11/04/2005 1:00AM

Letters to the editor


Cup Day signal gave track fans a poor showing

The preempting of the Belmont simulcast signal for talking heads during the Breeders' Cup races showed that the National Thoroughbred Racing Association has adopted a philosophy practiced at too many member tracks.

That philosophy: To hell with the betting patrons at the track.

That type of telecast might work fine for people at home watching on television, but the NTRA should realize:

1. The crowds at the track make it impossible to hear what's being said (if there's even any interest).

2. The quality of the simulcast signal made the choice of graphic colors impossible to read by anyone not within two feet of a monitor.

3. During the races, the posting of leading horses' numbers was spotty. (In the Classic, the guy next to me thought Choctaw Nation won, some had no idea who won, and almost no one knew who was the runner-up.)

Normally, the New York Racing Association prerace graphics are second to none in readability, quality of information, and consistency. With the Breeders' Cup, information on potential daily double payoffs was either not presented at all, impossible to anticipate, or erroneous.

To the best of my knowledge, payoffs were never shown before the second race of a double, or after the first two of a pick three, or the first three of a pick four, staples of the normal Belmont simulcast signal.

In addition, being deprived of the normal flag-on-the-infield shot that precedes the beginning of racing at Belmont, we had to scramble to find out if there was wind and how it was blowing.

Purple saddlecloths work as a branding tool, but the average bettor follows a horse by looking for a saddlecloth color. The saddlecloths work because they are consistent from race to race, track to track. Owners' colors don't work because a bettor has to learn something new every race, and the quality of the simulcast signals makes it a guessing game, and the white-on-purple numbers are impossible to read.

Instead of trying to force something new on a dwindling fan base, NTRA planners should take the trouble to visit a few tracks, find what works for the bettors, and improve on it.

Ron Stuart
Clearwater, Fla.

New York needs friends committed to bettor relief

As a member of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Players Panel, I feel an obligation to respond to comments in the Nov. 3 article "Friends of New York study finds OTB revenue falling," about declining revenue paid to local and state governments by regional offtrack betting companies. The findings were the result of a study commissioned by Friends of New York Racing, a group led by the NTRA's former chief executive, Tim Smith, vying for the New York Racing Association franchise.

I agree with Smith that "It is not just the NYRA or ontrack model that needs fixing, but the entire parimutuel wagering system in New York, including offtrack and account wagering." But the Friends of New York Racing's grand scheme better include some breaks for the bettors that fuel the industry. How about starting with the elimination of the draconian 5 percent OTB surcharge and a commitment to educate legislators and racing executives on the long-term economic benefits of lower takeout rates?

Until I see Friends of New York Racing fund an unbiased study of takeout rates and show me the willingness to focus marketing efforts on the gambling game rather than "the racetrack experience," it will remain an acquaintance, not a friend.

Cary Fotias
Astoria, N.Y.

Best Mate held special place in the heart of racing

March 18, 2004, was a special day for me. That night at a restaurant in near Burford, England, I got engaged to the love of my life, Susan Van Metre. That afternoon, together we stood right at the finish and watched Best Mate win his historic third Cheltenham Gold Cup. As American racing fans, we'd grown accustomed to seeing a horse win two huge races only to come up short in the third. That's part of why seeing "Matey" win his third Gold Cup felt so good. But we felt a connection to him, the marvelous-looking bay with the noble head who had never been worse than second over fences.

We had gone the previous year to see Best Mate's second Gold Cup. And because of him we went back and became fans of National hunt racing. There's nothing like the atmosphere at Cheltenham, with 50,000 screaming fans for a championship race meet in the middle of the week in March. Best Mate had all those people on their feet screaming and applauding. Racing is much more of a real sport over there, in addition to being a great gambling game, and Best Mate really helped me feel that. Hunt racing is also great because the stars return year after year. Best Mate was 9 when he won his third Gold Cup, and there was every reason to believe he would come back to run at Cheltenham again at 10, 11, or even 12 years of age.

When I heard that he had died on the course at Exeter, I thought it was some kind of sick joke. I just stared ahead in disbelief. I tried to console myself by thinking that at least it was a quick and relatively painless heart attack instead of a horrible tableaux of suffering like we have seen so many times before in racing. But I just felt empty inside.

While Best Mate's passing was front-page news in England and Ireland, it was hard to explain the significance to friends here, even racing fans. Most of them hadn't heard of this horse who meant so much to me, and they certainly had no idea how he could bring me to the brink of tears like this. So I told the whole story and they began to understand. I think his recently retired usual jockey, Jim Culloty, explained it best, "It's like losing a friend."

Peter Thomas Fornatale
New York City

Leroidesanimaux's shoes warranted full disclosure

It was exciting to watch the Breeders' Cup Mile, especially since if Leroidesanimaux were to win he could have been voted Horse of the Year. While he put up a good fight, running second was disappointing.

But what really disappointed me is what I found out days later in a quote from his trainer, Bobby Frankel, that Leroidesanimaux "really couldn't walk right now" if the aluminum plates on his feet in which he raced were removed ("Artie Schiller scores on second try," Nov. 2).

Excuse me, but think of all the thousands or perhaps millions of dollars bet on Leroidesanimaux, not only in the win slot but the pick three, pick four, and pick six. Then imagine how few of those betting on him would even have imagined that Leroidesanimaux was physically not 100 percent going into the race!

Of course, it's hard to prove one way or another if his foot issues caused him not to win. But the point is this: Doesn't anyone have respect for the bettors' money? How many of us would have bet Leroidesanimaux to win or singled him in all the multi-race bets had we known of his foot issues going into the race? Unfortunately, instances like this point out how truly difficult it can be for a bettor to get ahead and stay ahead in this sport.

George Niiranen