02/22/2008 1:00AM

Letters to the Editor

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Time to examine possible side-effects of synthetic tracks

Now that the future of the New York Racing Association has been stabilized ("NYRA reaches 25-year deal," Feb. 15), inevitably there will discussions about the installation of synthetic surfaces for training tracks and racing surfaces, as mentioned by NYRA's president, Charles Hayward, in the Feb. 17 piece "NYRA can take a longer view."

As a horse owner, I feel that before the installation of a synthetic surface on the pony track at Belmont Park is even considered, at least the following should be known conclusively:

What is the long-term percentage decrease or increase in catastrophic breakdowns? What is the long-term percentage decrease or increase in non-catastrophic injuries? Does the lack of "slide" on a synthetic surface create additional back-end risk of injury? What is the yearly net comparison of lost racing days for tracks that switched from dirt to a synthetic surface? What is the long-term effect on handle at tracks that have switched from dirt to synthetic?

And, most importantly, what human risks are there, if any, to daily synthetic kickback exposure? I am very interested in reading independent studies of the effect on humans of long-term exposure to this synthetic kickback. My admittedly limited search has revealed no such study. I would like to read a study of the kickback's effect even if it were conducted by the purveyors of synthetic tracks.

Surely, states whose jockeys, exercise riders, and others that are exposed to these synthetic substances on a daily basis should have given careful examination to all of the long-term independent studies of this exposure. Those studies need to be made available for all interested parties to review.

Until all of these rudimentary questions - which just skim the surface of synthetic analysis - can be answered conclusively, one cannot even begin to assess whether or not a synthetic surface will have an overall beneficial or detrimental effect to humans, horses, and racing.

Jennifer Walsh - Jericho, N.Y.

Welfare of bettors also a concern

In Brad Free's Feb. 16 column, "Mid-card track work made bias vanish," trainer Richard Mandella was quoted as saying "just because people are betting on horses . . . cannot drive this game." Wake up and smell the coffee, sir.

If the bettors all boycotted, then the "game" would not even exist. The welfare of the horses is everyone's concern, but if that welfare is so important, why do the vast majority of horses in the United States (including Mandella's) race on Lasix and phenylbutazone on a full-time basis? I don't think drugs are in the best interest of a horse. Do you?

Jim Anderson - Covina, Calif.

NYRA not to blame for sport's malaise

I was a little disturbed by Alan Shuback's Feb. 17 column, "NYRA's problems reflection of entire sport." Growing up in New York, I would go to the track an average of four times a week. True, attendance has declined severely over the years, but blaming that, even in part, on the New York Racing Association is wrong. In the past 25 years, the accessibility of betting without going to the racetrack has grown enormously. Television Games Network, HorseRacing TV, and Youbet.com bring the races into people's homes, offshore betting sites offer rebates, and a host of other offtrack outlets accept wagers on NYRA races.

In addition, it is way off base to compare the Japan Racing Association's success with NYRA's decline. Japan is a nation of more than 125 million people, while New York is a state with not quite 20 million.

As for the medication issue, New York was the last state in U.S. racing to approve raceday medication such as Lasix and phenylbutazone.

The column also described the recent renewal of NYRA's franchise as a "sweetheart deal." Well, to call the exchange of perhaps $1 billion in real estate for a $105 million cash advance a good deal is ridiculous.

As for the equine athletes involved, I suppose modern-day giants like Ghostzapper, Curlin, Street Sense, and Saint Liam are dwarfed in comparison to Affirmed and Alydar in some people's eyes, but not mine.

Modern technology and a lack of young horseplayers (like myself) are the reasons for declines in attendance and parimutuel handle, not NYRA. And let's not forget that NYRA runs Saratoga, simply the best racing meet in North America.

Duane A. Colucci - Las Vegas

Departed champion a vivid memory

What a treat it was to read Jay Hovdey's column "Remembering Winning Colors" (Feb. 21) and to be able to remember through

Jeff Lukas.

I remember watching Winning Colors in the paddock before the Breeders' Cup Distaff in 1988. She had a handler on either side, and each man was doing all he could to keep her on the ground, she was so much on her toes that day.

I really hated to see Winning Colors lose that Distaff. What a grand mare she was. Jeff Lukas's memories of her brought so much of this back.

What really moved me though was remembering her through Jeff. I had often wondered what ever became of Lukas. After that terrible accident and later his brief return to the track, he had slowly faded out of the limelight and was rarely mentioned again. It was nice to get an update on his life and for someone to give credit where credit is due.

Tom Morris - Vancouver, British Columbia