04/26/2002 12:00AM

Letters to the Editor

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Derby fields best limited by realism

Many points made by Steven Crist in his column of April 21, "Let's be fair, but how?," are well taken. He errs, however, when he states that the "luck" associated with Churchill Downs's avoidance of full Kentucky Derby fields "may well run out this year." It already has.

In two of the last three years, horses were excluded when full fields of 20 horses were entered, only to see post-entry scratches reduce the field to 19 starters. Putting aside whether original Triple Crown nominees should be given preference over otherwise qualified supplemental nominees, the circumstances surrounding the exclusion of 2000 Lexington Stakes winner Unshaded illustrate how some flaws in the current system for determining Derby starters could be addressed.

Initially, Churchill Downs should employ for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks the following rule already applied to all of the other stakes races contested during Derby week: If the race is oversubscribed, "two horses having common ties through ownership may not start to the exclusion of a single interest." If this rule had been used, Unshaded would not have been excluded while Godolphin (China Visit and Curule) and Dogwood Stables (Impeachment and Trippi) ran two horses. In essence, a stable with more than one prospect in an oversubscribed field must take its best shot.

Second, Churchill Downs could employ an also-eligible list and create a mutuel field, if necessary. Unshaded would not have been excluded from participating when only 19 horses faced the starter after the scratch of Globalize.

The best, although admittedly naive, solution is for owners to, first and foremost, look out for their horses and realistically assess their chances of success in the Derby (especially with $500,000 available against lesser competition the next week in the Lone Star Derby). No matter how much money an owner invests in the game, he or she must do more than ask a trainer to develop a "big hat horse" and then use any creditable effort in a prep race to justify running the horse in the Derby.

If Private Emblem is relegated to longshot status in this year's Derby, what are the chances of the horses whom he soundly defeated in a rather weak edition of the Arkansas Derby? One suspects that, should Wild Horses and Windward Passage run in the Derby, their entries are less about winning this year's Derby than they are about finding prospective partners to join their quests to win future Triple Crown events.

Brian M. Culnano
Albany, N.Y.

Winner-take-all broadcasts makes losers of fan

In this era of multiple monitors displaying races from many tracks, the average bettor is faced with a real dilemma: Who was second? Who was third? With a live race we know, but on small monitors, with jockeys' legs covering saddlecloth numbers, it is a big problem.

When the race is over you see the winner prancing past the finish line two or three times, and you see him galloping back to the winner's circle. After far too long staring at the winner, we are finally rewarded by seeing the results. In the meantime, in waiting to see how our exacta came out - or our place or show bets - we miss a race on another monitor from another track. None of the people who bet on horses other than the winner gives a hoot about the winner's circle.

Why can't we paying customers be informed who ran second and third immediately? Or don't we regular bettors mean anything?

Jack Titely
Hillsborough, Calif.

He's a 'Latin' lover, especially at the price

I'd like to thank DRF's Derby Watch in advance for dismissing the chances of Lusty Latin in the Kentucky Derby. Eighty-to-one and climbing looks great to me.

This is a year when distance limitations abound (check out the last eighth for Harlan's Holiday in the Blue Grass; Buddha, Medaglia d'Oro, Sunday Break, and Saarland in the Wood; and Came Home and Easy Grades in the Santa Anita Derby). Few of those will be moving in the right direction the last eighth at Churchill Downs.

Johannesburg? Please. He won't get the trip, especially with inadequate preparation.

On the other hand, Lusty Latin can run all day, has been working better than ever, has been realistically placed by his trainer, Jeff Mullins, since being claimed, and his last eighth in the Santa Anita Derby was not an "illusion," but evidence of class and stamina. While Came Home and Easy Grades gasped and weaved, Lusty Latin closed strong and straight past the wire. His figures have improved with the competition and the distance. A question: If the Santa Anita Derby had been 1 1/4 miles, who would have won?

Let's be honest. This is not a banner year for 3-year-olds. If Lusty Latin continues to work well at Churchill and gets a decent trip in the Derby (no small feat with 20 horses entered), I believe he hits the board. A great trip and he registers the biggest "upset" in Derby history

Come on, Derby Watch, make Lusty Latin 99-1!

Pete Leibman
Garden City, N.Y.

Gulfstream concert crowds hit a bad note

Now that this year's Gulfstream Park meeting has concluded, I again am left questioning why Gulfstream management continues to cater to their weekend concert-goers.

The performers are mostly from the 1970's and 1980's, drawing fans in their late 40's or early 50's. It is the nature, though, not the age, of this crowd that gives me pause.

Go to your local tattoo parlor, what will you see? Long gray hair, gray beards, bandana, lots of tattoos, certainly wearing black, probably leather. Well, that's your weekend concert customer base at Gulfstream. Oh, I forgot they love their beer and drive noisy motorcycles.

I am told you can measure someone by who they associate with. If this is the case, our friends at Gulfstream are in trouble.

So now it's Calder for the next eight months. Yes, the summer months are hot and humid, and yes, we'll have lots of 2-year-old races, but at least when I walk through the turnstile I won't have one hand on my Racing Form and the other on my wallet.Chris Steiner
Miami

Cup Day policy a kick in the seat

So Arlington Park is limiting admission for the 2002 Breeders' Cup to 45,000 reserved seats ("No general admission at '02 Cup," April 18). No walk-ins. Why? Well, the track, in the interest of the public's hunger and thirst (long concession lines), and the public's bladders (long water closet lines), feels that 45,000 people is all the track can accommodate.

How caring. To demonstrate further the love the track has for its fans, it's charging from $20 to $285 for seats (35,000 of which are temporary - imagine how comfy they will be).

Wow! I can't speak for others, but give me a $2 admission to a live race. This isn't the theater. It's a racetrack. Where Arlington gets the idea that 45,000 fans is "comfortable" is beyond me. There will be long lines at the windows. People will get shut out. It's a fact of life.

Gouging people for the price of a chair, when it is their betting that is the revenue source, is an outrage. Once again, day-to-day players, the seniors who bet the claimers on weekdays, are out. That $20 they use for admission and a card full of win bets now buys a chair.

All this "big race day" stuff is making a plain old Wednesday at the races look a lot better.

Genevieve F. Vignola
Bay Shore, N.Y.