02/22/2002 12:00AM

Letters to the Editor

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Grading system needs a revamp to reward best

Thank you, thank you, thank you, to Steven Crist, for speaking out on a matter that has irritated me for some time: the grading system for our stakes races ("Just too easy to make the grade," Feb 17).

The current system does nothing to enhance the reputation of some of our less-important races, but it does seriously undermine the status of true graded stakes. As Crist quite rightly pointed out, if you are going to bestow a Grade 1 on the Fountain of Youth, which is a trial for the Florida Derby, which in turn is a trial for the Kentucky Derby, then what do we call the Kentucky Derby itself, a Grade 1-plus-plus?

The graded stakes system is supposed to reward the very best of the breed, to separate wheat from the chaff, not reward the chaff.

This raises another question. Is it not also time for us to legitimize the value of our most important races? The current rules state that no Grade 1 race shall be run for a purse less than $125,000, a Grade 2 for less than $100,000, and a Grade 3 for less than $75,000. At a time when maidens are running for almost $50,000 and there are a number of ungraded stakes run for $100,000, the current valuations are insulting. Even the Graded Stakes Committee itself saw fit consider a motion to increase in the valuations at this year's meeting, but failed to agree.

Finally, is it not time that we also added some credibility to our most important handicap races? For the last week or so the racing media speculated on the 128-pound assignment given to Xtra Heat in the Barbara Fritchie Handicap. In my view, handicaps are races that give an opportunity to horses of lesser ability a chance to win a decent purse. Considering that there are ample opportunities for our best horses to run in graded stakes under allowance conditions - proven by the fact that they avoid each other all year - any owner or trainer who is prepared to enter a graded stakes-caliber horse in a handicap must be prepared to suffer the consequences.

Although I played no part in the weighting of the Barbara Fritchie, I am proud to be part of a racing office that stood up to the plate and put a legitimate weight on a legitimate horse and saw a wonderful filly legitimize her credentials, not that she needed to, and not like many of the so-called champions who have preceded her.

The racing industry is spending enormous amounts of time, energy, and money trying to attract new fans to our sport. Perhaps if we cut out many of the falsehoods that permeate our great sport we would do a lot better.

J.D. Rollinson, Stakes Coordinator

Maryland Jockey Club

Eclipse balloting shouldn't reward absentee

The Eclipse Awards are a joke!

They have made a laughingstock out of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and its marketing efforts. First the Breeders' Cup Day had been changed to the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, a ridiculously verbose title. This was done to give the event a "world-class" appeal, or so they said.

No sooner do they hold their newly christened World Championship event, resulting in a battle royale for the biggest prize of the day between the two best horses in training, only to have the illuminati (or is it ignorati?) of racing go and award the Horse of the Year title to a horse who didn't even compete in the so-called Championships.

Racing has now officially designated itself as the only sport where the champion for a given year may be selected from a group of competitors who don't even compete in the sport's annual championship.

How utterly ridiculous is that?

Awarding Point Given the Horse of the Year title has denigrated the good names of the Breeders' Cup Classic and the Arc de Triomphe, the two greatest events in horse racing.

Racing has deteriorated into something on the level of the World Wrestling Federation. No, wait. I think that even in the WWF you have to compete in the championship to be declared the champion.

Let's just award Point Given the Olympic gold medal for pairs figure skating and resolve that controversy while we're at it.

Carson Horton

Portland, Ore.

In-home gambits hurt by bungled strategy

I wonder how the operators of Television Games Network and Magna Entertainment were able to become moguls in any industry, such is their lack of common sense when it comes to business.

They are both looking for profits in their wagering operations, yet they use methods destined to alienate more horseplayers. Their main business is accepting wagers, and they should be interested in building a solid base of new young customers while keeping the present ones.

They could do this better by charging $10 per month in an attempt to get the coverage into 25 percent of the homes in this country and any other countries that might be inclined to participate.

If marketed properly, the daily races could be made available to more people, and if you create an interest in viewing the races you will create an interest in wagering on them.

I am a former horse owner who no longer has a strong interest in betting horses, but I do usually bet the races that are shown on television. I'm sure that many others would be interested in wagering if they could see the races in the comfort of their homes, but doubt they would be willing to pay $100 per month for the privilege of Magna's "revived" Racing Network.

In the case of TVG, it is necessary to buy a dish with additional mandatory programming in order to get the live races.

Both sound like poor business plans to me.

Fred Martelli

Las Vegas

Steven Crist: Xenophobe

I was amused by Steven Crist's Feb. 10 column, "A Cup abroad? It's Euro trash talk," concerning European desire to stage the Breeders' Cup championship races.

By and large, I agree that it is impractical to hold the Cup outside the United States. I also agree also with Crist's argument, amounting to "Why should we?" What bothers me was the tone of the writing.

Hell, yeah: Let's just keep the European horses out of the Breeders' Cup, and we will better off by far. No purse money leaving the country, no whining about warm temperatures, etc.

Yeah, let's just not invite them in the years to come. They have done well enough as it is.

The Breeders' Cup could also use a little sprucing up in its image. How about a new name for the event ? Xenophobes' Day at the Races doesn't quite ring home. I'll keep working on it.Paul Peterson

South Lake Tahoe, Calf.

Let a champion go with something extra left

I, along with many others, feel it is time to retire Xtra Heat. She has done more than most fillies of her generation and no longer needs to prove anything anymore.

With the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly to her credit and last Saturday's runaway victory in the Barbara Fritchie fresh in everyone's memory, she should be retired with dignity and on a winning note. Campaigning her any longer would be greedy and selfish. It would be nice if the owners did something in honor of the horses while they were still sound.

Heidi Mann

Elmont, N.Y.