11/26/2004 1:00AM

Letters to the Editor


New England uses practical insurance aid

I read with interest the Nov. 18 article "Insurance Summit." I was surprised that the article, which was very informative and well done, made no mention of the very successful jockey/exercise rider/pony person program that is in place at Suffolk Downs in East Boston, Mass.

As an owner who has raced in New England for decades, and as longtime member of the New England Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association's board of directors, I would like to make people aware of this program, which has been embraced by the jockeys who ride at Suffolk Downs.

Our program began in 1997, and to date (from statistics I have obtained from The MacDonald Companies, a claims administration firm), the program has paid well over $2 million to 69 riders and 55 exercise riders and pony people at Suffolk Downs and Rockingham Park. The breakdown is as follows:

Fifty-five percent, or 38 of the 69 accidents involving jockeys, resulted in a disability that resulted in the jockey being out of work for a period of time. Our program responded and provided temporary disability benefits totaling $420,256 to date.

Seventeen percent, or 12 of the 69 of the accidents, resulted in a permanent disability, forcing the jockey into early retirement. Our program responded and provided medical, temporary disability, and permanent disability benefits totaling $1,981,217 to date.

An additional $154,609 has gone to exercise riders and pony people in benefits from this plan.

Our plan was designed by American Specialty Underwriters and owner-breeder Anthony Spadea of the Braintree Insurance Agency of Massachusetts. It is administered by the MacDonald Companies. It has worked extremely well to protect horsemen, jockeys, exercise riders, and pony people.

The program is funded by taking 2 percent of each purse and having the horsemen's bookkeeper establish an account that accumulates this money on a monthly basis. Once a month a bill is received from the insurance company and a check is ordered and sent. The rates are based on the number of racing days and the number of races run.

This program has served as a tremendous protection for both horsemen and riders of New England. Maybe it is time that the other tracks, horsemen, and all jockeys become familiar with our program and consider it on a nationwide basis.

Susan E. Clark
Weymouth, Mass.

Negative thinking may punish a racing hero

I was bitterly disappointed by Smarty Jones's seemingly early retirement, and some individuals are going so far as to penalize this horse in the Eclipse Award voting for that decision.

I would like to suggest humbly and gently that perhaps such negativity is letting our disappointment cloud our judgment.

The retirement decision, based on business strategies and insurance realities, of course has nothing to do with the horse's choices or attitudes. It also, as we all know, had nothing to do with Smarty's ability or performance. Nor was this business decision close to unique in the industry - it was Smarty who was unique.

While the Iraq war and the election were pulling the country apart, this little horse was bringing us together in a new and wonderful way. He attracted totally new horse racing fans. He got our sport press coverage it hadn't had in decades. His fan mail, including from schoolchildren, was voluminous.

I implore Eclipse voters not to turn any disappointment in not wringing still more out of Smarty Jones's legend into a vindictive slap at those around him. That wouldn't be fair to the horse or his millions of fans. Give him his due and name him Horse of the Year.

Jeffrey A. Seder
West Grove, Penn.

Smarty Jones deserves year-end fanfare

Regarding Smarty Jones and Eclipse Award voting: I can think of no other 3-year-old since Seattle Slew who did more to capture the imagination of the common man and draw more interest to the sport. I was there on Belmont Day. The stands were packed.

I urge Eclipse voters to not penalize the horse for the actions of those around him.

Anne Winn
Pottstown, Penn.

Light race schedule makes lightweight champ

I have little doubt that the best horse I saw this year was Ghostzapper. I also have little doubt that the best horse I saw last year was Candy Ride, who got no consideration whatsoever for Horse of the Year - and justifiably so, for Horse of the Year should reward consistent accomplishment, and three victories do not constitute a championship resume. Yet the 4-for-4 Ghostzapper appears to be the front-runner for the award this year, despite being only slightly more accomplished than Candy Ride was last year.

I will readily acknowledge that the racing game has changed. No longer will we see stakes stars with 15-start seasons. That said, it is still very difficult for me to digest a Horse of the Year with only four starts on his year's slate. What if Southern Image had come out on the right end of his last photo in Kentucky? He too would be 4 for 4, in an arguably equal collection of quality races as those in which Ghostzapper competed, having included victories in the Pimlico Special and Santa Anita Handicap in addition to the Sunshine Millions Classic.

Would that make a worthy Horse of the Year? I again think not.

Trainers and racing managers with lofty goals need to prove their animals worthy of the goals in question, and I don't think - even in this age of conservative handling of star horses - that a thin accomplishment roster, no matter how glowing, is enough to certify a horse as the best of an entire year. I understand that there may be specific agendas governing the handling of quality horses, and I have no quarrel with the pursuit of those agendas. If, however, those agendas are not congruent with the sort of schedule that could ultimately stamp a horse as an unquestioned champion, those in charge of the animal in question have forfeited their right to gripe about the outcome of year-end awards.

Greg Sellgren
Las Vegas

Horseplayers deserve shot of Wall Street tax fix

In Steven Crist's Nov. 7 column, "An affordable way to pick six," his comments about the IRS situation concerning horse racing and its players did strike a nerve. The double-taxing remains a travesty. President Bush eliminated a similar situation for stock investors. I hope it's possible he can help horseplayers, too.

Ron Ruchtie
Youngstown, Ohio