05/15/2008 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor


Horseman claims a fair share remains too long overdue

It is amazing to me that for the first time in many years the horsemen in the United States may get a fair return for providing horses for racing at our various tracks ("Horsemen urge unity in Churchill dispute," May 16).

For years, many of us breeders and horse owners have been penalized, with the bulk of the money going to the racetracks and other betting entities. Now, under the leadership of Bob Reeves and the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group, there is a possibility we may get reasonable revenue so that we can run for realistic purses. I want to endorse strongly Bob's leadership in this regard.

In addition, the horsemen may now want to start asking for a percentage of the proceeds from concessions, program sales, admissions, gift shop sales, etc. This is what happens in all other professional sports. This would enhance our purse structure and at last reward horsemen for their investment and hard work.

Raymond L. (Pat) Buse Jr., Meadow Springs Farm, LLC - Pleasant Plain, Ohio

Churchill's tactics may backfire

Racehorse owners feel we have a right to get some type of fair percentage of the simulcasting revenue generated by our horses. After all, revenue is being generated by wagering on our horses. The potential of higher purses, via simulcasting, is what drew myself and likely other owners into this dilemma.

The strong-arm purse-cutting tactics currently used by Churchill Downs Inc. in an attempt to break the horsemen is the equivalent of cutting its nose off to spite its face. (Churchill stockholders are going to love the way the stock will perform during this crisis.)

In turn, owners are pulling their horses from the Churchill-owned Calder Race Course to avoid running for dismal purses that were below average to begin with.

There is a solution out there, a happy medium. It starts with Churchill Downs Inc. spreading the wealth and giving horsemen a fair piece of the pie.

Steve Bourmas - Schaumburg, Ill.

Purse cuts reflect poor business sense

The counterproductive decision by Churchill Downs Inc. to cut purses at Churchill Downs and Calder Race Course ("Churchill to cut purses at home and Calder, " May 11) as a punitive measure during a dispute with horsemen proves indisputably that this means of entertainment is dying a rapid death (but perhaps not as rapid as it deserves, given this continuing behavior).

The business seems to be run by people who have never been able to understand the simple concept that it takes a triumvirate of dedicated groups to keep it going: bettors (the most important), horsemen, and track administrators. Weaken one leg and the stool falls over. They can't comprehend that, and settle for blaming each other for wielding saws to the legs.

Kevin Smith - Lawrenceville, N.J.

Whip use not always so tidily explained

Reading the May 11 letter "Decrying whip use defies rationality," one would believe the writer was the second coming of Einstein in attempting to explain his stance on "steering" a horse. The writer employed mass, velocity, and other physical properties to substantiate his theory, but it ain't that simple.

I have seen horses on the rail getting hit right-handed only to be "steered" right over the rail or hedge. And on many occasions, horses are over-steered to the point where they do not take a straight path but rather impede the progress of other horses and as a result endanger everyone around them.

A truly outstanding example of steering occurred in a race I witnessed years ago. If my memory serves me well, a horse came from California to run in a juvenile stakes at Hawthorne. I believe he was the chalk and was living up to his odds, because he was clear by some lengths in the middle of the track approaching the sixteenth pole. It was then that his jockey decided to do a little right-handed steering, no doubt just to tweak his position a little bit or to keep him awake.

Unfortunately, the young horse reacted to the point that he made a 90-degree turn, ran into and shattered the sixteenth pole.

The letter noted that racehorses "have minds of their own and are prone to making sudden and erratic moves." Add fatigue to the mix and the potential for disaster is present.

All one has to do is watch a horse in deep stretch and observe the motion of his tail as he reacts negatively to the whip. Simply put, the horse is saying that he is done, responding the only way he can - with body language. I am not opposed to the use of a whip in a race, but it has its time and place.

Perhaps that May 11 letter-writer, not the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, should examine the facts more clearly before issuing proclamations.

Lance Guranovich - Frankfort, Ill.

Chicago jockeys hurting own cause

Over the past 20 years, Thoroughbred Racing in Illinois has been in a torturous death spiral. Competition from casino gambling, the failure of the state legislature to enforce laws they passed granting the industry relief, as well as some horrible decisions by track management have resulted in the stagnation of purses, the virtual destruction of the breeding industry, and the demise of Sportsman's Park.

Yet another blow came during the last week of the Hawthorne spring meet, when the jockeys banded together against the horsemen in an effort to increase their mount fees dramatically ("Mount fee hike seems to be holding," May 11).

The jockeys have felt that they need a raise for a long time, but there is nowhere for that money to come from in a market that hasn't seen a purse increase in 20 years, except for the horsemen's pockets. The increased expense will simply force many people out of the game, or at the very least, out of this market. Even worse was the manner in which the jocks attempted to implement this fee: a last-minute notice demanding that a contract be signed by the owners of the horses entered in that race, with the threat that the owner will have to scratch the horse if he or she doesn't comply.

Aside from the fact that this approach, if successful, will guarantee them fewer rides, ensure smaller fields, and further shrink a staggering industry, it shows a willingness to divide the industry at a time when solidarity is imperative. It would appear that the jocks' leadership cannot grasp the importance of keeping small investors in the game.

One of the strengths of this game has been its accessibility to every class on every level. The trend away from this accessibility is distressing, to say the least. If Thoroughbred racing becomes merely another playground for the wealthy, our ultimate demise is nearer than anyone cares to admit.

Timothy Vana - Des Plaines, Ill.