04/05/2002 1:00AM

Letters to the Editor


Empire State can repent on Palm Sunday

This letter is in response to Steven Crist's March 24, column, "New York's absurd anachronism," on the foolishness of New York's banning racing on Palm Sunday. I am writing as a former commissioner at the state's Racing and Wagering Board and currently as the coordinator of the Program on Racing and Wagering Law at Albany Law School.

While I can hardly agree more with the column, there is some historical reason for the Palm Sunday ban. The Palm Sunday ban was passed in 1973 as part of an overall legislative package that permitted racetracks in New York to begin racing on Sundays. It is worth remembering that Sunday racing was once believed to be an enormous bonanza for horse racing. In fact, one racetrack (Green Mountain in Vermont on the New York border) was built - and initially thrived - in the 1960's largely because Vermont was the one state in the Northeast that allowed Sunday racing. So the Palm Sunday ban was passed as part of a compromise to make Sunday racing more palatable to legislators.

The inclusion of Palm Sunday never made a lick of sense. In fact, the New York statute contains the only reference to Palm Sunday in any statute in any of the 50 states. The territory of Puerto Rico mentions Palm Sunday in one of its laws, but only to establish the Sunday before Palm Sunday as the day for the Democratic presidential primary.

The New York ban stands alone, and this statute proscribing one and only one activity on Palm Sunday - a holiday without any particular secular significance - is nonsensical.

Over the years at the Racing and Wagering Board, some of the upstate OTB's and at least one staff member informally urged the board to find the statute unconstitutional. Since the Racing and Wagering Board is not empowered to determine the constitutionality of statutes, we could not issue the desired opinion. The answer, however, lies in the legislature. There is nobody lobbying for a continuing moratorium on Palm Sunday racing. All it takes is the will to repeal two words from the statute. There will be no fallout, and there will be one less reason to ridicule New York racing.

Bennett Liebman

Albany, N.Y.

Speedster filly deserves her accolade

In his Feb. 27 column, "Xtra Heat got votes for the wrong reasons," Mike Watchmaker took issue with Xtra Heat's being voted the Eclipse Award for 3-year-old filly. We disagree and champion the balloting.

Xtra Heat's record, which encompassed the entire 2001 racing season, speaks volumes. From January to November, she made 13 starts with never more than six weeks between races. She never ran out of the money (13 starts, 9-3-1). No other 3-year-old filly had such a record. Her two rivals for the Eclipse each made just seven starts. And she posted not just one but three of the top four Beyer Speed Figures among 3-year-olds, male or female, in 2001.

What difference does it make whether she is a sprinter or a router? She was, quite simply, the best 3-year-old filly, always showing consistency, incredible courage, and sheer talent.

Mr. Watchmaker did get one thing right: Don't judge a horse by one race.

Tracey Coonce, Leah Parish

Shreveport, La.