04/13/2006 11:00PM

Letters to the editor

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A vital measure for game's health: Adjust takeout

The April 9 column "Wasting your tax dollars" by Steven Crist addressed topics important to horseplayers but seldom discussed in other publications. The takeout rate and the administration of canceled race programs do concern serious players. Many of us know that the takeout rate is a key factor in deciding where we will bet, how much, and how often. Clearly, it is a key in calculating the value of a particular bet.

Virtually all tracks use different takeout rates for different bets. Rates for so-called exotics are higher - what is "exotic" about a trifecta? Although such rate structures make no sense, perhaps tracks believe such differential rates are acceptable. They are not. To me and my friends and serious players who put down large wagers, we look at the rate when we make our betting decision. Therefore, we will avoid most tracks (Philadelphia Park for one, and exotic bets at almost all tracks) and relish betting at Keeneland, Churchill Downs, and California tracks. We appreciate California and Kentucky and shun most other states.

Takeout rates make a big difference and help explain the decline of horse racing since 1976. Other legal forms of gambling have taken away young bettors who can quickly decide that paying a 25-plus percent takeout rate is just stupid and removes the value from most bets. And the cancellation of racing programs, resulting in inexplicably differing payouts, as Crist explained, rightly enrages betters.

It's fundamental: If the industry does not address the takeout issues and the administrative issues, horse racing will, sadly, continue to decline. And a declining industry that ignores such issues is a prime target for the anti-gambling interests in our government described by Crist's column.

Sam Martin
Naples, Fla.

A day at the races served both past and future

In today's Thoroughbred world, and everywhere else, we seem too quick to blame and find fault than to look on the bright side. With that in mind, we would like to sing the praises of the much-maligned Magna Entertainment Corp. and Gulfstream Park.

Several days before the April 1 running of this year's Florida Derby, we were contacted by Mike Mullaney, Gulfstream's director of media relations, about the possibility of Opal Heath and Phyllis Dudley giving away the trophy for the signature event of Florida racing. These ladies, widows of Bonnie Heath and Jack Dudley, were in the winner's circle 50 years earlier when their very own Needles was the first Florida-bred to capture this race on his way to winning the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. To say that the answer about attending was a resounding "yes" is obvious.

We attended along with Jack Dudley Jr., and the red carpet was rolled out. We could not have been treated better, from the Ten Palms restaurant and our waitress, Melanie, to Gulfstream's general manager, Scott Savin, along with Mark Guzman of security and Randy Abraham of public relations.

The crowd was most receptive when the track announcer, Vic Stauffer, spoke of what Needles has meant to the Florida racing and breeding industry.

The highlight of the trip happened when Frank Stronach came to the winner's circle to personally thank the D&H Stable ladies for attending and their great contribution to us all. Frank Stronach is a track owner who knows how important Needles has been, as he is a major breeder and farm owner in our state.

We salute Magna and Gulfstream for a banner day for two grand dames of Florida and an industry that needs to focus on the solution rather than the problem.

Bonnie and Kim Heath
Reddick, Fla.

The sky's the limit for rider on the rise

Over the past year the active jockey roster has lost two of its all-time greats in Pat Day and Jerry Bailey. A major hole was left on the East Coast with their retirement. It left most racing fans wondering who would take their place. Well, if you haven't already heard by now, I've got two words for you: Rafael Bejarano.

I have never seen a jockey make such an impact on Thoroughbred racing as quickly as the 23-year-old Bejarano. This kid is a natural on a horse. Just watch him ride from gate to wire and you can see the raw talent this young jockey possesses. The amazing thing about him is he can win races anywhere he goes. He has already won jockey titles at Turfway Park, Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Ellis Park, and Aqueduct. As I write he is third in the standings at Gulfstream Park and is riding at Keeneland's spring meet.

Bejarano is proving himself every day to such big-name trainers like Nick Zito and Bobby Frankel. In the 2005 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, Frankel gave him the mount on Intercontinental, and it resulted in one of the best rides I have ever seen in a Breeders' Cup race.

What I saw at Santa Anita on April 8 was by far one of the best performances from a jockey ever. Bejarano went out West to ride Point Determined for Bob Baffert in the Santa Anita Derby. He had 10 mounts on the day from 11 races on the card. He won an astounding six races and finished second twice. I have never seen anything like it. It wasn't like he won on all favorites, either - his last four winners paid $17.60, $14.40, $10.20, and $6. Keep in mind that he was was riding at a track with which he is not familiar.

They say records are made to be broken. I say Bejarano will break many of them. I look forward to watching him become one of the best this game has ever seen.

Salvatore James Coriale
Saratoga Springs, N.Y

Special treatment for jocks puts him ill at ease

Brad Free's April 8 column, "At least as many questions as answers," told about jockey Tyler Baze waiting two hours in a hospital waiting room before getting his X-rays and to be cleared to return to ride. Free wrote that "Santa Anita should institute a plan to expedite jockey examinations."

About a month ago my 5-year-old granddaughter was taken with a lacerated spleen to a prestigious children's hospital. She waited four hours before she got her X-rays and MRI, then with that information was given an emergency blood transfusion and rushed to the intensive care unit, where she remained for days.

Do I want racing to exert political pressure on hospitals so that a healthy jock can get back quickly to make his late-card rides? I don't think so.

Jay W. Lord
Nottingham, Pa.