02/13/2009 1:00AM

Letters to the Editor


Economic reality dictates a standard, lower takeout

Kudos to Andrew Beyer for his Feb. 12 column, "Worst possible time to raise prices," about the recent misguided decision on the part of the Maryland Jockey Club to raise some of its parimutuel tax rates in a time of general economic decline.

In an ideal world, every single parimutuel pool would apply a tax rate of not more than 5 percent - there is no logical justification for levying different rates of taxation on different kinds of wagers - and there would be no breakage, since there should be rounding of mutuel payoffs not just downward, as is presently the case, but upward as well. Unfortunately, this ideal world has never been within easy sight for anyone associated with horse racing.

What truly needs to be established as a long-term strategic goal in the sport is not only the elimination of breakage (which affects chalk-players, particularly those who bet to place and/or show, most adversely), but the setting of parimutuel tax rates in a uniform manner by some kind of national regulatory body with real teeth.

The rates should be set as follows: 10 percent for win, place, and show wagering, 15 percent for all two- and three-horse exotic wagers, and 20 percent for all exotic wagers involving four or more horses.

In order to attain such a goal, it needs to be understood that horse racing, like the broader economy, is experiencing a decline that is not only disturbingly broad and deep - with the onslaught seemingly coming from all directions - but also far more structural than cyclical. Secondly, the kind of structural repair that horse racing truly requires is a reduction of the artificial life-support (dubious in the long term) of slot-machine revenue.

Only when racing becomes in harmony with the new underlying economic reality will it begin to thrive in the manner that it fully deserves.

John J. Marshall - Toronto

In ethics and effort, Jones stands tall

In regard to the Feb. 13 article "May be the last run," about trainer Larry Jones, I believe anyone in the racing game who has not had the opportunity to meet Larry Jones has missed the chance to know one of the finest people in the game.

I met Larry several years ago when he brought his first string of horses to Prairie Meadows. I was the track's on-air host at the time, and I could always count on Larry to give his time to promote racing.

The slanderous assault he took at the hands of the national media and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals following the breakdown of Eight Belles was disheartening to all of us who knew there was no way Larry Jones would send a horse into a race if he thought there was the slightest thing wrong with her.

Hopefully someone can talk Larry out of retiring. Racing needs more people like him.

Scott Pope - Adel, Iowa

Trainer wronged in mix-up case

Let us travel to Beulah Park, where snowflakes fall, blizzards blind, and yet the sun sometimes shines brightly. It is a small track supported by owners and trainers hanging on the edge.

One of these trainers, Enzo Canelo - a good man, honest and true - made a mistake that was the result of a series of circumstantial mishaps, outlined in the Nov. 26 article "Ohio probing wrong-horse win."

It is required that every track hire a horse-tattoo identifier to ensure that a wrong horse will never be allowed to race, whether entered by accident or design.

This story began when newly shipped horses, unfamiliar to Canelo, were delivered to the wrong stalls. Because the horses had similar markings, the trainer - unaware of the mix-up - unfortunately sent the wrong horse in the designated stall to the races one day.

That misfortune turned into deep trouble when a substitute tattoo identifier did not catch the mistake. Normally, if the identifier does his or her job, the horse is scratched and the trainer is fined $250 - end of story. But the identifier allowed the horse to run, and yet it was Canelo who was blamed and most severely punished. He was carelessly batted about in the press, by the stewards, the horsemen's association, and the state racing commission. Everyone involved was very busy covering up their culpability, and so offered up this longtime horseman - who trusted in justice far too profoundly - as the sacrifice.

Canelo's knowledge and work ethic had been producing winners, and when this misfortune occurred, his barn had been ready to take off with the wind beneath its wings. Instead, a great wrong has driven him, his family, and his owners to the brink of ruin and ever-deepening despair.

Diana Blanco - Valencia, Calif.

Horseplayers need legislative clout

Praise and appreciation to both Andrew Beyer ("Worst possible time to raise prices," Feb. 12) and Steven Crist ("Hitting the bad decisions superfecta," Feb. 8) on their recent columns concerning the Maryland Jockey Club's decision to increase drastically the takeout on multi-race wagers, and double kudos to Beyer on his Jan. 28 column, "Latest supertrainer feat raises suspicions," on miraculous form reversals.

As a fervent and unapologetic horseplayer, I am more than tired of being the silent whipping boy who permits these transgressions. We all know what is wrong with the game, but allow it to continue. I thought that being a paid-up member of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Horseplayers' Coalition might earn a voice, but in two years I have never been so much as contacted by the organization, no less asked for my opinion on an issue. Its attempt to increase the amount that triggers IRS withholding is laudable, but the NTRA serves too many masters.

My feelings tell me that if racing is allowed to continue its spiral, there will be no game in a few short years. If we're going down, I would like to go down swinging.

I hereby nominate Andrew Beyer as czar of the American Horseplayers' Congress. I further nominate Steven Crist to be deputy czar. The mission of this Congress will be to further the rights of the horseplayer by any means necessary. That entails targeting any racetrack, organization, politician, or political group that fails to realize that we are the backbone of this industry. Anyone who doubts that should envision the attendance and purse structure at any race meet that did not include wagering.

Only when this occurs will we get reasonable takeout, reasonable treatment from the IRS and other tax authorities, and a voice in how racing is conducted and governed.

Russell A. Weber - Amityville, N.Y.