04/21/2006 12:00AM

Letters to the editor


Derby selection overly rewards last year's feats

It would make sense that the biggest horse race in the world would be the fairest horse race in the world, right? Well, if you are talking about the Kentucky Derby, that's certainly not the case.

The field for the Derby is determined by graded-stakes earnings. That certainly makes sense, but what makes no sense is that earnings as a 2-year-old are looked at the same as earnings as a 3-year-old. Why should 2-year-old earnings have an impact on a race run the following May?

This year is the perfect example of why this system needs revision. Strong Contender, in everyone's top 10 of Derby horses, may not make the big race because he has only $75,000 in graded-stakes earnings. Ahead of him are Private Vow and Bluegrass Cat, who earned the majority of their graded-stakes earnings as 2-year-olds. But both are comfortably inside the top 20.

Has either of those horses done anything as 3-year-olds to warrant running in the Derby? Private Vow has run twice, finishing seventh in the Rebel and a well-beaten third in the Arkansas Derby. That's hardly Derby material. Bluegrass Cat has won a non-graded stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, then finished second (at 2-5 no less) in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, and then was a terrible fourth in the Blue Grass. Strong Contender went by him like he was standing still in that race, and finished four lengths ahead of him. Yet, on May 6, Bluegrass Cat may well be in the starting gate, with Strong Contender in his stall.

I'm not saying disregard 2-year-old earnings. It's obvious that some trainers take patient approaches with their 3-year-olds, especially if they have had hard and successful 2-year-old campaigns. But wouldn't capping 2-year-old earnings at $100,000 make a lot more sense than accepting them all when determining the starters for a race several months after a horse's 2-year-old season has concluded?

We all want to see the best possible Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. It's quite clear that with the current system in place, we won't be seeing it anytime soon.

Brian Nadeau
Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Owner's passing seen as loss to many

A good friend left us recently. It was too sudden for us to say good-bye and too soon for him, leaving the racing world behind. ("Giles Brophy, owner, dead," April 13.)

Giles Brophy was the epitome of Thoroughbred racing, once in the Kentucky Derby winner's circle as an owner of Strike the Gold, and many other times with all the horses he brought to this industry. He truly loved this sport, and he gave it his all.

Giles will be missed by not only his wonderful family, but also by his friends, who truly loved him as part of our own families. The memories are strong and the void is painful.

But as he leaves on his journey to where only angels sing, we can rest assured that he will be safe and in no more pain, on an angel's wing.

Sophia and Carl Domino
Elmont, N.Y

Hot, pressed pace could cook 'Minister'

In the wake of Sinister Minister's eye-popping run in the Blue Grass Stakes ("Sinister Minister in a runaway," April 17), handicappers are busy trying to assess what it means for the Kentucky Derby. Can this horse run around the track and laugh at the other 19 entrants, or will he simply be tinder for the splits?

In their final prep, Bellamy Road last year earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 120 in the Wood Memorial, and War Emblem a 112 in the 2002 Illinois Derby. Handicappers were much sweeter on Bellamy Road than War Emblem, sending him off at 5-2 as opposed to 20-1. While some may think War Emblem was a superior horse to Bellamy Road, I would suggest we look at the internal fractions of their Derbies. War Emblem set a fairly comfortable pace, with a 47.04-second half-mile, 1:11.75 for three-quarters, and a mile in 1:36.70. In contrast, Bellamy tracked a blistering pace of 45.38 seconds, 1:09.59, and 1:35.88. This means that at the six-furlong mark the 2005 Derby was being run 10 lengths faster than the 2002 edition. If Bellamy Road had been able to lope along without pressure at the pace War Emblem raced, we might very well have had a different winner last year.

In the 2002 Kentucky Derby, the first three finishers basically ran around the track in place, and nobody closed much ground. In 2005, only one horse who was close to the pace held on for a piece - a monstrously huge effort by Closing Argument for the place - while the winner was 18th at the half-mile and the much-beloved third-place horse, Afleet Alex, was 11th.

If, as I suspect, Sinister Minister goes fast early while pressed by classy company, then as the good book of handicapping says, "The first will be last and the last will be . . . ."

Eric Singer
San Francisco

Pick-three payoff raises a bettor's hackles

For anyone who missed the April 14 Santa Anita card, the winners of the first three races paid $4.80, $11.60, and $6.40. By any reasonable standard, the right payoff for this combo in a $1 pick three would be less than $100. (The parlay was about $45 on a $1 bet.) The actual pick-three payoff, however, was $201.20, more than four times the parlay. Why, why, why?

Well, the morning-line favorite in the third leg was among the late scratches, and all that money, as well as the funds from the other late scratches, went to the new favorite. The second choice in the betting won, causing a freakish payout.

The problem here is not whether some chicanery existed that caused the stewards to wait until after the first race, with heavy rain coming down, to cancel turf racing. The problem here is that this type of situation invites that chicanery. You didn't have to pick a winner to cash the $201 ticket, you only had to know in advance that the heavy favorite in the third leg would be a late scratch after the bets were locked up.

The stewards at Santa Anita may be the straightest arrows ever shot, but any rule providing something other than a refund (or consolation involving two winners) on pick-three bets involving a late scratch is unfair to bettors. The current rule undermines the credibility of the sport. Bad rules, supported for inane reasons, are a ball and chain to horse racing.

Rob Smoke
Boulder, Colo.