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Letters to the editor
Column gave life to memories of late horseman
Jay Hovdey's wonderful June 4 column, "Gregson chose prudence over hype," about Ed Gregson brought up some fond memories of an outstanding horseman and person who, unfortunately, decided to take his own life.
As one of his owners for years up to that time, I had developed a nice friendship with Eddie, as so many others did. He was polished, articulate (a Stanford graduate), and he would speak to you knowledgeably about just anything.
He was even an actor for a short time, his claim to fame being "bitten by a green snake" in the jungle playing a Marine in the film version of Norman Mailer's World War II novel, "The Naked and the Dead."
Most of all, even before he won the Kentucky Derby, he was well respected, gracious, and well liked by his colleagues.
Ed was a true Renaissance man. I spent many hours in his barn discussing not only racing, but fine art, fine wine and, one of his great passions, great food. He put the horse and the horse's well-being far in front of any other issues involving racing and, as Hovdey pointed out, was one of the first to speak out about track surface safety and the overuse of medication hurting the breed.
It was a thrill for me, as it was for his other owners, that day in 1982 when unheralded Gato del Sol won at Churchill Downs. But Ed remained modest as ever afterwards.
There are still many of us who knew him who miss his wit, charm, and horsesmanship. I am one of them. Thanks to Jay Hovdey for a column that allowed us to take a stroll down memory lane.
Trainer off base in N.Y. remark
New York racing is fighting for its life, yet trainer Todd Pletcher chose to lecture the New York Racing Association's top executives, Charles Hayward and Stephen Duncker, to be "aware that Belmont and Saratoga need to be treated differently than winter racing at Aqueduct" ("NYRA meets with horsemen," June 3).
Well, Mr. Pletcher should realize that the racing programs are put on for the pleasure of the racing public. The fans then wager on the races, producing a revenue stream that supports the purse structure. A six-horse field with a 4-5 favorite - whether at Saratoga, Belmont, or Aqueduct - does not incite the betting public to wager big-time. Full fields, on the other hand, are liked by bettors, who then tend to wager more money, which helps increase raise the purse structure.
Mr. Pletcher can enter more horses - it seems as if he has more 2-year-olds than anyone else - or he can give up some of his stock to other trainers, who then can enter horses and create fuller fields. It seems that everyone in racing looks out for his own interests, not the best interests of racing.
Coupled entries give bettors security
Recently, the California Horse Racing Board announced a temporary suspension of coupled betting entries during the current Bay Meadows and Hollywood Park meetings as an experiment ("California tries uncoupled entries," May 18). The reason given was that larger fields might result if horses were not coupled.
The reason for coupling horses with common owners is to create fairness and to protect the betting public. It seems to be a perfectly legitimate winning strategy if a trainer couples two horses in one betting entity to use one as a rabbit and the other as a closer. For example, trainer Graham Motion successfully followed that pattern at Pimlico on Preakness Day when he won the Dixie Stakes with Better Talk Now (owned by Bushwood Racing Partners), who got up in the last strides. His entrymate, Shake the Bank (owned by Bushwood Stables), pressed the pace early and eventually faded. Who can tell if that strategy was the decisive factor in Better Talk Now's victory, but given the result, it appears to have been the case.
The idea in horse racing should be a presumption that everyone is trying all the time. Coupling commonly owned entries takes away the appearance of impropriety when one horse is used to help the other win. The betting public is not hurt because it gets two for the price of one. If, however, two horses run uncoupled and the favorite loses, with the other horse winning at a higher price, it only weakens the integrity of the game, giving the losers more chances to lose and more questions to ask.
If the objective of this California experiment is to engender more handle by eliminating coupling, it should also be noted that a coupled entry may draw more betting action anyway. There are many reasons to keep traditions in a very traditional sport, and this is one of those times a good tradition, such as coupled entries, should be kept.
Randolph C. Allen
Synthetic surface no guaranteed fix
Recently, the state of California has moved to mandate installation of synthetic racing surfaces, to be installed at the state's major racetracks by the beginning of 2008 ("Senate passes surface legislation," May 14).
Trainers have praised synthetic surfaces, proclaiming a belief that they would reduce the number of breakdowns. I have not, however, seen a study conducted with an adequate sample size (of, say, more than five years) that would give validity to the assumption of reduced breakdowns over synthetic surfaces.
An alternate solution that tracks have not seriously considered is reducing the number of days per year. Why not cut the racing week from five days to four (while keeping the Del Mar and Fairplex Park meets intact), and have a two- to three-week hiatus from racing after the fall Hollywood Park meet? That would not only allow bettors, trainers, and owners some relief before the opening of Santa Anita, but also give the horses some rest and relaxation from the grind of year-round racing.
In addition, the installation of synthetic racing surfaces could reduce the quality of racing found in Southern California. The road to the Kentucky Derby has always had a path through Santa Anita, and installation of synthetic surfaces could possibly dissuade connections from racing their top 3-year-olds in Southern California, leading them to point instead for Oaklawn Park and Gulfstream Park.