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Letters to the editor
Latest Santa Anita changes do little to improve track
I found the Dec. 26 article about Santa Anita, "Long-range forecast uncertain," to be most interesting.
The general topic is the uncertainty about the future of the Santa Anita racetrack. Among the details disclosed are how track management has decided to go to a Thursday through Monday racing schedule from the traditional Wednesday through Sunday program, and how they were going to offer free general admission on Mondays.
If my memory serves me correctly, when Magna Entertainment purchased Santa Anita several years ago, they almost immediately began a program that was to include a number of renovations and upgrades to the facility. Along with it, they also instituted a rather generous increase in admission prices, parking fees, program costs, and concessions prices that has left every race fan up and down the West Coast grumbling ever since.
The switch to a Monday live race date is consistent with what they have been doing for the last several years at the lower-grade tracks, like Portland Meadows. And then there is the $1 Super High Five bet (whatever that is), which sounds like something that belongs at a dog racing track.
All in all, it sounds to me like the historically bad management that Magna Entertainment has demonstrated repeatedly since making the move into the racetrack-owning game is taking a real toll on one of the great racetracks in the history of the game.
Carson M. Horton
BC expansion goes in wrong direction
In "Three new BC races? Bring 'em on" (Dec. 16), Steven Crist suggested that those unhappy with this year's new Breeders' Cup races won't appreciate more next year. The problem isn't expansion, but that it is conceptually vertical rather than horizontal. Instead of more divisions on consecutive BC days, there should be more single BC-like days throughout the year, minus the juvenile divisions.
Some think the BC is contributing to the decline in racing's popularity - that it is sucking the air out of the game by focusing the public's attention on those races at the expense of all other important graded stakes. Today, racing is only noticed on Triple Crown event days and BC Day. The insanity of this situation came to a head this year with Street Sense passing the Belmont Stakes to pursue the BC Classic coveted by his connections.
Cup Day should showcase champions, not crown them. Contestants should earn their way into an opportunity for a huge payday by competing in a series of multi-division championship days. An in-the-money finish in each such race (including the BC finale) should be rewarded with a weighted bonus based on cumulative in-the-money finishes in prior legs (and Triple Crown races). Prior series legs, selected foreign races, and all Gradeo1 juvenile preps would be win-and-you're-in events, but bonuses would apply only to series races.
Single-venue days could occur on Memorial, Independence, and Labor Day weekends. Flexible scheduling could enable tracks to alternate hosting holiday events and eliminate traditional conflicts - for example, the Suburban and Hollywood Gold Cup. Imagine a multi-venue day including the Whitney, Eddie Read, John Mabee, and Haskell, followed four weeks later by one combining the Pacific Classic, Arlington Million, Beverly D., and Travers.
The compressed window for winnowing the 2-year-old population makes a juvenile series impractical. However, those four divisions could anchor a subsequent vertical expansion day that would showcase and celebrate potential champions headed for future engagements on the track rather than in the breeding shed.
Additional races dilute BC product
Steven Crist's Dec. 16 article "Three new BC races? Bring 'em on" misses the biggest problem with the new races added to the Breeders' Cup card - namely, that they detract from the primary events of the day by siphoning off good horses into easier races for less money.
It would have been fascinating to see Corinthian take a run at either Midnight Lute or Curlin on this year's Saturday card. Instead, we were treated to a romp over the immortal Gottcha Gold. The BC Dirt Mile and Filly Sprint, with their elevated purses, will only serve to dilute the Sprint and (to a smaller extent) the Classic by attracting horses that would be well-served to take on the best of the best.
The easy way to ensure this happens is to make the purses for Friday's races significantly lower than Saturday's purses. If the Filly Sprint was at $500,000 instead of $1 million, one would have to think the next Xtra Heat would rather take on the boys and quadruple the prize money than take an easy romp over her contemporaries while proving nothing.
Hartack deserving of lasting tribute
What brings me to write is the death of Bill Hartack. It saddens me to think Bill died alone, virtually without anyone to claim his body. To have him buried in Iberia, Mo. - although a fine gesture on his friend Gary Condra's part - is an insult to horse racing ("Hartack funeral arrangements finalized," Dec. 2). But this only highlights our weaknesses and shortcomings as an industry.
In general, I am very perturbed by horse racing and its lack of compassion for one who served the industry so well his entire vocational life. Agree or disagree with Bill Hartack, no one could refute his competitiveness, principle, or integrity - all virtues horse racing should hold dearly.
Bill Hartack would have been the last person to seek charity. He deserves lasting honor. The least that could have been done was to have him buried with dignity and probable pride in Louisville, Ky., the horse racing capital of the world and where Bill won a record five Kentucky Derbies, undoubtedly the premier race of the world. This was no ordinary man. Many racing fans could have paid tribute to and for his many outstanding accomplishments.
I urge the people of Churchill Downs Inc. to make amends for the horse racing industry and commission and erect a statue in Bill Hartack's memory, to be placed in or near Churchill Downs's winner circle and unveiled in ceremony at the 2008 Kentucky Derby. This show of compassion and gratitude would serve Churchill Downs, and racing in general, well.