for the jockeys.

A simple tax should be applied to winnings the owners receive in purse money to finance the insurance coverage. There would obviously have to be some sort of formula worked out, and a capping system as well so the big players wouldn't be carrying all of the burden, but I think it's feasible if executed correctly.

I wish the jockeys success with this battle, and I particularly salute Shane Sellers for his guts and ferocity, standing up for what he believes in.

David A. Heim
New Rochelle, N.Y.

Riders not alone in their predicament

I read with interest the comments made by riders in "For jockeys, an issue that hits home" (Nov. 10). Top jocks John Velazquez, Edgar Prado, and Jose Santos were succinct and to the point.

As for the letter from Dr. Alex Harthill, ("Caution urged in rider protest over insurance,") and the Nov. 18 article "Insurance summit," what do we need a partisan panel headed by D.G. Van Clief to tell us that medical insurance is abysmal not only for jocks, but for 70 percent of this country.

Tom Nichols
Cape Coral, Fla.

Many face hazards in a risky business

Jockeys have finally gone too far. I am an assistant trainer who has had enough of their whining.

Jockeys are private contractors who should have their own coverage, such as had been provided by the Jockeys' Guild, which seems to have been totally mismanaged. Why should we penalize the owners?

If jockeys think it should come out of the purses, that's okay - let them ride for 7 percent instead of 10 percent. What they do is dangerous, I will not argue that, but every job around racehorses is dangerous: Grooms, hotwalkers, pony people, etc., get hurt as often if not more so than riders. Trainers supply their own coverage for their employees, which is mandatory in most jurisdictions. Riders should do the same.

Cory Patton
New Orleans

Time to follow the money at Jockeys' Guild

It's past time that someone demands that the Jockeys' Guild explains what they do with the $2.2 million that tracks pay to it annually ("Insurance summit," Nov. 18). The Guild quit buying insurance for the jockeys two years ago, so where is the money going now?

Betty Norris
Columbia, Tenn.

Solidarity expressed by would-be colleague

I have seen jockeys come and go, and I am greatly saddened every time they go, because I am a very competitive person myself. At one time, I was taking riding lessons in the hope of becoming a jockey, but because I was 21 and was not raised around horses, I couldn't ride.

I do have one question for the jockeys who were banned at Churchill Downs for refusing mounts: If the insurance isn't provided by Kentucky Derby Day, will you still ride?

As a bettor and a might-have-been, I am behind Shane Sellers and the banned jockeys 100 percent. I refuse to bet Churchill Downs and other tracks that do not provide enough insurance for the jockeys.

James Hughes Jr.
Cottonwood, Calif.

This year's best holds promise for 2005

In the world of Thoroughbred horse racing, the word "great" is tossed about far too often, as if it doesn't mean a thing. A horse wins a few Grade 1 races, and he's great. A horse wins two thirds of the Triple Crown, and he's great.

Fans and media are so desperate for "the next big thing" that they are willing to hang their hats on the first flash in the pan who comes along. As a 27-year-old journalist who covers the sport, I too have fallen victim to this terrible habit. But after the results of Breeders' Cup Day at Lone Star Park, fans and colleagues alike need fret no more. Ghostzapper is here.

Capping off a sparkling year with an authoritative, wire-to-wire thrashing of North America's best in stakes- and track-record time, he made the battle for Horse of the Year, well, just not a battle anymore. The rest of the contenders, including Smarty Jones, are bringing knives to a gunfight.

Whether it was a 10-length romp in the slop at Monmouth, posting a Beyer Speed Figure of 128, or a smash-mouth, gut-wrenching stretch duel with Saint Liam carrying him to the eight path and still managing to come within four-fifths of a second of Secretariat's track record, Ghostzapper won his races in spectacular fashion.

And, if you're going to take into account the intangibles and consider things these animals do outside of actually racing, how about the fact that both trainer Bobby Frankel and owner Frank Stronach have stated that Ghostzapper will run next year as a 5-year-old? That's quite refreshing when you consider all the horses retired before they should be - say as a 3-year-old who never faced older horses - because of the dangling carrot known as the almighty dollar waiting in the breeding shed.

So, racing fans, the 2005 Breeders' Cup is at Belmont Park. Get your tickets as fast as you can so you can assure yourself of seeing greatness. Get out there and see Ghostzapper.

Anthony Stabile
Howard Beach, N.Y.

A few simple rules for life in New Orleans

As Churchill Downs takes over operation of Fair Grounds in New Orleans, there are certain idiosyncrasies of this racetrack that under no circumstances can be tampered with:

1. The soup of the day feature must remain at all cost. (Taters and Ham is indeed a four-star selection.)

2. Mike of "Vince and Mike" must continue to select the favorite in every race during the selection portion of the pre-card show.

3. The horses must never, ever be in the starting gate unless it is seven or eight minutes past the listed post time.

4. John Dooley must say the the horses are going in to the "Chantilly Turn" as they go around the turf course.

5. The length of the stretch, which begins approximately two miles outside of Baton Rouge, must remain the same.

Fred Ward
Secaucus, N.J.