12/12/2008 1:00AM

Letters to the Editor


Iowans differ on what makes economic sense

I read with great interest the Dec. 11 article "Study: Racing boosts track slots," regarding the presentation to the University of Arizona's Symposium on Racing a study on the positive impact live racing has on the bottom line of racinos like Prairie Meadows.

We had always suspected that slot-machine revenue increased on days when live racing was conducted. Nevertheless, the administrator of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, Jack Ketterer, was quoted indirectly as saying that an increase in purses - supplemented by casino revenue - has not led to growth in the Iowa breeding program, because in fact there has been a decline in our foal crop.

What Mr. Ketterer failed to mention is that in the last several years the commission has approved fewer and fewer live racing days at Prairie Meadows. By comparing the annual foal crops with the number of live racing dates in corresponding years, one can see a more direct cause-and-effect relationship. A look at other states with shorter racing seasons tells the same story.

Big purses are important, but so are opportunities to run. Fewer racing days result in fewer opportunities to run and recoup the investment of breeding and raising horses. While our numbers have decreased, our quality has improved. Our Iowa-breds are consistently competitive in open-company racing at Prairie Meadows, and there are Iowa-breds racing and winning at tracks all over the country. Advocating a shorter meet with bigger purses to attract better horses and a higher average parimutuel handle is one goal - growing a better and larger breeding industry in Iowa is quite another. This is unfortunate, considering parimutuel gambling was passed by the Iowa legislature years ago with the intent to promote and strengthen the horse industry and its impact to our agricultural economy.

Scott Pope - Iowa Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association

Sunland's big event worthy of grading

I greatly appreciated the Dec. 12 article "Big push to get derby graded" about Sunland Park's premier race. Stan Fulton, the track's owner, and Harold Payne, its general manager (both acquaintances of mine), should be commended for their perseverance and dedication to the Sunland Park facility and the sport and their pursuit of graded status for their marquee event.

The Sunland (formerly WinStar) Derby should indeed become a graded event. Why? Looking at past winners and placed horses, we see an Eclipse winner, Thor's Echo, three millionaires, and numerous graded stakes winners. All of this in just six runnings.

Will the powers that be justifiably and finally make the event a graded race? The time has come.

Eric W. Anderson - Santa Rosa, Calif.

Big Brown has big booster

It all adds up to Big Brown as Horse of the Year.

Each of the probable finalists for Horse of the Year won four Grade 1 races in 2008. Match these four Grade 1 wins with the contestants, and Big Brown comes out on top.

Big Brown's Kentucky Derby win was the most spectacular race of the year by any horse. It easily trumps Zenyatta's Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic win against fillies and mares and Curlin's Dubai World Cup victory. Big advantage Big Brown.

Big Brown's Preakness win - another spectacular race - also easily outdoes Zenyatta's Apple Blossom against five other fillies and mares and Curlin's Stephen Foster. If you were a horse owner, which of the three races would you rather win: Preakness, Stephen Foster, or Apple Blossom?

In Big Brown's Florida Derby victory - in only his third lifetime start - he dominated the field of 11 rivals from wire to wire, the first horse to win a 1 1/8-mile race at Gulfstream Park from post 11 or 12 since the racetrack was reconfigured. Compare that with Curlin's Jockey Club Gold Cup, where he beat Wanderin Boy and six others, or Zenyatta's Vanity Handicap, where she beat six fillies and mares on her home track.

Finally, Big Brown's least impressive Grade 1 win of the year was the Haskell, but how does it compare with Zenyatta beating three other females in her own back yard or Curlin defeating Past the Point and Wanderin Boy in the Woodward? Don't forget, Curlin in his 3-year-old season was unable to win the Haskell, finishing a well-beaten third.

Big Brown defeated 47 horses in his four Grade 1 wins, whereas Curlin beat 33 others and Zenyatta just 21. Big Brown's total is only seven short of the total of horses defeated by both Curlin and Zenyatta. Big Brown won on both turf and dirt, while neither of the others won on turf. Big Brown overcame chronic foot problems to win America's greatest horse race in the most spectacular performance of the year.

Big Brown is, hands down, Horse of the Year.

Richard Murray - North Hills, Calif.

Symposium focus overlooks key issue

Two main issues at this year's University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program Symposium were (a) breakdowns and the perception that the sport is cruel, and (b) the integrity of parimutuel wagering, both issues apparently having to do with "image" ("NTRA battles public opinion," Dec. 12, "Clash over bet monitoring," Dec. 13).

Now, in all fairness, both should be automatic, as making sure that the game is fair and nobody is abusing the key element in the equation - the horse - should be straightforward regulatory matters.

That said, even if and when both have been fixed, neither is going to do anything to regenerate interest in a sport that now plays second fiddle to arena football and curling, because the general public does not care any more.

Once upon a time, media coverage, particularly in newspapers, let people know what was going on and provided context to the season. There was a presence. Now there is barely a handful of full-time reporters assigned to the sport by the leading dailies, which seldom carry detailed entries, and online presentations are far too esoteric and/or unattractively laid out for casual fans. So, unless you have a Racing Form or are a hard-core fan, you haven't a chance. And, when Gulfstream Park doesn't even have a press box anymore, it's not surprising that the so-called Sport of Kings is, like royalty-watching, gradually becoming irrelevant and obsolete for all but a passionate few.

Fixing this problem is and should be very simple. Just look at countries where horse racing is popular, like Australia, Japan, and parts of Europe, and you'll see comprehensive, fan-friendly daily presentations, easy access to betting, and a spectacle that actually is entertaining. Fans in these places love gambling, they love horses, and they certainly don't have to worry about safety and integrity, because the sport is well run by people who know what they're doing.

Until North American racing's powers that be show a true understanding of what makes horse racing appealing to the masses, nothing is going to change - no matter how safe or fair the sport is perceived to be, what surface races are run on, or what drugs are or are not legal.

Robin Dawson - Toronto