08/15/2002 11:00PM

Letters to the editor

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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Today's racing lacks the class of days gone by

Watching the Haskell Invitational and Jim Dandy two weeks ago was just another reminder of how racing has become a business only, with sport not a close second but not even on the radar.

The great races used to be a time when horsemen put their best up against your best. Recall the Woodward Stakes in 1967, when Dr. Fager, Buckpasser, and Damascus all showed up, and Dr. Fager had to face two rabbits.

Now we get the likes of Bob Baffert, who seems to want to run War Emblem only if he has a guaranteed win. When Came Home was listed as a Haskell starter, Baffert wanted no part of a race where Came Home would give his horse a battle on the front end. As soon Came Home defected, Baffert was singing another tune.

Now instead of hooking up in the Travers with Medaglia d'Oro, he heads back west to avoid a showdown.

All the great races for older horses feature $62,500-type runners instead of Affirmed, Seattle Slew, and Exceller. The race instead is to retire horses as soon as they have a significant win or two under their belts. When Bob and Beverly Lewis ran Silver Charm into his fifth year, that was a rare exception among today's owners.

I laughed at all the talk about how racing needed a Triple Crown winner to "save" the sport. The owners of a Triple Crown winner would retire the horse inside of 30 days, citing the bone chips in his ankles becoming a "serious problem."

Nowadays, a hangnail retires horses. Citation won 27 of 29, then sat out a year, was never the same, but did win the Hollywood Gold Cup after the layoff. But that was a very long time ago.

There are no horsemen anymore, it's just a business.

Steve Orton

Los Angeles

What has Xtra Heat done to be shut out?

Reading the weekly Watchmaker Watch divisional rankings absolutely blew me away. Nowhere in the top 10 of the Older Females or Sprinters did I see Xtra Heat. I find this unbelievable.

Don't get me wrong, as a fan and a handicapper, I respect Mike Watchmaker's opinion and his ability very much, but leaving one of the most talented racehorses in training today off either of these two 10-best lists is appalling.

Fans and horseplayers have very strong opinions, and we stand by them. I'm not going to degrade any of the fine animals who are ahead of Xtra Heat in either category, but I'm sure many will agree that Xtra Heat is one of the top five North American horses in training today in any category.

Her only fault that I can find, and possible justification for her being left off the Sprinters list, is that she has never beaten males. She did, however, run third in the Golden Shaheen Dubai and second in last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint.

This filly and her connections have never ducked anyone and have packed a ton of weight against her own sex. If her being beaten by a half-length in the Princess Rooney at Calder, carrying some 12 more pounds than the winner, is the reason for her being left off the Sprinters list, well I don't see it.

Maybe it will take her beating the boys at the Breeders' Cup this fall at Arlington to get her due respect. Here's one fan who hopes she stays healthy and gets the job done.

I get really revved up when I see Xtra Heat's name in the entries, and not from a betting standpoint. It's just exciting to watch a great filly with loads of talent do what she loves to do: win races.

Charles F. Mignogna

Pitcairn, Pa.

One outlet made future bet a game of blindman's bluff

Last Sunday at Del Mar, I asked for the current odds on the Breeders' Cup future wager, available until 4 p.m. Pacific. I was directed to the morning line in the program. The program had the Epsom Derby winner, High Chaparral, at 12-1, and the Epsom Derby place horse, Hawk Wing, at 15-1. The night before, however, ESPN had shown High Chaparral at 5-2 and Hawk Wing at 40-1.

I would not mind betting into a mutuel pool if no one knew the odds, but Del Mar management asked me to bet into a pool where I did not know the odds and others did. Also, not knowing the size of the pool, I did not know how much a large wager would hurt my odds.

On a bright, sunny day, Del Mar kept me in the dark.

Joe Colville

Torrance, Calif.

A champion must bear the burden of his status

Bruce Headley's last-minute scratch of Kona Gold from the July 27 Big Crosby Handicap really boils my blood. I made the 80-mile trek from my house down to Del Mar only to find out about Headley's action.

The assignment of 124 pounds is not a lot. Kona Gold may be well past his prime, but sometimes in life you have to take what is given to you. If Headley thinks the extra pounds are too much for his horse, he should retire him. Great horses carry their weight.

If Headley still thinks that Kona Gold is good enough to compete in handicap races, then giving weight shouldn't be a problem.

Russell Salvador

West Covina, Calif.

Magna changes should be subject to review

Following Magna Entertainment's purchase of Pimlico and Laurel ("Magna gets piece of Crown," July 17), two central questions for fans remain unanswered.

First, will Magna continue to let a rival, Television Games Network, televise Maryland's races? My fear is that Magna will not, causing Comcast, the major cable television provider in the Laurel area, to cancel TVG.

Second, will Magna continue the Maryland Jockey Club's program of full-card simulcasting? Magna has a reputation of going its own way. I fear we Maryland players will not only lose TVG, but also extensive simulcasting.

Perhaps the Maryland Racing Commission, before approving the sale, will force Magna to explain in detail how it plans to run the two tracks.

Rowan Scarborough

Cheverly, Md.

Bayard Sharp remembered as one of the sport's finest

The board of directors of Thoroughbred Charities of America wish to acknowledge our mourning at the loss of our esteemed director, Bayard Sharp. Bayard's kindness, generosity, and support will be missed by the entire Thoroughbred industry. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family and many friends.

Many people visit the Thoroughbred industry - many people participate. Others truly engage. Bayard was one of those. He cared. He cared about the sport, he cared about the horses who bring all of us in racing so much emotion - both good and, sometimes, not so good.

Bayard served on our board because he thought it was important that racehorses should be taken care of after their sporting careers were over - even if they didn't have a berth in the breeding world. To that end, he was a major contributor to the TCA annual auction, and when a Maryland-area equine shelter needed a new run-in shed, it was Bayard who without hesitation wrote out the check.

We want his family and friends to know how much we appreciated him. Bayard Sharp was a good and kind person and most importantly, we will miss him as a friend.

The Board of Directors,

Thoroughbred Charities of America