08/17/2006 11:00PM

Letters to the editor

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Coupling rules need to change for the bettor's sake

Steven Crist was on the money in his Aug. 12 column, "Coupling rules are too tangled," when he wrote, "Uncouple everything all the time." This is especially true in the era of simulcasting. I would be willing to bet that not more than one player in 100 knew the coupling rule in New York relative to a scratch of one of the coupled horses, as happened at Saratoga in the A in Sociology on Aug. 5.

How could a player be expected to know the myriad rules of each state when playing half a dozen simulcast tracks concurrently if those rules are blatantly inconsistent?

In addition, the states from which races are simulcast change with the seasons. How do rules in Florida differ from those in New York or California? Now we are down to fewer than one person in 1,000.

A separate problem involves notification of the scratch. At Saratoga the 1 horse was scratched at the gate, and on-screen crawls stating the scratch appeared on the Saratoga screens only. Was the public announcement made at Saratoga heard at Del Mar or any other simulcasting location offering live racing that day? I seriously doubt it.

At Hollywood Park, where I was, there is no public address announcer when there is no live racing, so no announcement was made. A few minutes after the 1a horse crossed the line in front, I walked over to a table and found a crumpled ticket from Saratoga that had the winning trifecta combination. A $1 bet and a $61.25 payoff thrown away.

Jerry Andersen
Pacific Palisades, Calif.

Rabbit's tale brought to mind

While the Carnera incident at Saratoga in the A in Sociology was as bad as Steven Crist's Aug. 12 column, "Coupling rules are too tangled," described it, the solution of no coupled entries stands in stark contrast to his Nov. 6, 2005, column, "Dealing with those not in it to win it." That piece advocated that Shake the Bank should have been coupled with Better Talk Now in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf because Shake the Bank was Better Talk Now's rabbit.

While I agree that uncoupling everyone is a fine solution (indeed, isn't this how it's done in Europe?), it would be wrong to revamp the rule for rabbits, forcing racing secretaries and/or stewards to make daily judgment calls on when horses should be coupled and when they shouldn't. For example, where would Changing Weather have fallen in the Carnera race?

Angelo Grasso
Brooklyn, New York

Five-year plan needed on surfaces

An artificial racing surface called Cushion Track is under installation at Hollywood Park, though the question remains: Will it hold up under extremes of heat coupled with long periods of wear and tear?

Cushion Track presents two problems. The first is this: Will its bonding agent - wax - retain its integrity during extended heat waves? That heat can damage wax has been known since the day the candle was invented.

The second problem is profound. This new synthetic surface will cover the entire racing surface. No defects in the crushed stone below can be discovered unless it is scraped off. Should holes caused by rain develop, or should cracks develop caused by incessant but minute earth movement below, a catastrophe impends. Should the hoof of a horse in full flight to the wire get caught in such a defect, would that horse plunge to the ground with deadly force?

A solution is available. Take immediate steps to repeal or void the legislation requiring compulsory change. Allow all other California racetracks to operate as each sees fit for five years. Everyone involved in racing will then be given an opportunity to determine, in the light of actual experience, which is the better surface. The racing fan can determine, voluntarily, whether Cushion Track can be handicapped to advantage. The racehorse will quickly reveal his preference. Should any particular brand of synthetic surface be proven superior, no legislation will be necessary. Should it fail, however, it won't bring down the entire California racing industry.

Merrill K. Albert
Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.

Spa fan decries wilted cards

I don't write to complain about the slings and arrows tossed at every horseplayer. Nor do I wish to complain about the steeplechase or first-time-starter maiden special races carded at Saratoga, both of which I regard as part of the history and charm of the meet.

Enough is enough, however, with the quality of races carded at this "boutique" meet.

The card for this past Friday, Aug. 18, consisted of four New York-bred races, a maiden claimer, a $35,000 nonwinners-of-two claimer, a $16,000 claimer for nonwinners of a race within six months, a $25,000 claimer, and a six-horse stakes race. If I want to put $350 into this card through a NYRA One account, the $3.50 soda is on them.

Has the racing office considered writing a condition for "horses bred in the state of New York who have not been within 20 lengths of the lead in their lives?" I assure them full fields.

It is difficult for me to think that I am alone in this opinion. Is the bloom off the Saratoga rose?

Alan Wright
Dumont, N.J.

Arlington customer feels like a million

I just returned home to Florida after a weekend trip to Arlington for the International Festival of Racing. What a delightful experience. The facilities there were clean and beautiful. All the employees were fan-friendly, and the racing was superb.

A day like Arlington Million Day in Chicago will turn casual visitors into die-hard racing fans. It is clear that Arlington is one track that is doing something right. Other venues would be wise to mimic its efforts.

Mark Gilluly
Bradenton, Fla.