08/25/2005 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor

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Some race fans jump to defend steeplechases

While I didn't agree with every word in Steven Crist's Aug 20 column, "Jumpers at Spa a thorny problem," he was correct in recognizing that while the burden is on steeplechase racing to make its case to stay, it is also deserving of flat racing's consideration.

We need to give bettors the information and knowledge of the game so that they feel comfortable wagering. I'm certain if hard-core bettors had this information, they would bet their money.

An unfortunate downside of the sport is the spills, and just like the spills in flat racing, we need to find the reasons why they happen so they can be limited.

One of the most recognizable positives in steeplechase racing is a continued useful life for the racehorse. Considering the current firestorm surrounding equine slaughterhouses, not only does the sport give an avenue for horses who might otherwise get lost in the cracks, it also gives options to owners not willing to lose a horse to the claiming ranks.

Certainly every flat-racing jurisdiction in the country could learn a few things from jump racing about drawing fans to the races, as even the smallest hunt meetings draw crowds that would dwarf most Saturdays at Belmont.

Unfortunately, Crist's effort at fair journalism was sullied by Mike Watchmaker's column of Aug. 24, with its item "Get steeplechases off the main card." If Mr. Watchmaker has an opinion, he is certainly entitled to express that opinion, but to insinuate that "steeplechase 'wise guys' " may have a fix in was disgraceful.

Although recently retired from the saddle, I owe what I have to the game that has given me so much, both personally and financially, and I take offense to the notion that there is anything more involved than hard work and dedication.

Gus Brown
Unionville, Penn.

Results aren't so puzzling as some juvenile races

In his Aug. 20 column, Steven Crist wondered whether steeplechase racing is worth preserving at Saratoga. The answer is a resounding yes.

Not only should this 140-year tradition be preserved, steeplechasing should be expanded so that fans can become more familiar with the sport, thereby leading to increased handle, as is the case throughout Europe, where it is not uncommon for the betting on jump races to exceed those on flat races.

Crist's statement that "many believe the races defy rational handicapping" serves to perpetuate a myth that is not supported by recent facts.

The average exacta and trifecta payouts for steeplechase races at this Saratoga meet have been small compared with the exacta and trifecta payouts in 2-year-old turf races this year - such as $661 and $6,486 in the fifth race on Aug. 7, then $1,212 and $7,604 in the sixth race on Aug. 22 - but I don't hear anyone questioning the viability of 2-year-old turf races at the Spa.

Handicappers in the United States should follow the lead of their European brethren and embrace the intellectual challenge of handicapping these steeplechase events, which feature large fields made up of horses shipping in from a multitude of different tracks.

Steeplechase racing in New York is at a disadvantage because it lacks familiarity among the fans. The best way to remedy that situation is to increase the number of steeplechase races run at Saratoga and Belmont. The handle on these races would increase as fans became more familiar with the sport, and handicappers would soon realize that steeplechase races offer a more intriguing intellectual handicapping challenge than yet another six-furlong dirt race with a short field.

Van Cushny
Locust Valley, N.Y.

Much-cited incident shouldn't undo tradition

I, for one, really enjoy the tradition, the beauty, and the novelty of the steeplechase races. Regarding the second race at Saratoga on Wednesday, Aug. 17, and all the attendant hand-wringing, let's not forget that not one horse or jockey was injured.

And as far as the wagering goes, I find steeplechase races to be rather formful and intriguing. For those concerned about lower betting handle on these races, why not just add a flat race or two to the day's betting card, and perhaps cut down the time between the jump races. Let's not overreact.

William Waters
Gloucester City, N.J.

Tales of Del Mar deserve new audience

Jay Hovdey's excellent Aug. 24 column, "Still running past the finish line," about the late William Murray, reminded us of a man who was a daily fixture at the Del Mar race meet for many years.

Murray's knowledge and love for the racing game was never more evident than through the pages of his many books and articles.

"Horse Fever," Murray's account of his experiences during the seven-week 1975 Del Mar meet, is without a doubt one of the greatest horse racing books ever written, and many of the characters portrayed can be found in the barns, paddock, and grandstand at the current meeting.

A whole new generation out there has grown up in the 29 years since "Horse Fever" hit the stands, and a younger-than-30ish crowd seems to flock to Del Mar. It would make sense for a publisher to take the lead, contact Murray's heirs, and reprint that book and many others Murray wrote.

The loss of Murray as a racing writer, both of fiction and nonfiction, is irreplaceable. With his final novel, "Dead Heat," though, Bill Murray is indeed "still running past the finish line."

Alan Conway
Fallbrook, Calif.

Monmouth's BC upgrade should include concessions

The Aug. 28 letter "Bettors don't need extra drains on their funds," concerning the high cost of a trip to Monmouth Park, struck a chord. Several tolls along the way and increasingly higher prices for gasoline do indeed make the trip more expensive than one might like.

Regarding the writer's complaint about food prices, though - prices are high everywhere. Quality, however, is something else. I don't mind spending $10 for a Coke and a burger, but let the meat be of decent quality. Let's hope Monmouth will upgrade the food as well as the rest of the facility for the 2007 Breeders' Cup.

Steve Viuker
Brooklyn, N.Y.