06/02/2006 12:00AM

Letters to the editor

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Stakes conflicts show how sport gets in own way

As a longtime fan of horse racing and someone who wants only the best for the industry, more and more these days I find myself wondering why I care. The latest mind-boggling blunders by the powers that be in racing center on Preakness Day - one of only four days of extensive national television coverage on the U.S. calendar. Try understanding these moves:

1) The Saturday before the Preakness, Lone Star Park ran the Lone Star Derby. It's a race for 3-year-olds and Wanna Runner, a candidate for the Sir Barton or the Preakness itself, was rewarded to the tune of $185,000 for ducking the races at Pimlico. Even worse, Magna Entertainment Corp. owns both Pimlico and Lone Star Park. So, in essence, Magna intentionally diluted its own product at Pimlico on Magna's biggest media and handle day of the year by scheduling this race a week before the Preakness.

2) The Saturday of the Preakness, Belmont ran the Peter Pan for 3-year-olds, a traditional prep for the Belmont Stakes. This race hurt Preakness Day by taking horses out of the Sir Barton or the Preakness itself. Can racing afford this traditional New York luxury any more?

3) Pimlico's other "brother" in staging the Triple Crown events, Churchill Downs, was another accomplice in hurting Pimlico's card on Preakness Day. That day the Churchill Downs feature race was the Matt Winn Stakes, with a $100,000 purse, for 3-year-olds. The distance was six furlongs. It had eight runners. Meanwhile, in Baltimore, the Hirsch Jacobs Stakes ($100,000 purse) for 3-year-olds was run on the Preakness undercard. The distance was six furlongs. It also had eight entries (with two scratched).

There should have been 12 to 14 horses in the Hirsch Jacobs. That would have made the race a real spectacle to watch and bet. (Think BC Sprint.) The stage was set by national coverage on ESPN for crying out loud - not to mention the 118,000 fans at Pimlico. Instead we were stuck with a 3-5 shot at Pimlico who was "geared down late," according to the chart, winning by 10 lengths. Meanwhile, the TVG broadcast of the Churchill Downs stakes was won by a shipper from California. How is that for brilliant planning?

Let me ask this: Does the NFL offer other programming on Monday night that competes with its nationally televised Monday night football game?

William G. Mazzucco
Willingboro, N.J.

Political force rests in hands of fans

In his May 21 column, "New York report leaves logic in dust," Steven Crist took New York state legislators to task for advocating retention of the current offtrack betting system despite recommendations by various reputable studies to merge the state's OTB's with the racing franchise-holder. "The operators of the OTB's are not the villains," he wrote. "The bad guys here are the legislators. . . ."

Well, not quite. The real culprits may lie a little closer to home.

OTB's continue to plague New York racing because their customers apparently either can't or won't understand that they are acting against their own best interests as well as those of other horseplayers.

By submitting to surcharges and higher effective takeout unacceptable to many of their peers, OTB customers only perpetuate their disadvantage. By supporting diversion of handle from those putting on the show, they negatively affect both racing product quality and infrastructure.

It has been said that elected representatives are no better than their constituents. If so, horseplayers won't obtain favorable representation from politicians until we become an interest group worthy of their solicitation - too powerful, collectively and intellectually, to ignore. We need to demonstrate our financial and political clout as racetrack customers. There are options available short of passing races for reasons other than uncertainty or bankroll preservation.

My first suggestion is to close one's OTB account and start wagering elsewhere. Mass defections would certainly get the politicians' attention and force reevaluation of the status quo. Switching to NYRA-One accounts would give New York racetracks the most support and a mandate to run OTB sites in the future. That's when we all should take on takeout and get it lowered. Could someone please coordinate that with my pilgrimage to Saratoga?

Steve Abelove
Lawndale, Calif.

New York-breds best in moderation

Mike Watchmaker was right-on with his concern over the recent influx of New York-bred races at Belmont Park, especially over Memorial Day weekend, expressed in his "Was it New York-bred day?" item in his May 31 column, "Bernardini's Preakness win left reasonable doubt."

Enough is enough. I do feel like every day is New York Showcase Day. If I want to bet Finger Lakes, I'll bet it. I find myself barely looking at New York races. I'm betting Churchill Downs and Delaware and even Monmouth. I hope this doesn't continue at Saratoga.

Steve DeMichele
Herkimer, N.Y.

Californian objects to Hall's snub

Never has the East Coast bias or lack of class been more evident than in the stiffing of Alex Solis and Mel Stute, two of racing's most talented gentlemen, from recognition in the Hall of Fame ("Old-timer trio the only inductees," June 1).

We California fans don't need East Coast acknowledgement to understand greatness when we see it.

Also, one note on NBC's hideous coverage of the Preakness: We like to watch the races. Once again, just as with the Kentucky Derby, we had to endure inane interviews and features while we missed the race preceding the main event. All this while I was clutching a ticket in the pick four with a $1 million pool.

Steve Orton
Los Angeles

Often it pays to hold the action

If an incident similar to Barbaro's breaking through the gate in the Preakness can result in a scratch at a $3,000 claimer at Mountaineer, after a thorough inspection by track personnel and, more importantly, the trainer, then why not a in a major event like the Preakness, with much more at stake?

Who has not heard the anxious grumbling of horseplayers wondering when the darn race is finally going to start after a prudent examination? The Preakness would have been a most-welcome moment to hear those grumblings, regardless of how much time it took and the subsequent impact. Horse racing can take a cue from football and consider the TV timeout.

Mark Drumm
Tempe, Ariz.