09/12/2002 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor

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Workers' comp crisis threatens Florida racing

There is an impending crisis in Florida regarding workers' compensation.

In short, it seems that no company is willing to write insurance policies in Florida for a reasonable fee anymore.

In the past it was easy for a small outfit to obtain workers' comp with a minimum policy. Now it is difficult to find a company that is willing to write a workers' comp policy unless a customer is willing to pay an extremely high premium. Previous minimum policies were roughly $750 annually, now they are in the region of $4,000.

This is going to hurt the smaller operations that race in Florida during the winter months and elsewhere the rest of the year. Smaller outfits will either opt to stay out of Florida and/or put their horses with a larger outfit that has workers' comp. Either way, any additional expense is going to be passed on to the owners.

The effects are going to be significant, as this will affect numbers of entries and all sorts of related issues. It would be a pity to lose the small trainers, as they are essentially the backbone of this industry.

In Florida, small businesses with three employees or fewer are exempt from mandatory workers' comp. It is the tracks who are insisting that horsemen carry the insurance, yet they don't seem to be willing to assist. Surely they could incorporate horsemen in some sort of blanket policy. Or even better, a pay-as-you-race scenario that the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association is currently considering.

Dale Howes - Tampa, Fla.

Insurance companies wary of racing risks

The Sept. 1 article "Insurance rate plan back to square one" about the collapse of negotiations over workers' compensation in California did not come as a surprise.

Owners and trainers must realize that they cannot deal with workers' compensation insurers in California and hope to come out with some sort of a workable program. The horse racing industry is viewed with much alarm by insurers for a host of reasons, some of which are: (a) an unstable workforce moving around from track to track; (b) around-the-clock unsupervised stable help providing an opportunity to submit fraudulent claims; (c) often-poor working conditions.

Add to this the gravity of injuries to riders in racing accidents and you come up with a risk that workers' comp insurers look at with much disdain.

The California State Compensation Insurance Fund, which is supposed to be the insurer of last resort, won't touch these risks on any affordable basis. For that matter, neither will the open-market insurers, such as they are. I am stating these things as a former workers' compensation underwriter once on the inside of the business.

California desperately needs an assigned risk plan for less-than-desirable risks viewed as such because of poor past loss history or those perceived as extraordinarily hazardous. Such a plan won't solve the loss likelihood but it will distribute the losses among existing insurers. The stopgap approach of robbing Peter to pay Paul will not work and is not feasible.

Bob Salin - North Hollywood, Calif.

Breeders' Cup owes bettors timely information

Upon reading the response of Ken Kirchner of the Breeders' Cup to the untimely retirement of Classic favorite Street Cry less than 24 hours after the close of future book wagering, I was indignantly reminded of racetrack owners historically taking no responsibility for anything. ("Street Cry's retirement untimely for future bettors," Sept. 5.)

Kirchner's comments illustrated how little effort the Breeders' Cup put into protecting bettors. Kirchner stated, "We tried to do everything we can to make sure a horse is sound and running, and nothing we had seen, read, or heard had indicated otherwise."

Cup management was negligent because they did not take off the blinkers to reach out for vital information about these horses. By selecting these specific horses, the Breeders' Cup entered them in the contest, not the owners. It should have been its responsibility to monitor the situation, not left up to the connections of the horse.

The statement by Godolphin's racing manager, Simon Crisford, that he did not know Street Cry was part of that week's future pool means no effort was made to contact the connections to monitor the status of these animals. The Breeders' Cup did not set up a procedure for the connections to contact them. They did not institute any incentives, positive or negative, for reporting information in a timely manner.

The BC could have taken the responsibility to contact the connections of each horse or employed clockers to find out a horse's health and/or training regimen before and during the pool. This information could have been printed by the DRF and/or posted to a website. Maybe then the public would have found out about Street Cry injuring himself, according to the Sept. 5 Racing Form, "in a recent work," which was on Aug. 28, five days before the pool opened.

Bettors acknowledge the future pool is a risky bet. In this information age, however, racing can transform itself from the old "insiders" game to one that bettors can rely on if information is reported fully and accurately. Instead, the BC hid its head in the sand and later passed on blame to others for lack of timely information.

I plan to submit to the Breeders' Cup my bet for reimbursement. If not repaid, I will boycott Cup races in the future despite their constituting the year's best day of racing. I urge other bettors to do the same, for if we do not stand up for ourselves we will continue to get the same shabby treatment.

Paul Gundy - Boynton Beach, Fla.

Crying over future bets overlooks real woes

There are more than enough shortcomings with the powers that be in racing than to make the complaints about Breeders' Cup futures wagering contained in the Sept. 8 letter "Future pools tainted by equine ailments."

(The letter from trainer Michael Dickinson, "Real solution is modernizing turf courses," however, was excellent and constructive. The number of races taken off the turf at Saratoga for a few showers in the midst of a drought was shameful.)

The future-bet letter read as if it had been written by the trial lawyer who got the million dollars for the woman who spilled coffee on herself and hadn't realized it would be hot. The essence of futures wagering is to take the chance your horse might not make it to the race, in return for higher odds for accepting the risk of things that happen in Thoroughbred life and training.

Complain about 25 percent takeout on exotic bets and $4 beers, not the fact that one of your futures horses got hurt.

Tom Zangrilli - Berwyn, Ill.

Fairplex offers a choice: Take a break or rake it in?

To the Sept. 8 column by Richard Eng, "Fairplex means time to take a break - or not, " I say, "Not!"

For any handicappers or Las Vegas race books to take a break from their contests when Fairplex is running is stupid. A true handicapper is going to find that there is much money to be made at Fairplex. How can you pass up $100 or more exactas? Triple-figure trifectas and four-figure superfectas? You can't.

I make more money at Fairplex than at any of the big tracks in Southern California, so go ahead and take your breaks - it's more money in my pocket.

Neil Craigmyle - Alta Loma, Calif.