08/25/2006 12:00AM

Letters to the editor


Drug offenders should be handed sterner punishment

I do not share the love of cycling Andrew Beyer professed in his Aug. 11 column, "Racing should follow cycling's cue," but I love Thoroughbred racing with a similar passion. The cheating that is going on in horse racing will ruin the sport if something is not done.

It appears that cheating by the most prominent of trainers is condoned. Offenses are not made public, and penalties are almost always ridiculously minor. The press continues to treat these characters as if they are the best of sportsmen. Yet the cheaters not only are stealing purses from the honest trainers and owners and affecting wagering outcomes, they are also putting lives in jeopardy, both equine and human.

To think that a leading trainer would knowingly and purposefully use nerve blocks - local anesthetics - in racing horses is incomprehensible. This clearly puts the lives of horses and jockeys at risk. Any trainer who is caught employing such a reprehensible practice should be permanently expelled from the sport, not suspended for six months. What will it take? A pileup of horses with mangled bodies strewn across the track as a result of a chain reaction initiated by a nerve-blocked horse who breaks down?

A few simple changes could have some far-reaching effects. If a trainer is suspended for the use of illegal drugs, all of the horses under his care (as of the date of the infraction) should also be suspended from competition for some period of time, perhaps with a maximum of two months. The transfer of a horse from one trainer's care to another should not be permitted to mitigate the horse's suspension.

With some meaningful repercussions that affect the owners associated with cheating trainers, owners would find great incentive to exert tremendous pressure on trainers not to cheat. Would a trainer cheat to win a $25,000 claiming race if getting caught meant that his Derby hopefuls would have to sit out March and April? Not likely. Maybe if some owners had to sit out a few million-dollar races because of a cheating trainer, the honest horsemen might stand a chance again.

Beyer suggested that horse racing needs "its own Floyd Landis." It seems that we have lots of Floyd Landises in this game. What we desperately need are a few heroes to step up to the task of getting rid of these cheaters.

Bunny Elgin
Barrington, Ill.

Lost in the Fog has champion stuff

Regarding his great horse, owner Charles Howard once stated, "Seabiscuit will take on all comers, and he'll mow them down like grass." Whether Lost in the Fog will ever have a best-selling book, PBS documentary, and movie about his life is doubtful, but through most of 2005, that comment could have been applied to another San Francisco resident, the great, courageous Lost in the Fog.

Lost in the Fog did not hide out, coddled and pampered in his California barn, but instead marched across this country and beat everyone put in front (or behind) him, until, of course, Breeders' Cup Day. It was then that his critics finally had some cheap vindication. The collective character of this horse and his team of owner Harry Aleo, trainer Greg Gilchrist, and jockey Russell Baze, which embodied what this sport should be, contrasted so much with those snide naysayers in the media, who needlessly went above and beyond to criticize his talent.

Another point to note is that the BC Sprint at Belmont, the banner race of Lost in the Fog's critics, was won by Silver Train, a horse who seems able to win on only one track.

Lost in the Fog went everywhere and beat almost everyone. And, most astonishingly, with a cancer consisting of three tumors, one lodged against his spine, Lost in the Fog continued to compete. As recently as June, he won in 1:08.52 for six furlongs at Churchill Downs.

Lost in the Fog suffered with a silent, systemic illness and continued to run. We must appreciate what he accomplished and thank him for all he gave us. Gilchrist has said that Lost in the Fog is like a brother to him. To the rest of us, he was and will forever be a champion.

Joseph Muzio
Levittown, N.Y.

For the game's sake, spare us the rod

I applaud the actions of the Del Mar stewards for their recent actions of fining jockeys for whip abuse. In the past few weeks, Norberto Arroyo, Michael Baze, Martin Garcia, Martin Pedroza, and Tyler Baze, as well as Isias Enriquez (two violations) and Juan Ochoa (three violations) have been cited ("Jocks fined over whip violations," Aug. 20 Del Mar Notes).

On June 30, I watched the fifth race at Hollywood Park and was stunned by the sight of Victor Espinoza striking Walkonkaydeeavenue endlessly with the whip through the stretch run to get up and win by a head. Walkonkaydeeavenue had run nine times before, finishing second five times and third twice, with a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 74. This day she ran an 80, but in her next race she reverted to a 67.

How could any bettor have known that Espinoza was totally going to go off on her? The best horse did not win this race, this race was won by the whip.

With the national attention racing has received from the breakdown of Barbaro and repeated breakdowns at Arlington Park and Del Mar, the general public may be starting to perceive horse racing as a "blood sport."

For the good of racing's future, it is time to ban the use of whips altogether. The Thoroughbred is born to run and will run without being beaten. If a horse is hurting, he shouldn't be made to continue to run or face punishment.

With a whip ban in place, handle just might go up. Maybe as an experiment, Del Mar and other racing venues should try carding one whipless race a day.

Gordon W. Pond
Austin, Texas

Solution proposed in coupling matter

I wholeheartedly agree with Steven Crist's advocacy to "uncouple everything all the time," in his Aug. 12 column, and I have the simplest of solutions that will allow for more betting options while still protecting the bettor.

Instead of numbering horses 1 and 1A to show that the pair is one betting interest, number them instead 1A, 2A, and so on. Now we have two betting interests and the bettor is still alerted that horses 1 and 2 have some common owner or trainer.

Owen Pennant Jones
Needham, Mass.