04/10/2008 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor


Hawthorne rep sees nothing biased in Illinois Derby

This year’s Illinois Derby is getting ruthlessly bashed because the first three finishers were one, two and three after the first quarter.

Huh? I’m not going to pretend that inside speed didn’t play favorably, but take a look at the day’s results, and then tell me “a ridiculous speed bias turned this year’s running into a carousel,” as Lauren Stich opined in her April 10 Racing Form column, “Flurry of Derby preps revealed lots.”

Absolutely nothing illogical won on April 5, Illinois Derby Day. Closers did emerge victorious on multiple occasions on the same day some sort of injustice supposedly was perpetrated on the favorites. The winner of the Illinois Derby itself, Recapturetheglory, had run second to Cool Coal Man as a 2-year-old, and then returned at 3 to run a respectable third in his grass debut. In addition, Recapturetheglory had won a two-turn race over the Hawthorne surface, and had the services of a jockey, E.T. Baird, who has made a pretty good living, at times, at this same track.

That Denis of Cork, unraced in nearly seven weeks and without previous experience over the surface, and Atoned, winless since an off-the-grass event in August ’07, were uninvolved in this year’s Illinois Derby could very well be circumstance and nothing else.

At the very least, let the race breathe for a month or so and see what becomes of the “obvious” contenders. As a handicapper and as a spokesman for Hawthorne, I believe the 2008 Illinois Derby will ultimately rest on its merits.

Mitch Demick, Communications Manager - Hawthorne Race Course

California proposal could lead to abuse

This is an argument against the proposed new rule voted on by the California Horse Racing Board to allow horses with a layoff of 180 or more days to run claim-proof in its first start back at an equal or higher claim price (“California passes new claim rule,” March 30).

The rationale of this proposed rule is to give owners a financial incentive to do the right thing – that is, to stop on a horse who needs rest.

This proposed rule has exploitation written all over it. Suppose you have a $40,000 horse who is going bad and needs time off. The implementation of this rule would give owners and trainers an incentive to run their horse one more time. By plunging the horse in claiming price to, say, $10,000 or less, with the possibility of being claimed and transferring the financial burden, one of two things is going to happen.

1. The horse breaks down, putting itself and rider in peril.

2. The horse makes it through the race and now receives a free pass when he returns to the races after getting his needed rest.

Both scenarios are unacceptable.

It’s not fair to the owners of the legitimate $10,000 horses to have to race against a $40,000 horse, rested and with a claim-proof pass. It’s not fair to the welfare of the horse and rider to plunge an injured horse in claiming price to make sure he has that free pass at a discounted level when he returns to the races. It is inevitable that this will happen on a regular basis.

The claiming game is hard enough without giving horsemen an incentive to do the wrong thing. What we need are owners and trainers who act a little more responsibly for the welfare of their horses. Horsemen should not need an incentive to do the right thing. If they can’t afford a horse, they shouldn’t have one.

This proposed rule is a bad idea, and I urge the board to reconsider.

Tim Bellasis - Pleasanton, Calif.

Today’s juveniles too drug-reliant

Think about this for a minute. On opening day of its spring meet, Keeneland ran its first race for 2-year-olds, at 4 1/2 furlongs. Not one horse had ever raced before. This is one of the top meetings in the country and features some of the best-bred horses you will find.

Every single horse debuted with Lasix.

This is a sad, sad commentary on the condition of the sport.

Craig Milkowski - Casteau, Belgium

Racing needs all-seeing eye

I have been a racehorse owner the past 10 years with horses who have run in Northern and Southern California, Turf Paradise, and Woodbine. One thing that worries and confuses me is the lack of consistency in regards to stewards’ rulings. Horses are either disqualified or not in incidents that are not judged consistently from track to track, or day to day at the same track. At smaller tracks, especially, there seem to be popularity contests among owners, trainers, and jockeys, as well as conflicts of interests, with stewards having emotional ties to decisions they are making. Here is a solution I feel can easily be implemented and help the credibility and consistency of our great sport:

Have two stewards’ boards. An East Coast board would rule on tracks east of the Mississippi and from Ontario east in Canada, and a West Coast board would make rulings on tracks west of the Mississippi and from Manitoba west in Canada. They would watch each race and post inquiries at the track. Jockey objections would be sent directly to them. The benefits will be:

1. Consistency from day to day and track to track. This in turn will greatly help the credibility of the sport with the betting public. It will hold jockeys accountable for frivolous claims that waste the public’s time. If a jockey has a history of frivolous claims at different tracks, he will be punished.

2. Removing any conflicts of interest stewards at the tracks either have or are perceived to have.

3. Making the betting public feel more secure that decisions are being made for the good of the sport, as credibility is always an issue.

Both boards could send back video and audio explanations of each ruling to be played at the track. The tracks could in turn post the rulings on their websites for replay and review, and the two boards of stewards could maintain websites for the same purpose.

This is along the same lines as the National Hockey League has adopted. Video replays are run through what they call the War Room in Toronto, where the decisions are made. This centralization adds a valuable consistency throughout the sport that racing would do well to adopt

Randy Exelby - Scottsdale, Ariz.