02/18/2005 12:00AM

Letters to the editor


Florida owners need muscle in contract talks

I am a horse owner and trainer in south Florida. I am writing this to make owners, who spend millions of dollars to put the product on the tracks, aware that they run horse racing in the state of Florida, not the racetracks. The tracks have no investment in the equines who compete, but they make millions off them.

With the contracts for our simulcast signals coming to an end this year, owners and horsemen need to have more of a say as to who is going to negotiate those contracts with the racetracks. We need help arrange a better deal than we currently have. When it comes time to determine division of slot machine revenue, we could use someone with experience in arbitration. Such a negotiator could get Florida's horsemen and owners a share of the money based on agreements reached in other states.

The board of directors of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, with all due respect, is not qualified for this. We need a professional to negotiate our new contracts, not the current management of the HBPA. It was the current management that took $1 million out of our purse account to help pass Amendment 4 to further slot legislation without taking a vote or even discussing the issue with the membership.

We need more communication between the owners who run the show and the HBPA board, which mistakenly thinks it runs the show. We need higher purse money so we can keep good horses in south Florida.

The racetracks are making a lot of money and not being fair to the horsemen. Each year we read how much money Calder makes for its owner, Churchill Downs Inc., but what about the horse owners who spend millions of dollars on the product? We need to be treated with respect, and the purse structure has to increase, because too many owners are losing money.

Higher purses mean better horses and new owners. Owners and horsemen need to stand up and make a change. Now, more than ever, with slot machines apparently in our future, we need to assure our fair share.

Bill Cesare
Davie, Fla.

Rod shouldn't be spared in fighting chemical abuse

Jeff Mullins has been the lightning rod for trainers in the never-ending soap opera of drugs in Thoroughbred racing. It's terrible publicity for the sport, so why don't the powers that be do something proactive?

Mullins has now been identified as having a horse test positive for a milkshake at Santa Anita ("Milkshake brings sanctions for Mullins," Feb. 12). He was notified of the same at Hollywood Park. He gets a slap on the hand, so far.

Those with the power to stop once and for all the use of banned substances should either hand out the harshest penalty possible or quit wasting the public's time talking about the problem.

Michael Johnson
Las Vegas

Lack of enforcement may lead to owner flight

While, as an owner in the Thoroughbred industry, I blanch each time I see yet another report that casts an ill shadow upon our sport, I laud Stan Bergstein's columns in recent weeks regarding the issues of milkshakes and drugged horses in general, such as the Feb. 10 "Milkshaking just tip of drug-dealing iceberg."

Like many owners (and probably a large percentage of trainers as well), I am sickened by watching the results of a few trainers who have found ways to make the the playing field less than level in the very difficult competition for purse dollars. I am just as sickened by the ongoing glorification of a limited number of such trainers by some television racing commentators. These trainers have created unbelievable improvements in horse performance (look at the Beyer Speed Figure step-ups for all the proof you need) far too many times and far too frequently to be doing anything that is legal.

The news that Santa Anita has come down on Jeff Mullins is heartwarming, and not unexpected. As for Mullins's positive-spin comments - about how they are all working together and that the horses who were over the alkaline limit weren't over by that much- give me a break! What put them at or near the limit so consistently anyway, when so many other trainers did not even come close equally consistently? (And by the way, let's lower the damn limit).

While the industry cannot tolerate black eyes in front of a diminishing public, those who participate in this industry as owners and investors equally cannot tolerate paying incredible sums of money to chase dreams and run interests in the business while running uphill. Common sense dictates we get out unless something is done soon, and in a sweeping fashion. The evidence may not be readily available in the bloodstream or affordably testable for every horse in every race, but the evidence is all over the statistics. It sure seems strange that some very average trainers have become a whole lot smarter in the recent past. They can and should be targeted for detailed ongoing testing.

Ronald A. Maus

Gill fan resounds fanfare for common man

Cheers to Michael Gill for his Feb. 13 letter to the Racing Form, "Gill describes Eclipse scene in different take." While he participates at a level well beyond what the average Thoroughbred owner could ever dream of, his involvement with racing is noble. His commitment to being a player in the claiming ranks is nothing to be ashamed of. If I am not mistaken, the goal above all others for the Thoroughbred owner is winning races and the purses go with them in an attempt to build a profit - something Gill did all year long without ever resorting to trying to bribe other horsemen.

Gill's wealth affords him the opportunity to own a huge string of decent- to good-quality Thoroughbreds. Yet somehow his accomplishments are continually trivialized so that other owners shelling out a million dollars or more for a yearling can be recognized. That is an unrealistic goal for the everyday owner. Gill is everyman. He got to where he is in life with his own hard work, and he has transferred this passion and drive to his Thoroughbred operation. I applaud Gill for his commitment to racing, and his love for the racehorse - not just the regally bred "next big thing" at auction.

Let the elitists enjoy their self-righteous pleasures. I'll be cheering for Gill horses across the country this year - not for my own financial gain, but so that I might be able to have a nice laugh next January when, I hope, Gill is finally recognized with an Eclipse Award for his mind-blowing accomplishments.

Brian W. Spencer
Portland, Ore.