03/08/2002 1:00AM

Letters to the editor


Cheap shots at Stronach way off mark

It seems that every week on the Racing Form letters page at least a couple of people take free shots at Frank Stronach and Magna Entertainment, and I for one am sick of it.

Am I the only person who thinks that Stronach just might be hailed as the man who saved racing in California, if not the entire country?

Enough already with the criticism of Magna for holding concerts at Gulfstream Park and giving away free $2 bets. Newcomers cannot become regulars until (1) they know how to get around the track, and (2) they learn how to make a bet. Gulfstream's marketing staff should be praised for addressing both issues through a single promotion.

Several other letters in recent weeks have vilified the man for resurrecting The Racing Network. What these financially challenged complainers obviously don't understand is that by charging $100 per month (an amount many of TRN's hard-core subscribers had already been willing to pay to keep the service from folding), long-term survival of TRN is realistically attainable.

What do you get for your $100? Well, on a run-of-the mill Thursday, I have at my fingertips full-card simulcasting of Gulfstream, Laurel, Tampa Bay, Oaklawn, Golden Gate, Santa Anita, Sam Houston, and Charles Town, plus five harness tracks and Australian racing. For about $3 a day? Pinch me, this must be a dream.

As for all the complaints about California racing, what more does the guy have to do? His renovations at Santa Anita have been fantastic and tasteful, he is about to break ground on a long-awaited equine hospital at Golden Gate Fields, and he is ready and willing to begin construction of a brand-new racetrack in Dixon, Calif., to replace the soon-to-be-razed Bay Meadows. Does anyone really believe that the old track ownerships would have accomplished any of these projects within the next decade?

In my view, Stronach has made an enormous investment in American racing, he has a vision, he is not afraid of failure, and he is trying. Can't we give him the benefit of the doubt?

Dominic Ippolito

Seal Beach, Calif.

Quick fix in theory, slow death in practice

Slot machines and the income derived from them are effectively serving as the latest distraction allowing the Thoroughbred industry to avoid facing its core problems. Slot money seems to be viewed as a sort of financial life-support system for a sport that cannot survive on its own.

Horse racing must survive on its own. If it allows itself to become further enmeshed with the so-called gaming industry, it will inevitably lose out to the ruthless efficiency of machine-based gambling and drop completely off the entertainment radar screen.

I derive all my income from the Thoroughbred business and naturally wish it to prosper. The introduction of ontrack casinos, however, represents a long-term threat to the sport. If racing participates in hand-out profits from another industry, it places itself in the hands of forces it absolutely cannot control.

What is to stop any state from saying, "Why should we give all this money up to racing? Let's put the casino franchises out to bid, take more of the revenue ourselves, and let the horse people look after themselves."

The imperative of most racetracks is to make a profit, not necessarily to improve racing. With most tracks running cards full of low-end claiming races, there is little to no interesting racing to be found on the average program. Most enthusiastic and loyal fans want to see good horses and full fields, and they turn out in large numbers to support and bet on the better races.

Casino money, however, is usually misdirected toward inferior horses because it is allotted by accident of location rather than quality of participant. Casino gambling may bring more money to the racetracks, but it will not improve racing.

Do we think so little of our sport that we are willing to take the first easy money that comes along with no regard for the long-term consequences - the continued decline of good racing and a correlating decline in fan support?

Competition for the gambling dollar is a reality, and racing must earn its share by promoting and planning the future of our sport in a way that emphasizes the difference between the monotony of pulling a lever and the variety and satisfaction of handicapping a race. We must look after our core constituency, target new fans in the right demographic groups, and stop dreaming that we can be all things to all people.

When the casino gravy train breaks down we will be left with a glut of inferior horses, no purses and - worst of all - no sport.

Lincoln Collins

Lexington, Ky.

Slots by far the lesser of social evils

In regard to the March 6 article "Kentucky slots push in final furlong," on the status of a bill being debated over slot machines, and the organized opposition to the legislation, I offer this:

Introducing slot machines at the racetracks is the primary viable solution to ensure the stability and further the growth of this industry. Considering the fact that over one-third of the generated profits will end up in the state's treasury, to be used to support and maintain numerous social programs, the efforts to kill this legislation will do more long-term damage to Kentucky than any new problems the bill may create.

Allow me to propose this scenario: Let's assume the racetracks are granted legislative approval to obtain slot machines. Two years later, what will be a bigger destructive force to the quality of life to the citizens of Kentucky? Slot machines, or the continued proliferation of illegal drug operations in Kentucky, mainly marijuana growth, and the highly destructive methamphetamine production and use? If anyone thinks its slot machines, then I suggest they take the time to research the growth and the effects these substances have on the state's citizens, and the social problems they create.

So I urge an end to this nonsense of opposing changes that would give the horse racing industry in Kentucky a fighting chance to survive for years to come.

To really help the citizenship of Kentucky, focus in on illegal drug production and the problems it generates. But if we must focus on gambling issues, why not abolish all the state lottery games? Slot machines only hold about 10 percent of the players' action; the lottery holds 50 percent.

Chuck Seeger

Mount Vernon, Va.

Don't play politics with Pimlico Special

The Maryland Jockey Club made a big mistake in suspending the Pimlico Special this year (March 1). What does it matter that this year's handicap division looks to be weak this year? Does that mean that this is how all stakes races should be determined from now on in deciding schedules? I don't think so.

This was a political move to try to show the state that the different factions can work together and for the MJC to get what they want - carte blanche where Virginia is concerned. Is it going to work? I doubt it.

Losing the Special and its history (even for just one year) doesn't look good to anyone outside the state, and Virginia racing is dying. (If the track had been in northern Virginia, then there would be no problem, but where it is now is disastrous.)

Will this move make a difference regarding getting a subsidy from the legislators next year? I doubt it. If we can make changes and continue with out the subsidy, why do we need it from now on? No, suspending the Special was a big mistake, and most of the horsemen think so, too.

Vita Licari

Laurel, Md.