04/12/2002 12:00AM

Letters to the editor


California can assist owners with comp cost

Because of the rise in rates for workers' compensation, California has already experienced the loss of horses and trainers who considered the escalating costs for their owners and left the state to race elsewhere. Trainers who remain will pass the cost of to already-overtaxed owners.

The small horse owner, the foundation of the daily racing card, will be forced out of racing unless lesser-known or aspiring young trainers with fewer horses can convince the owner to move his horses to another state.

Until the Thoroughbred Owners of California was organized, all owners were at the mercy of racetrack hierarchy, trainers, and breeders. All legislation and regulation seemed to have emanated from those sources. TOC has given owners the opportunity to have a meaningful input.

In the year 2001, there were 273 days of racing at Southern California's major tracks and at Fairplex Park. These tracks averaged about $10 million a day in mutuel wagering. The state of California's takeout is approximately two cents on every dollar wagered. Nearly $200,000 per day for 273 days puts more than $54 million a year into the state's general fund. And that is not counting northern California tracks and the fair circuit.

One possible suggestion to alleviate the increase in owners' costs is to have the state of California partially subsidize the racing industry. The state does this for farmers, the milk industry, and countless others. I suggest that the state split workers' comp with horsemen.

How can this be financed? Legislators should look at the state lottery for one source of funding. Adding three cents on the dollar to the state treasury could easily be absorbed by the lottery by spending less to advertise it.

There must be many more suggestions, and there is a need to explore other possible solutions. Surely the state of California must recognize the negative aspects of escalating costs to any industry. An industry that contributes so much to the state coffers each year deserves some consideration. There must be a give-and-take compromise in this partnership.

We, the horse owners, have given a great deal to the state of California. The state must be willing to give something back.

Nick Giovinazzo

Solana Beach, Calif.

New owner sees no gold in Keeneland rail

Keeneland is one of the best, if not the best, racing facilities in America. The atmosphere, the setting, the people, the food, the city, and the horses are all first-class. The anticipation of these six glorious weeks per year can be unbearable.

But if one more horse wins from a golden rail trip, the track superintendent should be fired. I just sat through a three-day opening weekend of a "Who can get to the rail?" circus.

This isn't horse racing. It is like forcing the golfers in this weekend's Masters to play without a driver, putter, or even-numbered irons. Sure, someone would win, but would the best golfer win? No. The winner would be the best of an odd, man-made situation.

I'm sure Keeneland officials want a "safe" racing surface. Well, they won't have one if all the racing comes down to who draws an inside post, who doesn't get killed trying to get to the rail, and which jockey is smart or brave enough to try to get to the rail.

Let me emphasize I am not talking about speed and the rail, though I'm sure speed helps win many races. I'm talking about the rail, period. On Sunday, the rail was unbelievable - for those riders smart enough to stay on it, regardless of position.

The meet will turn into public workouts for horses who draw an outside post and do not have the early foot to clear the field. How do you expect to attract new patrons when the nation's premier meet of the spring and fall produces such results?

As an owner (I bought four yearlings at Keeneland last fall for the first time) and as an avid handicapper (I participated in the National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas this past January), I think horse racing is the greatest thing since sliced bread. But as a new owner, I surely do not look forward to trying to earn back my investment by waiting until May each year to get a level playing field.

Oh well, maybe the horses could use the rest anyway.

Jim Keller

Florence, Ky.

Play up human interest, then cut ontrack takeout

Slot-machine revenue may help tracks in the short term, but in the long-term reality they are a temporary and very dangerous Band-Aid with bad side effects.

As a Thoroughbred owner, I feel that the true solution to racing's problems is to expose, market, and promote horse racing to a new audience and educate that audience. Sell the sport. Sell the personalities, the characters, and the stories. Sell the horses, the jockeys, the trainers, the owners, the breeders, the grooms, the exercise riders, and everyone else who makes up this great game.

Baseball, basketball, and football all do this stuff. They thrive on and revolve around stories, characters, talk, and conjecture. That is half the fun, and racing should do the same. Television Games Network is a great step forward, but why don't they do more interviews before and after races? Inject some life! Expose to new people the characters and stories that lie within this great sport.

And here's how to bolster rapidly dwindling ontrack attendance. First, end general admission charges, enforce moderate dress codes for the clubhouse and turf club (to dispel the seedy image some people have of racetrack patrons), and give free programs. Then clean the track up, improve the quality of food and drink, and drastically improve customer service.

Now, here is the big one:

While maintaining current offtrack takeout levels, substantially cut ontrack takeout to a level that would give people the incentive to come and watch live racing and get better value in the process. Do this, and consequently watch ontrack handle (and thus profits and purses) go through the roof as the grandstand fills up and the buzz comes back.

Carl Wilson

Petaluma, Calif.

Part of the game is knowing the rules

Richard Dutrow Jr. is confused at best in his protest of the scratching of One Tuff Fox from the Illinois Derby ("Scratched owners may sue," April 10).

There was no conspiracy here in Chicago - Dutrow's horse was justly scratched. If anyone should be singled out, it is the freshly showered groom who left his post, leaving One Tuff Fox unattended after receiving Lasix, a violation of Illinois racing rules.

Dutrow has no right to insinuate there was a hometown bias towards the winning connections of the Illinois Derby. As far as rules go, maybe Dutrow should find out the rules for a track he ships to.

Creighton R. Schoenfeldt


Trainer should share burden for gaffe

Much is being written in my local papers about the scratch of One Tuff Fox from the Illinois Derby and the possible legal action his connections may take against the Illinois racing board. Is this Richard Dutrow talking or the owners?

If One Tuff Fox were my horse, I would sue Mr. Dutrow for any financial loss and expense because of his ignorance of the local rules. Shouldn't all owners expect competent management when paying the day rates that they do?

Ron Rashinsk

Lemont, Ill.