08/19/2005 12:00AM

Letters to the editor


Time to close betting window on steeplechases

I say to tracks all over this country that the offering of parimutuel wagering on steeplechase events has run it course, and it should not be offered to the betting public, beginning immediately. One finds it difficult enough to handicap a full card of Thoroughbreds on any given day, and to be given a race (or, such as some Wednesdays at Saratoga, two) where the participants are required to jump over 12 or more fences during a marathon race is just not logical nor economically feasible.

I understand that these races are rich in tradition. If track management feels that these races need to be run for that purpose only, showcase them as non-wagering events. The tracks would benefit also, as total handle shows a sharp decline in days where steeplechase racing is offered (as a wagering event).

Another disturbing aspect, as evidenced in the second race at Saratoga just this past Wednesday, Aug. 17, is the possibility of nasty spills and pileups of horses who are unable to negotiate successfully all the fences they are required to hurdle. In that race, only two participants were able to complete the course, which affected show and trifecta pools and also, to a greater degree, affected the atmosphere of the crowd.

No one wants to see a horse or jockey go down in a spill, no less a multi-horse spill. Over hurdles, I am sad to say, this happens all too often in a dangerous type of horse racing.

Let's give the bettors, and the casual racing fans, what they need and want - great dirt and turf, sprint and route racing - without the accident-waiting-to-happen and relatively lightly wagered steeplechase events.

Tom Fleming,
Hicksville, N.Y.

Where have all the horses gone?

In his Aug. 14 column, "Even Saratoga has its down days," Steven Crist discussed the possibility that a shortage of racing stock may be contributing to poor racing both there and at other venues around the country. Nowhere is the negative effect of short fields more evident than at Del Mar this season.

Del Mar and Saratoga are often considered by some the premier meets of the year. This year, they are not even in the same zip code. In fact, most major gamblers would consider the Southern California meet nothing more than another stop on the fair circuit. With six-horse fields, bottom-claimers, and an abundance of maiden races, anyone serious about wagering on this sport would be committing financial heresy by playing Del Mar every day. The weekend cards are acceptable, but everything else is ridiculous.

The issue that concerns me as a breeder, owner, and player is the lack of horses competing for greater purses. There is no shortage of horses available at auction. The recent Fasig-Tipton July yearling sale had the largest selection of horses since its inception, and the venerable Keeneland September sale is about to offer more than 5,000 head at its upcoming annual event. Buyers are spending more money than ever, with gross receipts and averages climbing each year. So what could be the problem?

The proliferation of performance-enhancing medication, the narrowing of the breed, and the overall cost of ownership for the average guy are undoubtedly hurting the game. Horse performance is seemingly being artificially enhanced, with some of today's horses going on to stallion duty and passing along their inherent infirmities. The commercial necessity for speed and the proliferation of sons of Storm Cat are certainly presenting breeders with fewer options for their mares and ultimately crushing breed diversity.

Owning a Thoroughbred at a major venue costs in excess of $40,000 per year, requiring three wins just to break even. Trainers are broke, owners are getting there, and the only people making money at the racetrack are bloodstock agents and top-10 jockeys. These are the topics that should be debated by racing management, breeders, and owners collectively. Until the industry unites on these issues, and comes up with some answers, the business will continue its decline.

Anthony J. Perrotta Jr.
Colts Neck, N.J.

Post parade considered required viewing

I have been following horse racing for more than 40 years, and I always want to see the horses on the track before the race. Why has ESPN stopped showing the post parade on its broadcasts?

If the network wants educated viewers, what's better than seeing the horses live to see if they are washy or acting up? Also, it helps to watch the race to see the colors of the silks that the jockeys are wearing.

ESPN does an excellent job covering racing, but it could improve by showing the post parade.

Bill Mulvihill
Huntington Beach,Calif.

Bettors don't need extra drain on their funds

I recently decided to take a trip to Monmouth Park from my home in Brooklyn. Just to get there cost me over $25 (gas, two bridge tolls, other tolls). The thing that got me most, though, was the ridiculous price of food and beverage at the track.

Don't the Monmouth people realize that though it is 2005, the purchasing power of patrons has been greatly diminished by the high cost of everything? A glass of beer was $5, coffee was $1.50 (small size, if you please), a soda $2.50, and, should you want a sandwich, well, don't even ask.

Why is it when the cost of living is so expensive these days, many racetracks refuse to be realistic? How come they never lower prices to help the poor fans and not subject them to such outrageous prices? It's time they got realistic and see the times as they are.

And tracks wonder why handle and crowds are way down. (And I'm talking to you too, Saratoga.)

Richard Potruch
Brooklyn, N.Y.

$50 minimum contrary to one economic theory

In his Aug. 11 column, "Bad karma strikes in pick four," Dick Jerardi suggested than any prospective bettor be turned away from a racetrack if he or she had less than $50 in his or her pocket.

I have been betting on horses for more than 50 years, and very seldom have I gone to the track or race book with a bankroll of, say, $100 or more. I have seen many a bettor lose his shirt betting large sums on 3-5 shots. Anyway, I always believed it wasn't how much you came with that counted, but how much you left with.

Daniel F. Olivier
Bullhead City, Ariz.