05/23/2002 11:00PM

Letters to the editor

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Letters to the editor

Classic crown or high-priced claiming game?

All I've been hearing is that War Emblem's winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness is good for the sport of horse racing. I want to know why.

For several years, claiming races, the majority of races run in North America, have been ruined by trainers and veterinarians, who want an immediate boost to their ego, pocketbook, and training percentage. The helplessness that Russell Reineman and Bobby Springer feel now is, unfortunately, the commonplace of owning and training horses in the 21st century. A horse, with an injury such as a bone chip that you have nursed along, is sold or lost via a claim. Suddenly afterward, he explodes, winning a few races, and all you can do is watch as he, then, descends the claiming ranks until his name vanishes from the Racing Form entries forever. During this roller-coaster ride, you have to hear some journalist who doesn't know the difference between Spiderman and a spider bandage tell you what a great trainer the new trainer is.

This is not exactly the case, here, and War Emblem, obviously, won't drop in claiming prices. He will probably just retire to stud like Grindstone or be forced out of the game by injury like Charismatic.

But what have they done wrong? They sold a horse with a chip in his ankle for nearly a million bucks!

Being a professional gambler, I can respect the calculated risk that the Prince Ahmed Salman and Bob Baffert took. They didn't make the rules, and they certainly did nothing that isn't done a hundred times a day in the racing world, but I feel foolish in comparing this five-week run in the same breath with Seattle Slew. I just can't think of one positive influence that this will have on the Triple Crown, or horse racing itself.

Then again, maybe I'm bad for the sport for tapping into the truths of horse racing.

Paul Matties Jr.

Ballston Spa, N.Y.

Don't fret: Only the chosen will win Triple Crown

So, the crybabies are out in force. Apparently, some jealous rival horsemen are taking cheap shots at Bob Baffert-trained War Emblem, the sleek black colt who has already won two-thirds of racing's elusive Triple Crown.

Several have dubbed him the best of a bad lot. And he may well be, but that doesn't matter. For when it comes to the Triple Crown, excuses don't apply. No one backs in to the Triple Crown. If you're supposed to win it, you do. No fraud ever walks off with it.

It's a very exclusive fraternity. There have been but 11 Thoroughbreds who have captured the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes. Sir Barton was the first in 1919, Affirmed, in 1978, the last. Many superb racehorses - great champions all - have won the first two jewels, only to stub their toe on the final stumbling block: the Belmont.

You don't get in unless you really belong.

A couple of years ago, another Baffert trainee, Real Quiet, came into the Belmont with the same Triple Crown potential as War Emblem. In deep stretch with a clear lead, he looked like he was home. But suddenly, his rival Victory Gallop began eating up huge chunks of ground. Real Quiet's jockey, Kent Desormeaux, sensing danger, went to a furious whip, trying to get Real Quiet to the wire for the glory. It was not to be. Victory Gallop got up by the shortest of nostrils. The moral? Real Quiet didn't really belong, so he didn't get in.

Since Thoroughbreds are generally so skittish and fragile, most trainers will tell you that merely competing in all three Triple Crown races is, in itself, an achievement. Winning all three is simply dizzying. The horses must remain in peak condition, travel well, and continually adapt to new surroundings. In the actual races, they must overcome myriad potential problems, such as bulky fields, bad racing luck, and often times breeding limitations.

So you see, there's no such thing as "the best of a bad lot." For horses like War Emblem, or others before him who have captured the first two jewels, it has little to do with the level of competition, or any of the tangibles or intangibles they encounter during their quest for immortality.

In the end, it's all about whether or not they belong, period.

Stephen R. Schwartz

Medford, N.J.

Magna's TV alternative a bargain at $99

Like thousands of others, I was forced to subscribe to Television Games Network when The Racing Network went out of business. Now, after months of torture, TVG is broadcasting live from Los Alamitos.

Great. More California racing is just what all of us desire. In addition to short fields at boring Hollywood Park, we can enjoy short fields (and prices) at the local Quarter Horse track. Incredibly, TVG will tape-delay races from Lone Star so they can tell us about the outside horse (post 4) and its chances at 3-5.

For anyone who believes Frank Stronach is bad for racing, I suggest that you spend a day and night with TVG and its coverage of California racing. I will gladly pay $99 a month for the new Racetrack Television Network because I know the serious bettor will be considered.

Chip Plowman

Tucson, Ariz.

Churchill tracks operate on pay-for-view basis

When the current Hollywood Park meet began, I was disappointed to learn that the track's owner, Churchill Downs, values its online business partners more than the promotion of racing. I was unable to get live audio or video of Hollywood races on my computer without doing business with one of Churchill's partners. Open a wagering account with Television Games Network, or you're in the dark. The same holds for the recently begun Churchill meet.

While many in racing take Churchill's side as being "good for the sport," isn't it curious that Magna Entertainment put the video of its races live on the Internet from its two premier meetings - Santa Anita and Gulfstream - with no strings attached.

David Fischer

New York City

Derby field needs panel to weed out wanna-bes

I agree completely with Steven Crist's premise in his "Stamp out Derby Fever!" column of May 5 that the method used to determine as many as 20 starters for the Kentucky Derby each year should be modified. But I differ in proposed method of solution.

Crist proposed a selection process whereby the top three finishers in certain designated major prep races would be given automatic starting positions in the Derby every year, whether or not their graded stakes earnings exceeded those of other horses who did not finish in the money in one of the designated races.

Isn't the determination of which Derby prep races will or won't be designated a subjective decision in and of itself? And once the list of these races is determined, what if more than 20 different horses wind up eligible for the Derby? We're still stuck with the necessity of a secondary selection process.

The process used to determine Breeders' Cup starters in oversubscribed races is far preferable. Let the first 15 positions in the Derby still be based on overall graded stakes earnings, then let a panel of racing authorities select the final five based on other relative merits. Such a process would almost certainly have resulted in Sunday Break being chosen as a starter in this year's Derby over such abject longshots as Wild Horses and Danthebluegrassman, both of whom had only marginally higher graded earnings than Sunday Break.

John W. Corrington

Malibu, Calif.