10/26/2006 11:00PM

Letters to the editor

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New surfaces may dictate new standards

If Andrew Beyer started writing his Oct. 20 column, “For horseplayers, a whole different game,” with good intentions, he tainted its impact by ending an otherwise thoughtful discussion with a self-serving statement when he that declared advocates of synthetic racing surfaces “should take a careful look at Keeneland and decide if this bizarre, go-as-slow-as-you-can style of racing is what the sport really needs.”

While it is true that racing is bound to change with the advent of synthetic surfaces, it is too early to start passing judgment on the impact it will have on the sport based on the results of a one-month meet. Turfway Park and Woodbine have both seen mixed results with synthetic surfaces, and while clock times may be shifting higher, the overall manner in which races play out has not changed. Different horses will react in different ways to the new surface and thus traditional speed types may not have the same impact on a Polytrack surface, but who is to say those are the best horses in the race?

The sport had lulled itself into a belief that the horse crossing the finish line first is the “best” horse, which is absolutely not true. How many times is a closer undermined by a speed-favoring track? How often do we see horses with tactical or front-end speed compromised by a track that is deep and tiring? “Mudder” isn’t a term derived to identify good horses who happen to run even better over sloppy tracks. It typically characterizes horses who have extreme form changes over a wet surface.

The advent of a new surface will undoubtedly force handicappers to make significant changes and to expand their skill set when handicapping horses at these new venues.

Is Mr. Beyer concerned about the good of the sport, or is he simply concerned that speed figures such as his are now less significant?

As an owner and breeder, I am encouraged by the proliferation of synthetic surfaces. These tracks are inherently easier on the bones and joints of our athletes, and therefore may eliminate many injuries. They may ultimately save the breed, as commercial breeders have been responding to the notion that “speed sells” and altering the American Thoroughbred landscape. More importantly, they make for more competitive racing and wagering. A group of horses thundering past the quarter pole, all within a couple of lengths of one another, all with a chance to win the race. How bizarre is that?

Anthony J. Perrotta

Red Bank, N.J./

Fan irritated over scratches in entries

It is time for all tracks to do away with coupled entries, period. In this age of full-card national simulcasting, it is not fair to bettors.

I recently stopped in my local simulcast facility and placed some wagers on my lunch break. Most of the tracks I was betting in advance were not running yet, so I was unable to get scratches. There were two races where I liked one half of an entry, but hated the stablemate. I took my chances in both cases despite knowing I could be wasting my hard-earned money if the part of the entry I like scratched. Of course that’s exactly what happened, and I ended up losing both bets after late scratches left me with the weak part of the entry.

This is such a ridiculous problem and so easy to fix, yet tracks continue allowing entries. It makes no sense on any level. At the least, if a part of an entry scratches, scratch both horses for betting purposes and let the one run for purse money only.

As usual, the fan gets ignored and mistreated, and tracks don’t seem to care. I waste my time the night before handicapping races, then get to the track, and all my effort is wasted, as there are numerous scratches from each race. This drastically changes the pace scenarios, etc., that I based my handicapping. If a horse scratches late, he or she should be denied starting for at least a week anywhere. Of course, that will never happen either, as tracks worry about short fields.

I love racing, but racing has nobody to blame for its problems except itself. This is a small, easy step that would protect the bettor. There’s no reason I’ve ever heard that justifies not making all entries uncoupled, yet tracks do nothing.

Jeff Richardson

Lincoln, Neb.

Another views coupling as a must

When the Breeders’ Cup entries are drawn this week, will Cup officials see to it that trainers with more than one horse in a race have them coupled? That was the case when D. Wayne Lukas had more than one, but now guys like Todd Pletcher can have multiple runners and race them uncoupled.

Now, I don’t care what the excuse is – funny things happen, and that is a fact. I have brought this to attention of racing officials in Illinois and get the same lame excuses. It seems to me we can’t run a card at Hawthorne or Arlington Park without a race being drawn with a trainer having multiple entrants, and lots of results make no sense.

Until this problem is solved, racing is not putting its best foot forward. If owners don’t like it, tell them to get a different trainer. And if players get upset that it affects field size, so be it. It worked long before today’s players came and will work long after we are gone.

Creighton Schoenfeldt

Chicago

Internet betting ban an economic threat

About two years ago I stopped going to my local racetrack and opened up online accounts at Brisbet and XpressBet. It would be an understatement to say I don’t miss the travel time and gas money to drive 50 miles to my nearest racetrack, not to mention the smoke, rowdy behavior, and long lines with one minute to post. I spend my Saturdays and Sundays in the comfort of my home betting.

In reading Steven Crist’s Oct. 15 column, “Racing keeps its head in sand,” I felt a concern that the days of Internet gambling on horse racing may be numbered. There are differences, though, between racing and the Internet sites for poker and sports betting.

For one, racing entities such as Xpressbet give back to the community in various ways through a percentage of handle. With other Internet gambling companies, it is sheer greed – get as much as you can as fast as you can.

The most serious thing at stake here, however, is employment. Racetracks provide thousands of jobs, from CEO’s and high-profile trainers on down to the grooms who walk horses and the guy that sweeps up the trash after the races are over. I would like to think that the extent of this employment and its contribution to the U.S. economy would put racing in a less vulnerable position.

Rick Higgins

Columbus, Ohio