01/09/2009 12:00AM

Letters to the editor


Fallen rider stands as vivid reminder of sport's vital needs

Maybe not many people outside of Quarter Horse racing knew jockey Sam Thompson Jr., but they would have been better off if they had.

Sam passed away on Christmas Day because of injuries suffered in a spill at Los Alamitos on Dec. 20, but he left a legacy for all of us to remember. Whether as a member of the Senate of the Jockeys' Guild, as a jockey, or as a person, Sam always gave, and received, respect, a quality sometimes in short supply in this day and age.

Sam was a leader in the jockeys' room at Los Alamitos, helping young riders and providing leadership. He made a difference in people's lives.

While the death of any racehorse is tragic, the loss of a human life, like Sam's, is disastrous to his family, friends, colleagues, and the industry itself.

Racing is a dangerous game, and the participants realize it. In some cases, like Sam's, the injury is so severe that emergency medical care may not have prevented his death, but the best medical care possible should be available to them at the time they are injured. They are due that commitment. This is an issue that not only affects jockeys but also includes backstretch workers and exercise riders.

With the strides being made in the field of medicine, proper early treatment is essential to any attempt to prevent paralysis or death. Currently, there are 60 jockeys who are permanently disabled. I hope the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, working with the Jockey Club Safety Committee, the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, and the American Quarter Horse Association, will continue its initiatives to make racing as safe as possible for all its participants and to provide appropriate emergency care when required.

A memorial service for Sam Thompson Jr. will be held on Monday, Jan. 12, at 2 p.m. at the Cottonwood Church in Los Alamitos. We in the Jockeys' Guild extend our condolences to Sam's family and friends on their catastrophic loss.

Terry Meyocks, National Manager, Jockeys' Guild

Racing must stop taking big hits

Let's face it. Racing has a shiner - a big, ol' nasty one that may not be wearing off any time soon. (Oh, what the heck, let's throw in a bloody nose and fat lip to boot.)

Whether one chooses to (a) lay blame at the feet of leadership that simply refuses to acknowledge and assail the unquestionable difficulties the industry undoubtedly faces, (b) rail against the country's economic woes in general, (c) point to the spectre cast by a few miscreants whose actions mock the integrity of the game, or (d) debate the seemingly countless issues surrounding medications, artificial surfaces, and the safety of horse and rider, the heavyweight once heralded as the sport of kings is on the ropes and in imminent danger of taking the 10 count.

When I began following Thoroughbred racing more years ago than I care to remember, things were, at the risk of understatement, different. There were no synthetic tracks, no racinos, and career-ending or fatal breakdowns seemed relatively rare. Fines and suspensions levied against offending trainers, owners, and riders (for whatever reasons) seemed aberrations. Most races were populated with horses made of sterner stuff than today's, and the bulk of them competed more often than every 30 to 45 days in careers that extended past their 3-year-old seasons. Perhaps most importantly, a bettor could feel relatively confident that the information about a particular contestant in Daily Racing Form for all to see was a pretty fair indicator of his ability, condition, and chance of winning.

We should fervently hope that 2009 will usher in significant changes. Raceday medication issues must be addressed. A return to dirt racing at those tracks that so quickly embraced the new technology (even for the best of reasons) should be carefully considered. Horse racing, not simply gambling, must be effectively promoted in an effort to regain its meaningful niche in American sport.

Those who do not abide by strict rules aimed at protecting the horse and maintaining the integrity of the game should find themselves on the outside looking in for significant periods. Those who abuse the grandest of creatures, the Thoroughbred racehorse, in any fashion, must have no quarter given. Otherwise, the champion will have fallen - and won't get up.

Jim Mainard - Ozark, Ark.

Farewell hardly fond from one player

I read Jay Hovdey's Dec. 20 column, "Sunland sure looks sweet to Mullins," about trainer Jeff Mullins moving 20 horses to Sunland Park because the purses are higher than in Southern California and "the atmosphere is laid-back." How about "the purses are better and I haven't had a horse test positive there yet?"

With more than one positive drug test on his horses in Southern California, let's hope Mullins is gone from the region for good. Racing in California has enough problems with drug use that when one of the guilty parties wants to leave, we should pay his shipping bill. If he has a positive test at Sunland, the slot money in West Virginia will look just as sweet as Sunland's does today.

Greg Scherr - Monrovia, Calif.