05/23/2008 12:00AM

Letters to the Editor


Rush to retirement leaves sport lacking a true role model

First, congratulations on the marvelous achievements of Big Brown. Countless race fans, and some who are just becoming fans because of him, would love to see a Triple Crown bestowed on his beautiful head.

Second, whether Big Brown wins the Crown or not, he has already given us intimations of true greatness. The owner of Three Chimneys, where Big Brown is headed to stud next year, remarked, “I don’t think we’ve actually seen what he’s truly capable of” (“Big Brown to stand at Three Chimneys,” May 19).

Therein lies my question, and plea, to the colt’s owners:

Why can we not see what he’s truly capable of? Why must he leave the racing world before he shows us that he might be capable of joining racing’s immortals? How can it be fair to such an athlete to take him out of the game before he reaches his prime? If this is Big Brown at 3 years old, with only a handful of races on his record, what will he do at 4? Maybe 5? I am thinking of Seattle Slew, Affirmed, yes, even Citation.

I am not naive about the money involved in stud fees. But does the ownership really need it right away? Are people supposed to be thrilled about a horse we will never get to witness reach his full potential because his sperm is worth more than his athletic ability?

There are three reasons to reconsider the decision to take Big Brown off the racetrack at the end of his 3-year-old year: (1) Athletes of Big Brown’s caliber do not come along very often, and he is needed to restore the tarnished image of American racing. (2) Non-racing people could learn that there is a long, storied history of racing in America, and that it continues with the same spirit and sportsmanship. (3) Big Brown deserves a chance to run for glory and into history, to reach heights we have not seen in a long, long time and may not see again for a long time to come.

He is beautiful to look at, awesome in his talent, willing in his heart. He was born to run. Let him rise as high and go as far as he can. There is plenty of time for whatever comes next.

Lyn Cowan - St. Paul, Minn.

Racing needs heroes more than one day

After the electrifying acceleration Big Brown has displayed in all five of his starts, especially defeating the best of his generation in this year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, it is sad news to racing fans to face the prospect that Big Brown may race only one more time because of his assignment to Three Chimneys for stallion duties.

What a shame it would be to anoint a Triple Crown champion after a 30-year drought, only to see him be prematurely retired for breeding. Unfortunately, to racing fans, this is how our sport has evolved: Get the Thoroughbreds on the track early as possible, race them as few times as possible, and if they have talent (and earned some black type), get them to the breeding shed ASAP. There is more money to be made on the farms than there is on the track.

Racing needs to present a major star into the public’s eye, one who will create a buzz and have the more casual and novice fans interested in racing beyond the first Saturday each May. Racing needs a way to keep horses like Big Brown performing on the track for a longer period of time, not the abbreviated career he may wind up having.

Give the fans what they want and need, and everyone in the industry will profit immensely.

Tom Fleming - Hicksville, N.Y.

Breeding shouldn’t be province of youth

While the Preakness performance of Big Brown was impressive, perhaps the best win of the day came in the preceding race. Buy the Barrel, trained by Larry Jones and ridden by Gabriel Saez, turned in a much-needed performance of her own in the Allaire duPont Distaff (“Buy the Barrel powers home,” May 1).

Jones and Saez had been subjected to tremendous criticism, much of it unnecessary, after the death of Eight Belles two weeks earlier. It was a welcome sight to see this pair getting their picture taken in the winner’s area last.

So much of the criticism was from too many uninformed sources. The bulk of the bloggers, writers, and television personalities watch a handful of races a year, perhaps none aside from the Triple Crown. They will never visit a simulcast hall, and they will never visit a racetrack to see these animals perform Yet they all seemed to be experts on the welfare of racehorses.

It wasn’t the Churchill track, it wasn’t the jockey, the fact it was a filly versus boys, or any other reason they tried to drum up. It was a sad accident, nothing more.

I watch one Indy car race a year – the Indianapolis 500 – does that make me an expert? Just because Danica Patrick runs over one pit guy, does that mean that all women drivers are bad? Should they all give up their licenses? That is about the same logic we have been forced to read about the past two week.

If horse racing truly wants to reform, here is a suggestion. How about mandating that a horse be 5 years old before breeding? Too many of our racing stars are rushed off to the breeding shed after so much as a hiccup in their 3-year-old seasons. They do not get a chance to show any durability – or fragility, for that matter. And it doesn’t give racing fans a chance to see just how good these horses could have become.

Rob Tuel - Omaha, Neb.

Network coverage off the mark again

Unfairly vilified by some for his ride aboard Eight Belles, jockey Gabriel Saez made a triumphant return to the national racing stage on Preakness Saturday.

Saez’s victory in the Allaire duPont Distaff immediately preceding the Preakness, on the Larry Jones-trained Buy the Barrel, was newsworthy for both men.

Where was NBC during this feel-good moment? Showing yet another interview in an endless array of features that drown out any Triple Crown racing day. If you had a pick six or pick four wager and wanted to follow your action, as usual NBC was not your medium.

NBC thinks race days are about the network and its personalities. The self-indulgent coverage is one major reason why racing fails to grow as a sport even when there are some compelling races or stories to be shown.

Steve Orton - Los Angeles