08/29/2002 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor

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Woodbine fire had heroics amid chaos

I was roused from my sleep shortly before 1 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 4, by shouts of "Barn fire! Barn fire!" The nightmare was about to begin.

I jumped out of bed, put on my shorts and sandals, and ran out of the tack room toward the fire in the middle of Barn 7. Grant McGill was there trying to put out the fire with a fire extinguisher, but it was too late. The fire was really beginning to catch. That sound is something I will never forget.

I yelled to get the horses out and ran back to the tack room, got my cell phone, and dialed 911. Then I ran down to the end of the barn where Grant and Joe Niemerowski had gotten all but two or three of Earl Barnett's horses out. By this time Joe had been hit on the arm with a burning piece of wood. After all of Earl's horses had been let out, we ran around to the other side, where Charles McKay was getting horses out. Charlie was only four or five stalls down but already the smoke was so thick you couldn't see him. We yelled for him to get out. For a moment I feared he wouldn't make it when suddenly a horse came out of the smoke followed by Charlie. Nothing more could be done.

I don't know what happened anywhere else, but in the west end of Barn 7 any horse getting out was a direct result of the efforts of Charlie, Joe, and Grant. They are all heroes.

There were sights I will never forget. A horse who broke through the plywood on the outside of wall of the barn running down the road with its mane on fire. The dead horse who lay on the ground for two days. Terrified horses running loose all over the place. Horsemen and women with looks of horror and grief on their faces. People crying everywhere. The thought of all those terrified horses dying trapped in their stalls makes me sick.

From the time I jumped out of bed until the time Charlie chased the last horse out of the barn could not have been more than five minutes. If there had been a sprinkler system in the barn that could have kept the fire at bay for another 10 minutes, virtually every horse in that barn could have been saved.

Like a lot of other people who lived in Barn 7, I lost all my belongings in the fire, but there were others who lost much more. The public can help by sending a donation to: Barn 7 Recovery Fund, 135 Queen's Plate Drive Suite 370, Toronto, Ontario M9W 6V1.

Gary Emde

Rexdale, Ontario

Pacific Classic effort: Doomed from start?

After reading in the Los Angeles Times and the Aug. 28 Racing Form ("Came Home upsets Pacific Classic") about War Emblem and his problems at the starting gate, I was irritated that Bob Baffert had the nerve to blame the starter and his crew for his horse losing the Pacific Classic.

First of all, it was clear that War Emblem was a problem in the gate, and that's why he had to be backed out twice before reloading. Second, War Emblem broke decently and was in striking position to win the race, but simply wasn't good enough. Baffert needs to accept responsibility for not properly schooling this horse and stop pointing fingers at everyone else.

David Bosley

Yorba Linda, Calif.

Steward's remark belittled fans' intelligence

One of Del Mar's stewards, George Slender, was quoted indirectly in an Aug. 29 Del Mar Notebook item that stewards don't always tell the public the reason for a disqualification because they don't want to say too much and "confuse the public."

It's really Mr. Slender who is confused. The public is not as stupid as he thinks it is. Perhaps stewards just don't want to explain the inconsistencies in their decisions. At any rate, Slender's attitude is typical of most stewards, who just think they owe the public no accountability.

Perhaps a little more consideration of the people who ultimately pay stewards their salary is warranted.

Ed Hamilton

Alpine, Calif.

Passing on mule match an asinine decision

The Bay Meadows Fair blew it by not scheduling a non-betting match race between arch-rival mules Black Ruby and Taz. An often-stated reason for not having mule races is that there are not enough jockeys willing to ride the emerging breeds. What does that have to do with a match race in which you would need only Jim Burns and Danny Boag? The track could have had a T-shirt giveaway with Black Ruby on one side and Taz on the other. They would have had at least 10,000 people at the track if they had just promoted it.

In a time when we need new fans to come to the track, this would have been the perfect marketing effort, but I guess Bay Meadows doesn't need it. At least the state fair at Sacramento had the sense to put the two rivals together.

Mark Bertolucci

San Francisco

Notions on racing a three-point shot

Regarding that issue of "where things are going," I have several comments:

1. Simulcasting offers extraordinary potential. Too bad so many of the operators are stuck in the downside portion of the learning curve. As an example, I offer the Denver region. For starters, if you are a player at a level that would merit significant comps in the average Nevada sports and race book, you have to consider yourself lucky if you can talk your way into free admission at Colorado facilities.

There's a lovely, if somewhat out-moded racetrack here, Arapahoe Park, and you'd need to hire F. Lee Bailey to convince them you deserve a waiver on the $10 fee normally charged for a table with an eight-inch television monitor.

That just kills the development of the sport for this region. Other areas suffer other simulcast issues, and it's sad that racing is unable to work them out in a comprehensive and thoughtful manner.

2. At one time I heard discussion of converting the $2 pick six wager into a 25-cent bet. That offers possibilities. Why not give everyone a crack at hitting it big with the change in their pocket? It's not as if the software doesn't exist to divide $2 into eight portions.

A $20 wager on a pick six, having an eight-fold probability of actually hitting, would inspire all kinds of new money.

3. A final item: track bias. There is no scientific evidence to support the idea of daily changes, as so many insist is the case. Recently a writer mentioned that there had been a one-day inside bias at Del Mar. This is absurd.

Barring the extremely unlikely probability that the maintenance crew scraped the rail as a favor to their favorite trainer, and then stayed up all night to replace the dirt evenly for the next card, it's infinitely more probable that the rail had been and continued to be okay to run on, roughly equal to the rest of the racing surface, and that it worked out that there were a few more live runners getting confidently ridden from positions along the inside.

Rob Smoke

Boulder, Colo.

Lower the takeout to boost the game

I am in favor of lowering the percentage of takeout at all tracks. This would provide me and other horseplayers with better winnings that could be recycled through the betting window. Seems to me that this is a win-win situation for the bettor and the track.

Also, more players may be attracted to the game the closer the takeout gets to casino-level take.

Wayne Baker

Dagsboro, Del.