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Letters to the editor
Column took skewed look at Polytrack
Andrew Beyer's Feb. 25 column, "Diet of all Polytrack awfully bland," was misguided and ill-timed.
Thoroughbred horse racing involves athletes who put their lives on the line every day. The jockeys and horses are the actual participants of the sport, while handicappers sit comfortably idle. If a synthetic surface is truly safer and implemented at the nation's most prestigious meetings, then the lack of perceived overlay value that Beyer described with Polytrack will be more than offset by the number of lives saved, both equine and human.
Mr. Beyer failed to mention the prospect of a synthetic surface actually improving the overall quality of racing, especially in the older-horse handicap division. Major graded stakes races for older horses have been notoriously weak for a number of years. In today's world, the connections of the Triple Crown stars have no reason to keep their remarkable horses in training at ages 4 and 5. Why risk injury with all the value available in the breeding shed? Perhaps with less risk of injury, we will actually see competitive Grade 1 events for older horses.
California board acting prematurely
It's hard to understand where the California Horse Racing Board acquired the authority to demand syntehtic surfaces on all major racetracks in that state ("California board urges Polytrack," Feb. 18). There may be some evidence showing this surface to be safer, but I don't think it's been tested enough to know that for sure yet.
Rubber, wax, and silicone could and should have more "bounce" and be easier on the legs of horses. The lower incidence of catastrophic breakdowns at Turfway Park, compared with the previous year, is impressive, but could merely be accounted by the fact that different horses competed who happened to be sounder. It's very hard to compare numbers when dealing with horses. It might be interesting to discover the ages of the horses who broke down, both before and after the switch to Polytrack.
Something I haven't seen discussed is the kickback from horses on the lead - of the rubber, silicone, and wax residue of the Polytrack surface. There's a definite cloud of this. Watching horses compete on this surface, it's very obvious that horses behind the leaders are getting a lot of this synthetic material in the face. What does this do to horses who breathe Polytrack? Do more horses bleed? Do bleeders bleed through Lasix? How much damage does it do to their lungs? Does it cause some long-lasting effect? Do synthetic surfaces solve some problems and cause others?
I think the powers that be in California should allow racetracks to decide upon their own surface and what works for them. If some tracks installed this synthetic material and others didn't - and the horsemen went one place and not the other - good business sense would dictate using the surface trainers would run over. Maybe they would choose the synthetic surface and maybe they wouldn't.
Is there too much interference from those who are there to enforce the rules of racing and who now would dictate the surface of a racetrack under threat of losing race dates? Maybe they'll decide only bay horses can run on Fridays. Who knows?
Smaller players may up ante if surface bias isn't in play
In his Feb. 25 column, Andrew Beyer referred to the prospect of racetracks eliminating dirt surfaces in favor of synthetic surfaces as "boringly homogenized," and complained that this would eliminate a vital part of the professional handicapper's edge: the identification of track bias. He also wrote that this change could lead to the decrease in handle as this sport loses its luster to many bettors.
Only a small percentage of the American handicapping public is able to devote the time and energy to determining which path was the place to be at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 4, as opposed to Feb. 5, 9, 10, etc. I know I don't have that luxury. Countless times over the years, I have passed on a race because I was unsure which horse in a field of 12 may have had to race against a track bias in his last start. Other times, I have wagered on a horse only to discover after he lost by six lengths that his previous win was aided by a pronounced speed bias.
By most accounts, a synthetic surface would drastically reduce the guesswork for me, and the homework for pros like Beyer. The fact that the playing field may be evened out, so to speak, would make me personally more inclined to wager larger amounts on more races, thus increasing the handle instead of reducing it. While the addition of my dollars may not make up for the loss of larger bettors, we could likely see more nonprofessionals wagering new money on the races, thus making up for any lost revenue.
Stewards need course in Consistency 101
I had bet on Prince of Peace in the third race at Aqueduct this past Wednesday, and I knew that there was going to be an inquiry as soon as the horse crossed the finish line. I, and my group of sharpies, after viewing the frontal replay of the race, agreed that Prince of Peace's jockey, Norberto Arroyo Jr., did not keep a straight path and should be placed second ("Arroyo disgruntled after DQ," March 3). We were, in fact, very surprised that the stewards actually did place Prince of Peace second. For once they dropped their usual conclusion that the horse would have won anyway.
I agree with Arroyo's argument that the stewards should be investigated for inconsistency. I would suggest that stewards be required to view numerous films of races with infractions to gain consistency.
The apparent current logic used in many situations - that the horse committing the infraction would have won anyway - is an inappropriate assumption. More consistency would be achieved if it were mandatory for jockeys to keep a straight path if not clear of other horses, regardless of whether the horse was much the best. When a horse is bumped, carried wide, squeezed, or required to check, another horse not staying in its own path is the culprit.
We all have seen numerous infractions where stewards have ruled both ways. This has got to stop. What is obviously needed is a national school for stewards, something that National Thoroughbred Racing Association should have implemented years ago.