01/11/2008 12:00AM

Letters to the Editor

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Santa Anita fiasco shows the danger of rush to judgment

As a licensed owner in California, I am greatly concerned about the cancellations at Santa Anita because of the synthetic surface’s inability to drain (“Santa Anita washed out again,” Jan. 9).

The blame rests squarely with the California Horse Racing Board. This arrogant governmental agency forced all the state’s major tracks to install synthetic tracks. For starters, this ruling resulted in the imminent closure of Bay Meadows. Moreover, the ruling had no universal basis in logic, as synthetic tracks are a novelty at best.

The racing board rushed to judgment without any scientific studies showing that these tracks can hold up to the weather conditions at all California tracks. The board was concerned with the breakdown of horses on tracks in the state, and yet forced the tracks into installing artificial surfaces without any proof that these new surfaces would actually result in fewer breakdowns. How come no other state in the nation has forced all their tracks onto synthetic surfaces?

To recover liability losses from the manufacturers of these synthetic surfaces would likely be quite daunting. How come the racing board didn’t require them to post bonds to cover the losses that Santa Anita or other tracks may incur?

Until there is scientific proof that these surfaces do what the state’s racing board anticipates, let’s quit experimenting with California racetracks. Let the tracks themselves decide what their main tracks are composed of.

L. Roger Pelish - Reno, Nev.

Veterinarian applauds board’s initiative

I am a large-animal veterinarian in Northern California. My practice services the livestock industry with veterinary services, pharmaceuticals, and marketing. I also operate a small Thoroughbred breeding farm and service many clients in the industry.

I am compelled to write a few comments concerning the synthetic racing surfaces that have been mandated for our state’s major racetracks.

First, Richard Shapiro, chairman of the state’s racing board, has done a good job by making the changes. He stood up and took the challenge to do something positive for the horses and owners. He has been unjustly criticized from a group that has real-estate development much higher on its priorities list than the health, well-being, and longevity of the horse.

Secondly, change is never easy. The maintenance issues we are currently dealing with will be resolved (we put a man on the moon nearly 40 years ago, for God’s sake). A racetrack that is safe benefits the horses, the owners, and the breeders, and will put more money in the state coffers.

Thirdly, look what California has to offer. Entertainment is our state’s No. 1 industry. Agriculture is our state’s No. 2 industry. Horse racing combines both agriculture and entertainment. We should have the best tracks, most profitable owners, healthiest horses, and the largest tax revenue in the world.

As an owner, breeder, and veterinarian I would strongly encourage the governor to support the current mandates. If we put the horse first, we will always be doing what is best.

William T. Gray, DVM - Cottonwood, Calif.

Fans will remember washout of early ’08

Well, here we all stand on the apron at Santa Anita, next to a useless pile of rubber bits, cable, sand, and wax, while Hawthorne Park conducts racing in a snowstorm. I think it’s clear by now to everyone how much research the California Horse Racing Board did before it mandated this unusable Play-Doh for the state’s major racetracks.

The racing board can point the finger at the synthetic-surface vendors all it wants, but it was the board’s bureaucratic blundering that brought horsemen to this point.

Racetracks are so fond of marketing promotions, perhaps California’s could all commemorate the racing board’s chairman, Richard B. Shapiro, with an annual program cancellation day.

Tom Wafer - Rolling Hills, Calif.

Solution may be part of problem

So, what happened is that the California Horse Racing Board forced the use of synthetic tracks for the betterment of the horse with no real foundation or study to back it up, and then left the choice of synthetic surface up to each track. So we have untested surfaces being used and touted as the savior of the horses, when in reality we do not know the effect they have on the horses.

Now, instead of having ankle and knee problems, horses may come up with shoulder and hip problems. For a hundred years, trainers and vets had a working knowledge of the ailments caused by racing. Now they may not.

Think about it in a human way. Running is supposed to be good for your health. Then it was decided that pavement hurts human feet and knees, so we were pushed to rubberized tracks or treadmills, only to discover other ailments caused by those.

Not enough study was done, just the racing board shoving it down the horsemen’s throats, because it is an easy sell by saying it is for the betterment of horses.

Things are going to hit the fan in a big way very, very soon when big-time trainers pull their California horses and head for the dirt tracks of the United States or just simply get out of the business.

Joe Cairati - San Bruno, Calif.

Winningest trainer deserves a derby

I urge the folks at Mountaineer to change the name of the track’s signature race as a tribute to North America’s all-time leading trainer in wins.

Before his tragic death in a multi-vehicle collision in Indiana on Dec. 23, Dale Baird recorded 9,445 victories, a remarkable achievement. There is no question he left an indelible impression on racing and Mountaineer. Wouldn’t it be nice to remember him each year with the Dale Baird West Virginia Derby?

Jon White - Monrovia, Calif.