02/15/2008 12:00AM

Letters to the Editor


Site selection for Breeders' Cup too hasty a move

Seeing the Breeders' Cup awarded to Santa Anita for an unprecedented second consecutive year ("Santa Anita gets Cup in 2009," Feb. 9) was a truly a disappointment, given Breeders' Cup Ltd.'s original intention that it be a rotating event to celebrate and crown "world champions" - horses who should be able to prove their ability on more than one surface.

Also disappointing was that Churchill Downs Inc. seemed reluctant to promote championship horse racing if the potential for profit is lacking.

The hasty decision to host the event at a track suffering perpetual surface-maintenance problems betrays the fact that the industry is battling myriad dilemmas, as Steven Crist pointed out in his Feb. 10 column, "Cup's blundering runneth over."

While the Breeders' Cup ostensibly had no viable alternative with Churchill not wishing to host it and the New York Racing Association in limbo at the time, one need only look back to 1996 for an alternative. While not an immense facility like Belmont, Woodbine accommodated a crowd of 42,000-plus for the 1996 edition, and, as far as I know, people were not given to grumbling about overcrowding and other problems, as they were at Arlington in 2002.

Given last year's attendance of 41,000 for Monmouth's Saturday BC card, 1995's attendance at Belmont of only 37,000, and the fact that the last Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita drew 51,000, Woodbine seems suitable enough in this respect.

Additionally, European horsemen have shown that they like the course, as year after year they ship top-quality horses for the Canadian International and other graded stakes. There is also the possibility of smaller tracks like Del Mar, Sam Houston, Pimlico, Keeneland, and several others.

The point of all this, of course, is that there is no need to rush to a decision when, as Crist noted, another month or two of deliberations was unlikely to hamper preparations for the big dance. It might even allow for an opportunity to convince Churchill Downs that promotion of the sport, not profit, is the goal of the Breeders' Cup, or might yield a more competitive, fair, and interesting site for horses worthy of the term "champion."

Michael C. Ahrens - Chicago

Santa Anita repeat raises problems

I enjoyed Steven Crist's Feb. 10 column, "Cup's blundering runneth over." Was it not the original plan of moving the Breeders' Cup around to encourage and engage different areas of fans (or are we out here in markets considered just too tiny)?

After years of being available just on television, in 1996 the Cup came to Toronto. Friends and I attended and had a fabulous day. Since then we have gone to Breeders' Cups at Belmont Park and Monmouth Park. But I won't be going to the Cup for 2008 or 2009.

Traveling across the continent in either direction, between the travel time and multiple time zones, isn't feasible for a long weekend. So, I'm eliminated from attending the next two Breeders' Cups, and I can't even watch the event on television anymore because of ESPN's limited access in the Canadian market.

Beyond that, committing to Santa Anita - in light of the problems the track is still experiencing, and with many horsepeople still questioning the use of synthetic surfaces - seems bizarre. The decision-makers at Breeders' Cup Ltd. are the movers and shakers of horse racing, so they should be expected to do a better job at assessing options.

Brad Archer - Toronto

Steroid ban a pressing need

I thank Stan Bergstein for braving the elements in his Feb. 7 column, "Steroid reform under assault." Equine physical and mental conditions are being chemically manipulated in an effort to increase racing abilities.

Drugs poison horses and the reputation of racing, yet too many people are myopically addicted to racing animals who have been turned into junkies. Corticosteroids are potentially deadly, yet abused with impunity. They should be banned along with anabolic steroids.

Horse racing is lagging behind most sports and gaming venues and cannot afford this duplicity or the specter of animal abuse. The rampant misuse of drugs ensures racing's continued decline and the scorn of international racing and the outside world. Drugs must give way to sound horsemanship, genuine racing performance, and true sportsmanship, with or without pressure from Congress.

Christine Picavet - Alto, N.M.

Derby futures not too bright

Steven Crist was too polite, in his Feb. 9 column, "Derby futures in need of overhaul," to call the Kentucky Derby Future Wager the sucker bet it is. But how else can you regard a wager that demands heightened risk while frequently paying out less to the winning bettors than race-day punters receive ontrack?

Mr. Crist's suggestions for creating better payouts by increasing the number of individual entrants and instituting an exacta pool are nice, but they are not going to happen in any unlimited sense.

The earliest future books in Vegas permit wagers on maybe a hundred entries and give decent odds, but appear to be willing to do so only with severe ceilings, typically not accepting wagers in excess of $100. That's better than Churchill's bet to be sure, but still cheesily gutless, given that you're bearing the overwhelming odds against your pick even starting.

It's too difficult to set odds in February on a 3-year-old's ability in May, and Churchill Downs Inc. and Vegas both expect to make money on the pools. The rational way to protect themselves from the uncertainty is by distorting the risk-reward relationship beyond recognition. Vegas books place wagering limits. In Churchill's case, this is accomplished by presenting a field in a parimutuel format that is nearly as small as it will be on race day, except unlike on race day, most of the entrants will not start, and you do not get a refund. The catchall "field" entry is almost guaranteed to pay worse odds than the winner on Derby Day.

John Rogitz - San Diego