09/05/2002 11:00PM

Letters to the editor



Real solution is modernizing turf courses

This is in response to the excellent column in Daily Racing Form by Andrew Beyer on Aug. 28 ("When calling no-contest is a no-brainer") and the article by Matt Hegarty a day later ("Surface switch rule proposed"), in which the Association of Racing Commissioners International suggested a no-contest be declared (in pick fours, pick sixes, etc.) after a surface switch from turf to dirt.

The remedy is treating only a symptom, however, not the cause. The problem is that most North American turf surfaces are 30 to 40 years old. When they were built, nobody could have foreseen the dramatic increase in the popularity of turf racing.

May I suggest a simple, straightforward solution. Turf surfaces equipped with modern drainage systems can now handle up to six inches of rain per day. It's very simple and, to be absolutely honest, child's play. After the turf course at Tapeta Farm withstood 12 inches of rain in one day from Hurricane Floyd, we were able to breeze 10 horses on perfect turf the following day. If a farm boy from Maryland can do it, it should be easy for racetracks to do it.

What's more, turf redesign is extremely cost-efficient. Consider how often 12-horse fields of turf specialists quickly turn into nondescript dirt races with short fields. Such races result in huge disappointment shared by trainers, bettors, and owners. Racetracks also suffer drastic declines in their mutuel handle.

This is in no way meant as a criticism of today's track superintendents. They are hardworking, conscientious people doing a difficult job while working with 30-year-old turf surfaces in urgent need of modernization.

Currently, one-half inch of rain can disrupt the efforts of racing secretaries who rely heavily on grass races to fill cards. This would never happen with a modern turf track. Six inches of rain, two inches of snow, or a hurricane are all legitimate reasons for coming off the grass. A half-inch of rain in these modern times is not a valid excuse.

Michael W. Dickinson

North East, Md.

Future pools tainted by equine ailments

Racing fans who placed future wagers on the Breeders' Cup awoke Wednesday morning to discover that Street Cry, the early betting favorite, had been retired. On Tuesday, word had come that Sky Jack, another entry, was scheduled for surgery. Monday the Racing Form had reported that something was amiss with Magic Weisner, who had been to run in the Pennsylvania Derby.

But those unfortunate racing fans who placed future bets on these horses would not have their wagers refunded because of how the future betting pool is structured.

The explanation that I received from the Illinois Racing Commission was that if I had wagered in Las Vegas, I also would have forfeited my wager. I, however, did not wager, nor would I, in Las Vegas. I chose to rely on the integrity of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and a state-regulated future bet as managed by the Breeders' Cup and Arlington Park.

I felt I had the reasonable expectation that any horse placed in the betting pool would be fit to run. If a trainer enters a horse who is unsound in an Illinois race, that trainer is subject to a fine by the Illinois Racing Commission. I was unaware of any special exemption for the Breeders' Cup.

Who is out there to protect the racing fan? It was quite apparent on Monday that something was definitely wrong with Magic Weisner, and yet future betting on him was not suspended. As reported in DRF, Simon Crisford, a spokesman for Godolphin, said that he was not even aware that Street Cry was being offered in a future bet over the weekend.

Ken Kircher, director of product development for Breeders' Cup, was quoted as saying: "We've tried to do everything we can do to make sure a horse is sound and running, and nothing we had seen, read, or heard had indicated otherwise."

That's not good enough. The removal of Sky Jack, a speedster and pacesetter in the Pacific Classic, as well as Street Cry and Magic Weisner, changes the entire complexion of the Breeders' Cup Classic and alters any wagering strategy.

Future bet wagering is supposed to promote the Breeders' Cup, the greatest show on earth. When the powers that be do not watch the store, they open up the process to disrepute and the possibility of chicanery. The way this matter has been handled turns off the racing public from a truly great sport.

This matter warrants a thorough investigation and a complete restructuring. Relying on the current system is no better than relying on the financial statements of Enron.

John Walsh

Countryside, Ill.

Sunny California racing leaves him cold

California, it seems, has no equal when it comes to the rapid and thorough deterioration of the racing product. This year's Del Mar meet is just about enough to convince me that California racing is the absolute worst product in the industry.

Intelligent handicappers will find that if they turn their attention to any of the myriad Midwestern tracks and learn their nuances, handicapping many of these venues will prove much more formful and generally more lucrative.

I swear it's easier to make money at Mountaineer or Retama Park than it is at Del Mar or Santa Anita. For one thing, they have large fields in almost every race. For another, strong favorites tend to be much more reliable in reproducing their form. Whether you like to bet on them or against them, the heavy favorites at these tracks will more often than not run to their odds.

Conversely, in the more chaotic races, one can really unload in the exotics if you are confident that you have identified a false favorite, as almost everything else in the race has a chance of hitting the board.

They may not have the glamour horses or the pretty-boy Hollywood trainers like Neon Bob Baffert or Broadway Bobby Frankel, but I'll bet my money any day on a 12-horse field at Oaklawn or Retama or Louisiana Downs and leave those six-horse fields to the rhinestone cowboys in Southern California.

Carson Horton

Portland, Ore.

Spa has lost a vital element

Saratoga will never be the same. Granted, the stately Victorian homes will still be there. Some Vanderbilts, Whitneys, and Phippses will still be seen. During the racing season you will still be able to get the pink sheet. Harvey Pack will still hold court at Siro's. And the semisweet smell of the racetrack will trace across Union Avenue. But Saratoga will just not be the same.

Bob Lee is gone. The Toots Shor of Gansevoort has gone to his great reward and left behind an untold number of friends, customers, and family.

People loved Bob Lee because Bob Lee loved people. He never let anyone remain a stranger, although some of the people he met were strange (present company included).

The wishes at the Wishing Well will now be that Bob were still there. The legacy he leaves with his son Bobby and wife, Brenda, at the helm will continue his strong belief in doing what is right for his friends and customers. After all, his customers were his friends.

The Well will still be the place to go to see and be seen. There was never a celebrity who didn't visit. From Marylou Whitney to Joe Hirsch, from John Veitch to Jerry Bailey, from Kenny Noe to Jimmy the Greek, they all came. Those who can't come anymore will be greeted and seated in the big dining room in the sky by who else but Bob Lee. But down on earth in upstate New York, Saratoga will never be the same.

Burch R. Riber