07/08/2010 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor


California plight may find relief in new leadership

Having spent the better part of the last quarter-century around California racetracks, I have watched with great sadness as the sport of horse racing has deteriorated in California over the last two years.

Even with fewer racing dates, the fields continue to shrink and the purse money continues to dry up in both Southern and Northern California. Purses are in such poor shape that only one million-dollar race for Thoroughbreds exists on the California racing calendar this year, the Pacific Classic. The purse problems, in addition to the overburdening costs imposed by the state legislature related to running horses, has caused a number of breeding farms and prominent owners in the state to move shop across the country. As evidenced by owner Mike Pegram's words in Jay Hovdey's July 9 column, "Pegram joins fight to save California," only the truest of Californians are sticking around to tough it out.

Yet even with all the bad news, I was recently given hope that California racing will once again return to what it once was. With Pegram and Mace Siegel stepping up to the plate to try and make racing feasible and practical again in the state, there is reason to be optimistic. Seeing two owners who pour so much into racing trying to right the ship will hopefully propel others to take up the cause as well. Racing is in dire need of some leadership that horsemen can count on to present a unified and realistic face to the problems affecting the sport. Without passionate leadership such as Pegram's and Siegel's, the industry will be stuck in a downward spiral. I sincerely hope that the efforts of these men, along with a number of others, will not be in vain, but rather will spring the industry back to life. The state could use the vision and verse of another Bob Lewis or John and Betty Mabee. The collective hope of California's horse racing workers and fans is riding in good hands with Siegel and Pegram.

Richard Ilharreguy - Sacramento, Calif.

Hazelton belongs in racing pantheon

After reading the June 19 DRF Weekend article "Monitoring the Hall" and the June 27 letter to the editor "International feats make Hall the spot for Asmussen," I offer the following.

In 2006, the Thoroughbred Times reported that the Hall of Fame voting panel "submitted 87 names for consideration, and the committee also considered . . . Richard Hazelton for trainer . . . ." "Considered?" Are you kidding me? They only "considered" a man who was a true innovator when he began shipping his horses back to Chicago by train and then by plane from his winter base in Arizona. They only "considered" a man who was born into this business and who began working with his father (also a trainer) at the tender age of 10?

In 1945, the same year that Johnny Longden was the leading jockey in purses won, Hazelton was riding at Agua Caliente in Tijuana and he bested "the Pumper" for the leading jockey title. In 1958, Johnny Longden was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Consider this: Hazelton competed with some of the best as both a trainer and a jockey.

During the years of 1961 to 1984, Richard won 16 training titles at Turf Paradise. Fifteen titles were won outright and one was a tie for leading trainer, which was his first title victory. No one comes close to the number of titles that Hazelton has garnered there.

Hazelton is the all-time leading trainer at Arlington Park. He won 17 consecutive training titles at the now-defunct Sportsman's Park from 1971 to 1987 (but ended his tally there with a total of 18 titles), finished on top of the training roster three times at Hawthorne Race Course and conquered Arlington Park as the leading trainer eight times. Consider this -- between Arizona and Illinois, he racked up 45 training titles.

Hazelton has 4,745 victories and ranks seventh on the list of all-time leading trainers, higher than several active Hall of Fame members. He began training Thoroughbreds in 1947 and continued until February of this year, for a total of 63 years (with his wins, it rounds out to a win every 4.8 days).

In 2008, Hazelton was quoted as saying "I love what I do. This is my life." Wow, what a life. Consider this: By inducting Hazelton into the Hall of Fame, the voting panel would acknowledge his achievements and reward him for the life he gave to Thoroughbred racing. Hazelton is "The King" of Chicago racing; he should be included as a member of the Hall of Fame while he can savor the moment with his family and friends.

Lenny Pike - Louisville, Ky.

Rankings cause global conflict

Alan Shuback's analysis of the recently published World Thoroughbred Rankings, "Midterm grades show a rush to judgment," was quite predictable.

The assumptions regarding the overall superiority of European horses and the assertion that a miler, Goldikova, is the world's best horse are both old stuff. So is the notion that Zenyatta is not worthy of inclusion in the discussion.

These rankings are almost entirely conjecture, of course. The majority of the names on those lists will never race against each other. There is one familiar name rather high on both the World Thoroughbred Rankings and Racing Post Rankings, however.

Twice Over is rated only a few pounds beneath the highweights. He is in fine form this year, having just taken down the Eclipse Stakes. It's not conjecture to speculate as to what would happen if Twice Over and Zenyatta ever met on the racetrack. They did so last November, and Zenyatta ran right by Twice Over like he was tied to a post.

Perhaps denigration of Zenyatta is not quite grounded in reality.

Gus Sanchez - San Diego, Calif.