12/23/2004 1:00AM

Letters to the editor

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Don't believe the hype that is Smarty Jones

I'm wondering where all these people writing letters about Smarty Jones doing more for racing than any horse in the last 25 years have been. Do they remember Alysheba or the Sunday Silence-Easy Goer duels? How about Johnny Campo's run with Pleasant Colony? Or Risen Star winning the Belmont like his daddy, not staggering home like a drunk, like Smarty and Birdstone?

I guess Pennsylvania fans just have their pride up at the moment, but if the Horse of the Year is worth anything, you can't sit out six months and win it, unless you are Tim Tam and break your leg trying for the Triple Crown.

Ghostzapper showed incredible tenacity moving from Grade 1 sprints to a victory over all challengers in the Classic. It's an easy choice.

And by the way, if Eclipse voters think Speightstown is a better sprinter than Pico Central, they may as well change the name of the award to the East Coast Homer Awards.

Steve Orton
Los Angeles, Calif.

One possible explanation for the unexplained

Several days ago I watched Victor Conte, the founder and president of Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (Balco), allege on the the "20/20" television program that some of the most successful athletes of our time have been users of performance-enhancing drugs. Others have warned of a constant effort to manufacture these substances and keep them one step ahead of detection methods.

As I listened, a light seemed to go on in the head of this often-befuddled horseplayer - could there be, after all, logical answers to some of the most perplexing questions this 30-plus-year student of the game has encountered in recent years? It has been the very logic of the handicapping process that has kept me so fascinated by this game for so long. But the increasingly illogical outcomes of so many races lately has me very alarmed at where the sport is going.

I'll just give an example of the problem I'm referring to. Let's say a horse has been running in mediocre claimers and has managed perhaps one or two victories in a 15- to 20-race career. He gets claimed by one of the "super trainers," and in his very next race or two he demolishes the competition, earning lifetime-best, often stakes-caliber, Beyer Speed Figures. He displays super early speed when previously he had just been a plodder.

What on earth is going on here? What can possibly account for these incredible transformations? Are these guys miracle-workers, or perhaps, as I fear, is it something only the Victor Contes of the world can explain?

Ronald J. Hodges
Elk Grove Village, Ill.

Uncoupled entries found troublesome for bettors

While appreciating Mike Watchmaker's Dec. 8 column, "Stewards must stop stumbling," I can't help wanting to express my own opinion about something else that slaps the bettors in the face. It is the subject of uncoupled entries.

Do racing officials and writers ever dare ask the fans what they think about this subject? Of course they don't. When faced with a six-horse field and only four trainers, are the fans being treated fairly? It is incredible how long racing has hid behind the excuse that it is necessary to fill races or give owners a certain amount of respect. Uncoupled entries leave many a bettor with a sour taste in their mouth on the way out the door. Cleaning up this situation would do wonders for the integrity of this great sport.

Robert Stupp
Harrisburg, Pa.

Yearly Report rates close watching

I have been following the Watchmaker Watch for quite some time now and have always enjoyed its opinion on the top 10 per category.

I am surprised that Mike Watchmaker does not have Yearly Report in the top 10 3-year-old fillies. I have seen her race several times and she has been nothing short of sensational. Did you happen to catch her track-record performance at Lone Star Park on Breeders' Cup weekend? She also owns some huge Beyer Speed Figures. She now has 6 victories and 2 second-place finishes from 9 starts. Other than Ashado, there isn't a better 3-year-old filly in the country.

I hope Watchmaker will consider listing Yearly Report in his top 10 ranking. She will be the sleeper filly of 2005, and it isn't too late to jump on her wagon.

Andy Padilla
Baldwin Park, Calif.

Let's leave Zippy Chippy story on the shelf

The report of the long-overdue retirement of Zippy Chippy after 100 races and 100 losses is good news ("Etc. . .," Dec. 16). I must say, though, that news elsewhere of a possible movie in the works is disheartening. Unless the movie will center around the publicity-motivated actions of Zippy's owner-trainer, who put the undertalented horse through the rigors of a racing career that wasn't meant to be, Hollywood should shy away from this story. If there is a story here, it's one of a horse who should have lived the past several years at a farm grazing and galloping rather than being laughed at in gimmick races against minor league baseball players. Now, after hitting the magic loss number, the owner thinks it's best to retire the horse. Maybe the Hollywood hook was in the plan all along.

It's likely that some of the moviegoing public who don't understand horse racing will think that the story of a horse who didn't belong but tried 100 times to be a winner is a cute one. And that's sad. Sad for horse racing and for Zippy.

Bob Gorsky
Plano, Texas

No reason to take swipe at Pletcher

If Dick Jerardi would like to support Steve Asmussen as trainer of the year, let him write away without having to minimize the efforts of Todd Pletcher ("Year's top trainer? Hint: Not Pletcher," Dec. 17). It does Jerardi's credibility no good to fire barbs at someone who runs a quality operation and has been a hard-working credit to horse racing.

Harvey Hochberg
Delray Beach, Fla.