01/21/2005 12:00AM

Letters to the editor

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California chair gets defense from colleague

In the Jan. 2 letter to the Racing Form "CHRB in need of changes top to bottom," the writer attacked the California Horse Racing Board's chairman, John Harris, and myself for numerous ills facing California racing. In rebuttal to that one-sided and vindictive point of view, several points need be made.

In service on boards such as the state's horse racing board (for little compensation) and the California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association (with no compensation), Mr. Harris and I devote substantial amounts of our time and energy because we have the genuine desire to better our industry. We deal with the real issues that face our industry and attempt to find solutions to significant problems. We realize that in so doing we will not always be able to solve fully the malaise in which the horse business finds itself. We also realize that we will receive little or no thanks for our efforts and, on the contrary, will probably take shots from armchair quarterbacks.

In creating the racing board, the California legislature mandated that the board be comprised of persons who have a vested interest in the horse racing business. Horse racing law specifically states that horsemen are in the best position to oversee regulation of racing.

Neither the letter-writer nor the referenced article in the San Diego Union Tribune was able to point to a clear instance where Mr. Harris or any other board member acted in the face of a direct conflict of interest. The racing board receives legal counsel from the California Attorney General's office, which, if a board member fails to discern a conflict, is present to so advise.

The letter blamed me for the demise of the 50-year-old Del Mar yearling sale. It would be convenient if I were the scapegoat. Unfortunately, things change in the marketplace. Where there was once a market for yearlings in the summer in California, the market has moved on to the Keeneland fall and Barretts October sales. The breeders' association board realizes that the Del Mar sale cannot be successfully presented in its present format and is in the process of reacting to our changing marketplace.

Both my family and Mr. Harris have invested millions of dollars in raising and running racehorses in California. I consider it an honor to be termed a friend of John Harris. There is no one in California racing more passionate about the betterment of our business. My operation has bred mares at his farm, and we have always paid the going fees. At no time has my business or I ever asked for or received any favors or otherwise from him.

The writer of the Jan. 2 letter in question, Michael Power, is not a licensed owner of racehorses in California. He is not a member of the breeders' association. He does not serve on any regulatory board overseeing this industry. He is obsessed with making personal attacks on Mr. Harris, myself, and other members of voluntary boards such as the CTBA. I leave it to the readers to decide whether or not his opinions should be given any credence.

Daniel Q. Schiffer
The Hat Ranch, Temecula, Calif.

Ramsey's deed not a sign of his true nature

I read with great sadness the announcement that Ken Ramsey had been fined $25,000 and suspended from racing for seven days for "attempting to bribe" an owner-trainer to scratch a horse from a race at Turfway Park on Dec. 31, 2004 ("Ramsey fined, suspended," Jan. 19).

My sadness is due to the fact that I know Ken Ramsey, and know him to be an honest man who would never intentionally do an unfair or dishonest act. I have bought horses from Ken Ramsey and have owned horses in partnership with him. His word is his bond, and he always acted with the highest integrity.

Ken loves the competition of our great industry. On the last day of the year, Ken's freshman Storm Cat sire, Catienus, was in the position to be America's leading freshman sire of winners. Ken entered a Catienus maiden at Turfway that was on the also-eligible list. He handicapped the race and called a couple of owners-trainers who looked like they would be longshots and tried to negotiate a scratch. Obviously this was a mistake, but I do not consider this a dishonest act.

Ken Ramsey is one of the good guys. We need more people like him.

Brereton C. Jones
Midway, Ky.

Eclipse ceremony may be real spectacle

Only days before the Eclipse Awards, top-owner nominee Ken Ramsey was fined a Kentucky record $25,000 and suspended for a week for attempting to pay off a trainer to scratch her horse in favor of one of his own runners.

On a night that racing celebrates its greatest achievers, a person who has admitted to engaging in the sleaziest sort of behavior will stand as a finalist for one of the sport's most prestigious honors.

Something is terribly wrong with this picture.

In a sad way, Ramsey representing the racing industry as a Eclipse Award winner would reflect just how little the concept of integrity means in contemporary American horse racing.

Perhaps the industry-wide embarrassment of an Eclipse victory for Ramsey might force the powers that be in American racing to take their heads out of the sand and address the very real danger that exists now that the sporting public in general and the wagering public in particular has lost faith in the ability of racing to police itself.

Roger Treskunoff
Hayward, Calif.

Rebates and milkshakes a poor combination

Over the last few years, racing has faced some problems. Not real ones, mind you - "problems of perception," as some put it. Good thing, too - real problems require real solutions, while "problems of perception" require only solutions of perception. Now, shockingly, we find ourselves with a scandal - just the thing that industry leaders and racetrack operators wanted to avoid.

The main "problem of perception" involves drugs. Many horsemen and serious handicappers using speed figures have become convinced that certain trainers are regularly moving horses up in dramatic fashion, getting improvements way beyond those that can be obtained by good horsemanship. In fact, last year's DRF Expo featured a panel on the "supertrainers." But we must all have been wrong, because other than a few token gestures concerning one drug (milkshakes), the industry has taken no steps to protect the betting public, and the honest horsemen.

So here it is, guys: a four-point plan that will dramatically help with this problem. It will cost a few bucks, but it's worth it.

1. Build a 24-hour detention barn at every track. Horsemen will scream initially, but they will get used to it. And you will eliminate raceday drugs such as milkshakes.

2. Freeze the samples of the winner and a random horse from each race at every track. From what I've been told it's not that expensive, and it is a very powerful deterrent. The drug guys are ahead of the testers, but not ahead of where the testers will be in five years.

3. Make the trainer name with every entry a veterinarian of record who will be subject to penalties, and list him in the program, which will make it easier for all of us to track what's going on.

4. Make the trainer and vet fill out and sign off on a form with every entry, listing everything that has been put into the horse over the last seven days.

Unfortunately, the recent scandal has created an atmosphere of hysteria in which drugs have become linked with rebates, due in part to the unfortunate initial coverage in the Racing Form, which, in the first paragraph of the Jan. 16 article "Glare on sport's dark corners," linked drugs and rebates equally as the two "issues" facing the industry. The Form continued to fuel the fire in subsequent articles, while not showing how racing's interests were adversely affected by rebate houses, pausing just long enough to let one particular rebater - Racing and Gaming Services - have two paragraphs for a lawyer's statement distancing itself from the scandal. Not surprisingly, that was the only major site not cut off by the New York Racing Association and others a couple of days later.

Look, if someone is doing something illegal, they have to be really dumb to bet through a rebater. This scandal has shown why: Account wagering companies require names and keep records, while you can go to any racetrack, simulcast site, or OTB in the land and bet in total anonymity. And other than the drug aspect, which really is important, the alleged crimes involved in the scandal are technical violations of far greater interest and consequence to the IRS and those who sell newspapers than to those of us in racing.

Full disclosure: My company has a business relationship with a rebate outfit, not one of the ones named in the indictment. But what racetracks need to do is cut out the middlemen and either lower the insanely high takeout or give rebates themselves. Failing that, anyone who thinks the enormous amount of handle generated because of rebates is simply going to be put through the windows at full price hasn't been paying attention. It will either go to non-parimutuel sites that offer rebates or disappear entirely.

Another "problem of perception" is that many of us believe that the pools are being tampered with after betting closes, and it's easy to solve, independent of rebates - simply close the betting before the first horse is loaded and transfer the data to another computer, which is then isolated.

But hey, if another scandal does explode, it will just be a problem of perception.

Jerry Brown, New York City
President, Thoro-Graph Inc.

New Jersey's step goes in right direction

That the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority is taking an active stance and cutting off its signal to so-called rebate shops ("NTRA once again urges scrutiny of rebate shops," Jan 17) indicates that racetrack executives are finally getting wise to some of the major issues that threaten to bury racing.

Rebate shops aren't fair and aren't even legal in many states, and they create an unfair advantage for big players, one the little guys can not compete with. Simply lowering the takeout would help everyone, whether they bet $500 or $500,000 a year. In fact, it would reward the best players, regardless of their economic status. Until this happens, if it ever does, many players will choose to break the law and undercut the jobs of everyone who works at their local racetrack.

But obeying laws seems to get you nowhere these days: Take milkshakes and other such practices. Can anyone tell me why every track in the United States doesn't test every horse in every race? Furthermore, why not publish the names of the trainers whose horses come up positive? How is it possible that this information is not made public? On Wall Street, they put you in jail for much less than that - ask Martha Stewart.

Lastly, when are racing executives going to take on the archaic and ridiculous tax laws? If I spend $1,000 on a pick six that pays $600, that's considered a 300-1 profit and must be reported. How about aggregate takeouts? Cash five one-dollar pick four tickets that pay $1,000 each, and the track takes 30 percent of the total for the IRS, as if each ticket passed the $5,000 taxation threshold, even though, clearly, they are individual tickets. Never mind the resources required to process all that paperwork, that money is effectively being taken right out of the mutual pools.

I love this sport, and I see it dying right before my eyes. In the hope that any racing executive might actually ever read this, all I can say is don't wait too long, people. A mass exodus is close at hand, and once players leave, they're not coming back.

Marc Bonagura
Green Brook, N.J.

Baze's greatest strength: His circuit's weakness

With good health, it appears Russell Baze will become the all-time leading jockey in wins in two to three more years. People talk about the need for asterisks next to athletes' names and records and this one will deserve a big one. I haven't spoken with anyone who thinks Baze is in the same league as Laffit Pincay Jr. or Bill Shoemaker.

The facts are plain. Baze rides at lesser tracks, gets first call for the best trainers, and rides against lesser jockeys compared with those at the bigger tracks. I don't fault him for that, as I'm sure he has carved out a nice living. If, however, he had ridden for the last 10 years at Hollywood Park, Santa Anita, and Del Mar, he wouldn't even be able to sniff the record. The only time he rode for any length of time in Southern California, he didn't fare well.

What horse racing fans are gradually seeing is a good jockey passing the great ones.

Jon Crain
Huntington Beach, Calif.

Horsemen, families get first-class Magna touch

This constant criticism of Magna Entertainment is getting old (Letters to the Editor, Jan. 16.) My wife and I, along with our two children, just completed a long weekend visit to Gulfstream in which we were treated very well by our Magna hosts.

In spite of the rain and clouds, the quality of horse racing was second to none. It is very easy to see why the horses and horsemen are ecstatic about the newly designed track. Building quality barns and dorms for the track workers has never been a priority with most tracks. This is a welcome change. Here again, Magna has it right.

We look forward to visiting Gulfstream again in March, and next year when work is completed. It will truly be the new showplace of horse racing in this country.

Dan Brackle
Thornton, Pa.