12/09/2005 1:00AM

Letters to the editor

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At least one fan gives the nod to Afleet Alex

I disagree with Steven Crist's Dec. 3 column, "Give Saint Liam his due." Horse of the Year honors belong to Afleet Alex, not Saint Liam.

That award is not about who ran in more Grade 1 races or who won the Breeders' Cup. (Let's face it, Pleasant Home is not going to win as best older female for beating Ashado in the BC Distaff.) It should go to the sport's brightest and most consistent star, and this year without a doubt that was Afleet Alex. Not that Saint Liam isn't a star, he just doesn't have that natural talent that Afleet Alex showed, and he didn't face many deep fields. Two of Saint Liam's Grade 1 wins this year came against small fields: five in the Woodward and six in the Donn. Two of his wins came against soft competition (the Woodward and Stephen Foster), and he barely held off Flower Alley in the final yards of the Classic.

Afleet Alex ran in five graded stakes this year, and four of those five had purses worth $1 million or more. Afleet Alex won three of those four, with a third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. In five out of his six races this year he faced big fields, with little time in between, and faced off with the best in his division in every race. Besides his brilliant recovery in the Preakness and breathtaking turn of foot that had him coming home in the Belmont faster than anyone since 1969, there was his eight-length victory over Classic runner-up Flower Alley in the Arkansas Derby. I think it's clear that the little horse with the worthless pedigree couldn't have accomplished any more than he already had this year.

There is only one Horse of the Year in my book, regardless who wins the honors. Thanks to the connections of Afleet Alex for taking the racing public on a great ride that will forever be remembered.

Carl L. Strohlin
Melbourne, Fla.

Two-pronged solution can clean racing's plate

I am a 21-year-old race fan and I can already comprehend the problems of horse racing. The solutions, however, are maddeningly simple. Two simple steps will immediately solve nearly all of racing's problems.

1. Lower straight-bet takeout to 5 percent and a bit higher on exotics.

2. Ban all medications in a horse's system by race time.

The takeout on all other sports betting is around 4.75 percent, so why should racing be different, besides the fact that it is over-regulated, as it is the only legal sports betting in most areas? Takeout on all other sports betting has been established by the simple supply and demand of the market. If someone thinks this natural rate is not good for betting volume, he should take a look at the mountains of money that change hands on Super Bowl Sunday or during March Madness. Maybe a track that relies on slots for income should take the first step and prove to everyone that low takeout equals more money made. It's simple math. The more money a track returns to winners, the more bettors will have to bet, thus a greater churning of pools. When people feel the same way about the racetrack as they do about a football game or even the stock market, its popularity will absolutely explode.

The other problem is legalized drugging of horses. Allowing Lasix and Butazolidin has opened a Pandora's box. It has given rise to "supertrainers," whom most serious bettors despise, as they are impossible to bet against but impossible to bet on. Furthermore, the breed is being weakened, as generations of drug-dependent horses are born to drug-dependent parents.

Painkillers and lactic acid blockers are constantly found in racing animals. Not only is this dangerous to the health of the horse, but also to the jockey. A horse who cannot feel pain will run through a natural warning sign to pull up, possibly causing catastrophic injury to himself and the human on his back.

The lack of drugs in Japan and Europe has not, apparently, damaged their racing industries. America should be able to compete on equal levels with these countries. A set date should be made by each track operator for the banishment of racing drugs so trainers can phase out the reliance on drugs by their runners.

Anyway, here's to pipe dreams.

Seth Kupperman
Elmont, N.Y.

Announcer read pulse of casual race viewers

I object to Steven Crist's Dec. 3 column, "Give Saint Liam his due," wherein he criticized NBC's Breeders' Cup television coverage for having begun "with Bob Costas bemoaning the absence of Giacomo, as if this was either newsworthy or had diminished the event."

Don't people realize that for 95 percent of America (and probably for approximately 90 percent of the viewing public who attempted to endure the Breeders' Cup telecast), the last race they may have seen was the Kentucky Derby, and thus could identify only with Giacomo? Anyone concerned about the future health of racing should be thrilled that an announcer on the level of Bob Costas was involved in such a project as the Breeders' Cup.

Complaining that anyone would refer to an event such as the absence of Giacomo reflects an attitude that will continue to keep horse racing restricted to only a minute percentage of the population, and the racing industry will continue to be suffocated by other sources of entertainment.

Michael Coletti
Tucson, Ariz.

Outpouring for rider touched those he left behind

I want to thank sincerely everyone in the racing industry for your enormous outpour of love and support for my late fiance, Chris, myself, and his family. We all lost a truly great human being ("Chris Herrell dead at 31," Nov. 16).

I would like to send out a very special thank-you to the jocks' room at Churchill Downs and another special thank-you to the jocks' room and gate crew at Hoosier Park. My gratitude is too great for words.

I would also like to thank everyone who donated to the Don MacBeth Fund in Chris's memory and to everyone who donated to his family.

Chris's life and death affected many, many people. Chris will always be uniquely special to each person who knew him. His family and I could not have made it through this ordeal without the support from the racing industry. The love and support that his family and I received from everyone was and is enormous and amazing.

Thank you to everyone for pulling together and being a true family to us. Chris will be in our hearts and memories forever.

Christin Landrum
Louisville, Ky.