05/26/2005 11:00PM

Letters to the editor

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Maryland slots need better representation

Perhaps the most amusing part of the May 20 article "Magna makes push for slots" was its reference to a meeting that Michael Busch, speaker of the Maryland House, declined to attend. Apparently, the article noted, Busch avoided the meeting because he believed it was "a political ploy to shift the blame for the failure of slots legislation to his supporters in the House."

Shift the blame? I've got some shocking news for Mr. Busch. The blame already sits squarely on his shoulders. The lost opportunity of slots each of the past few years in the state of Maryland has cost the state countless millions of dollars, and he can accept all of the blame. Or, perhaps from his perspective, he considers it credit.

The citizenry should thank him from the bottom of their hearts. That is, the citizenry of West Virginia, Delaware, and now Pennsylvania. While Busch is single-handedly killing horse racing in the state and driving many of us out of the Thoroughbred racing industry in Maryland, at least I can thank him for one thing: My shares of Penn National stock split once again.

Steve Hochman
Westminster, Md.

Preakness story a Hollywood natural

Were a film producer looking to compete with "Seabiscuit," consider a movie about Afleet Alex and his connections.

The heartwarming story on how this horse was named, the incredible skill of an unheralded and talented jockey, and the relentless courage of Afleet Alex are the stuff of what brings most of the true believers to this sport.

Amazingly, had Jeremy Rose and Afleet Alex been unable to finish the Preakness ("Afleet and nimble," May 23), Scrappy T would have been disqualified, and Giacomo would be a potential Triple Crown winner going into the Belmont Stakes. Hollywood would be hard-pressed to weave such a tale.

This year's Preakness is one race I will never forget.

Gary Zweifach
West New York, N.J.

Going Wild has gone a long way too far

Lost in what may have been one of the most remarkable stretch runs in history was the ridiculous entry of one of the 14 runners of the Preakness Stakes.

D. Wayne Lukas is without question one of the greatest trainers in history. His recent participation, however, should raise the ire of the entire racing industry. Going Wild's margins of defeat in his last three starts going into the Preakness were (1) Wood Memorial, 41 lengths; (2) Lexington Stakes, 16 lengths; (3) Kentucky Derby, 29 lengths.

Off those efforts, Lukas had the audacity to run him another 1 3/16 miles. This produced another trouncing, by 42 lengths, in a dead-last finish. If Lukas tries to enter this horse in the Belmont Stakes, there should be an investigation.

Rob Tuel
Omaha, Neb.

NYRA must make a priority of explaining new system

I went to Belmont Park on May 21, the day of Preakness, the first time I had visited a New York Racing Association track since the installation of new betting machines.

Fans now have two electronic wagering options - a new and more complicated version of the automated system with vouchers, and the new NYRA cash card. Neither option, however, was explained to bettors in either the large or small track program. In the fine print of the program's "How to Wager" section, there was brief and useless coverage of the automatic, voucher-driven touch-betting machine, but no guidance on how to use it and no mention of how it differs from the machine that bettors have been using for years. In another section of the program, there was information on where to pick up a NYRA cash card but no word about what is and how it works. Periodically, the NYRA cash card would be mentioned briefly on the television screens, but the announcements offered no help on how to use it.

On the day of the Belmont Stakes, the track will likely have to accommodate at least 70,000 fans. Many of them will bet using mutuel clerks. But that option may be compromised by the recent firing of dozens of clerks who participated in the May 21 job action ("NYRA fires 59 clerks after apparent strike," May 25), which will necessitate the training of new clerks - neophytes who will be under particularly stiff pressure on the day of the Belmont. Thousands of others will, instead, want to use the electronic betting options, but many will find this difficult because of the total lack of information on them.

If NYRA wants to avert chaos on its biggest day of the year, I suggest it provide ample information in the program and on TV screens on how to use these new wagering options. I also recommend that NYRA have enough qualified personnel near these machines to assist people who are having problems with them. NYRA shouldn't wait until the day of the Belmont to make these changes. It should start as soon as possible.

Sam Ludu
Baldwin, N.Y.

Modern methods an admission of weakness

The results of the first two legs of this year's Triple Crown, and the failure of so many supposedly logical contenders to perform up to expectations will no doubt provoke another round of racing questions.

Is this really a bad crop of 3-year-olds? Giacomo is probably going to prove to be a formidable force in the division. Afleet Alex is certainly a quality animal. Bellamy Road has superstar potential. As for the rest, their failures only bring up more questions.

Are current training methods the real reason why so few horses have been developed into quality 3-year-olds? The evolution of the sport in the last 25 years is diametrically opposed to the Triple Crown trail. The accepted wisdom of trainers once was that when a horse "came into form," you ran him often. The accepted wisdom today is that horses need much more time to recover from a top effort, especially the good ones, which is why you seldom see them run within such a short span.

When the overwhelming choice for Horse of the Year runs only four times, as was the case with Ghostzapper last year, you know that the game has changed.

The general acceptance of such a theory dictates against competing in three Grade 1 races in five weeks. In order to do so, most of today's trainers have to train against their own philosophies. This is usually a recipe for failure. Under the circumstances, it is surprising that we have had so many horses who at least had the opportunity to win the Triple Crown in the last several years.

If today's trainers are correct in their assessment of the time it takes for an equine athlete to recover from a maximum effort, it is an admission that the breed has been seriously weakened over the past decades. And if that is true, then it follows under today's conditions that we can never produce the one thing everyone agrees racing so desperately needs: stars of enduring quality, who can race often enough to become recognizable celebrities outside the immediate racing community.

Tim Vana
Des Plaines, Ill.