06/09/2005 11:00PM

Letters to the editor


California took callous attitude about stewards

I was shocked when I read the June 4 article "Board dismisses 3 stewards" about the firing by the California Horse Racing Board of stewards Pete Pedersen, Merlin Volzke, and Jack Williams.

Having been a steward for 25 years, I have had the opportunity to read the small print on the contracts that we all sign, and I realize that the racing board has the right to fire stewards at whim. In the normal business world, the board would be leaving itself open to an age-discrimination lawsuit. (Is it a coincidence that Pedersen, Volzke, and Williams happen to be the oldest stewards serving the California racing board? I don't think so.) Perhaps it is time that the legalities of these contracts be challenged and perhaps the gentlemen involved will obtain an attorney.

The racing board may have been within its legal rights to fire stewards as it sees fit, but the way it handled the firings showed a complete lack of class. Those dismissed, who have given more than 75 years of service as stewards and 100 years to the racing industry, deserved to fulfill the assignments assigned to them for this year and have the option of retiring if they wished. One of these men, who will serve his final day as a steward on the last day of the current Hollywood Park meet, has put in 50 years as a steward, and to my knowledge has never been admonished. Would it have been so terrible to allow this gentleman to serve out his assignments in the final months of 2005 and then retire with the dignity that he and the other stewards have earned?

The racing board had an opportunity to honor these stewards for a lifetime of service to horse racing, and I find it extremely disappointing that it chose a path of embarrassment and humiliation.

David G. Samuel
Placentia, Calif.

Time to rethink classics for 3-year-olds

I was prompted to write by the June 5 column by Alan Shuback, "Let's construct a new series of classic races."

In it, Shuback opined that the Belmont Stakes has become irrelevant and that unless there is a horse vying for the Triple Crown it is not even very interesting.

I would be the first to agree with that assessment and add that the entire Triple Crown has become irrelevant. It doesn't establish who the best 3-year-old is. In fact the end result of the Triple Crown campaign is to ruin the vast majority of the top 3-year-old prospects in the country, leading to depleted handicap ranks down the line, leading to even more boring racing at the top levels of the game for years to come.

Why doesn't the Breeders Cup card a race for 3-year-old colts with a $2 million or $3 million purse? That way the connections of a top 3-year-old prospect would have the choice of saving their horse and pointing him for a big fall campaign and an attempt to win the Breeders' Cup race with the attendant prestige and purse money that would come with a victory.

As this year's Kentucky Derby illustrated, that race is a cattle call often resulting in a lottery-style chance of victory.

If the Belmont is irrelevant, where does that leave the Preakness? Now that is an irrelevant race if ever there was one. In fact, racing in the state of Maryland is entirely irrelevant and has been for many, many years. Just ask Andrew Beyer about Maryland racing. I'll bet he has to reach for the blood-pressure medication every time he thinks about it.

No, it is sad but true, the Triple Crown itself is irrelevant. It is far more counterproductive to racing than it is productive, and the lengthy history of exhausted 3-year-old crops has led to four-, five-, and six-horse fields in almost all major stakes carded for older horses in this country.

Mary Nichols
Portland, Ore.

Two old warriors fought a battle too many

The recent fatal breakdowns of both Star Over the Bay and All the Boys leaves me upset and wondering why. It seems as if aggressive connections were asking too much of these game veteran horses late in their careers.

Star Over the Bay was shipped halfway around the world after running poorly (by his standards ) on March 27 at Santa Anita in 1 1/2-mile San Luis Rey. Sent to Singapore seven weeks later and forced to race without his normal medications of Lasix and Butazolidin, he broke down at the half-mile pole.

All the Boys also ran on March 27 at Santa Anita, in an allowance race. Then he was brought back less than a month later in the gruelling San Juan Capistrano at 1 3/4 miles, where he was badly overmatched. Six weeks later, he was brought back in a high-priced optional claimer where the fatal accident occurred.

The late Hall of Famer Charlie Whittingham once was quoted as saying that if you run your horse in the San Juan, don't plan to bring him back until the end of the Hollywood Park meet at the earliest.

I just wonder if Whittingham had trained these horses if their fates would have been better. I think I know the answer.

Bob Malconian
Northridge, Calif.

Tale of a breakdown had beauty in its sadness

I just wanted to say how much I appreciated Jay Hovdey's June 2 column, "This one's for All the Boys," about the breakdown of All the Boys at Hollywood Park last weekend. I thought it was beautifully written, and I hope trainer Jeff Mullins appreciated his affectionate side being brought to light.

It always makes me sick to see a racehorse break down, and I think it's important that people like Hovdey honor them.

David Wade
Inman, S.C.

Land of Lincoln needs sound of slots

Having been employed at Illinois racetracks for more than 50 years, I fear for the sorry state of horse racing both in Illinois and across the country.

The stands at racetracks that used to hold thousands now hold only a few hundreds, as is evident when television cameras pan the stands.

At present, I am interested only in the empty stands at Arlington Park - without a doubt the most beautiful track in the country. I can remember long lines at the betting windows. No more.

Where have the bettors gone? To the casinos, of course. So let's level the playing field by installing slot machines at the tracks and give the gamblers the action they desire. Let's send somebody to the state capital to lobby the powers that be, and remedy the problem with slots.

Carl Hummell
Crystal Lake, Ill

Bettors could benefit from knowledge of claims

I have a suggestion that would be helpful to horseplayers, who after all are the sport's bedrock, something that some racing officials seem to forget.

My proposal is for tracks to announce before a claiming race which horses are being claimed. I think that would be helpful for players to factor in their handicapping. The track would not necessarily have to announce who was submitting the claim (that can wait, as it does, until after the completion of the race).

Phil Wechsler
Delray Beach, Fla.