06/30/2006 12:00AM

Letters to the editor

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Starting bell doesn't gather the old gang

Forty years ago, my parents started my journey into the horse racing world by taking us to this magical place called Santa Anita. Ah, opening day. The sights, the smells, the excitement would top our real Christmas presents, at least for me. I saw the glory and majesty of these incredible athletes running. It lifted my heart and spirit and brought the biggest smiles of my young life.

Thirty years ago, the teenage years brought adventures at other tracks as well. New groups of friends shared my ever-growing love of racing. Hollywood, Del Mar, Los Alamitos, and Agua Caliente each tempted and charmed us with unique gifts. The sport continuously beckoned us with full fields, great giveaways, and management's genuine commitment to the fans. Any fan lucky enough to be at the races could feel like a real king in the sport that bears that royal moniker.

Twenty years ago, my group of racing friends started to dwindle. Some said the fields were smaller. Some said the racetrack stands were filthier. People would spit everywhere. Small children would run around unattended. Security personnel seemed to be gone. The magic and excitement for some came only at casinos and the desert oasis of gambling, Las Vegas. Bruised, but not gone, I still went and loved the races.

Ten years ago, just a few of us friends remained patrons. Some left after seeing too many questionable rides. Many left after complaining about odds dropping on the winning horse after the race was over "just about every time." Fields dwindled even more. The stands were emptier. Management seemed unconcerned about any customer complaints. Sometimes we were told to go home if we didn't like it. I would grimace, but I would keep coming back. I argued "horse racing is still magical" to those who would listen.

Now it's just me. From a group of around thirty in the 1970's, I seem to be the only one left who still goes to the races. A couple of guys of the group still bet, but now from home. I bet from home, too, when I can't make it to the races. It's not the same as being there. My hope is that, as racetracks disappear to build more homes, the ones that remain do remember where the magic begins. I think that some racetracks are attempting to try. I close my eyes and it's still the day after Christmas. I still love horse racing.

J.D. Sweeney
San Diego

Fan has suggestions for a racing czar

I am 37 and have been waiting my entire life for a legend like Pete Rozelle or Peter Ueberroth to take the helm of my beloved sport of racing. That's the only way we can right this listing ship. Oh, well. The Rev. Jesse Jackson may have to suffice now that he has a role in the sport ("Guild names new leaders," June 30).

Here's my wish list:

1) A cutback on over-breeding.

2) An across-the-board reduction in racing dates.

3) An end to rampant drug abuse.

4) An inquiry into the viability of installing surveillance cameras in all barns, like they have on Las Vegas casino floors.

5) The immediate implementation of new, uniform parimutuel policies regarding takeout and protection against past-posting.

6) Slot machines that bring aid to both horsemen and horses.

7) More owners like Mike Pegram, not Ernie Paragallo.

8) Just one racing network, and legal gaming sites that are Apple-compatible. Stunningly, both my Apple and DirecTV were useless during the last Santa Anita meet. I ended up saving so much money, I bought a new Apple and an iPod, too.

9) Perhaps most of all, a fund to assist our true heroes. Until horse slaughter is banned and all horses receive proper retirement, sadly, we will continue to swirl down the drain as a sport.

Bill Miller
Los Angeles