02/09/2007 12:00AM

Letters to the Editor

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Surface tinkering shouldn't affect horses adversely

The injury rise at Turfway is an example of a story both amusing and sad ("Turfway examines injury rise on Polytrack," Feb. 7). The Polytrack surface had been touted as a means of reducing equine injuries, and now, with multiple tracks either having made or planning the switch to synthetic racing surfaces, the statistics show an opposing trend.

The laws of biomechanics offer the best explanation. During Turfway's inaugural Polytrack season, the track yielded times indicative of a very deep surface, with quality stakes and allowance horses running times slower than medium- or even low-level claimers this year.

The track's effort to quicken the surface slightly seems to have resulted in a faster, harder surface - which will always be harder on the joints of animals.

Think of a beach, and think how much easier it is for a person to jog or run quickly down at the water's edge, where the surface is flat and compact, versus the looser sand above it. Yes, you can run faster with less cushioning, but your joints take a bigger hit than they do when jogging through the loose sand.

Injuries are always unfortunate. Turfway is a prime example of a track managed against the better interests of both its horses and horsepeople.

Rob Smoke - Boulder, Colo.

Barbaro's legacy: Search for a cure

In the aftermath of Barbaro's death, a high priority should be given to prevention of the cruel and often fatal disease of laminitis.

Laminitis is symptomatic of conditions that are often man-made. This scourge could be prevented by improving equine management, including (a) breeding for soundness, (b) using cushiony synthetic surfaces, and (c) training and running only racing-sound horses to prevent injuries, weakened immune systems, and diseases.

Laminitis could also be prevented by reducing the drugs used to train and race horses, drugs that give the illusion of soundness even as a horse's condition deteriorates and that may build a toxicity level high enough to trigger laminitis.

Prevention is cheap and kind. It has a trickle-down effect: one sound decision, one good horseman, one healthy horse, one victory at a time. The prevention of laminitis, as a result of the prevention of injuries and diseases, must be the top priority, whether it is achieved through excellence of horsemanship or research.

Let's make the welfare and safety of our racehorses the brightest star of Barbaro's legacy, both for champions and especially for horses most at risk: the claiming horses like Cadillac Cruiser, who no one stopped from running one last race the first Saturday of this month at Aqueduct.

Christine Picavet - Alto, N.M.

United front needed to reject slaughter

It has been but a brief time since the world learned of the passing of the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro. In years gone by, an injury such as what he sustained in the Preakness would have certainly ended his life within hours, if not minutes. The commitment that Dr. Dean Richardson and the team at the New Bolton Center displayed along with Roy and Gretchen Jackson, Barbaro's owners, was indeed something to admire.

To get as far as Barbaro did in his recovery was a new miracle each day, and there will be countless efforts to continue the fight for advancement in equine care because of the effort made to save his life.

There is at least one more miracle, however, that Barbaro can bring to the sport: to stop the slaughter of horses for human consumption in this country. With the passing of HR 503 in the House of Representatives last year and introduction of identical legislation in the Senate this year ("Etc. . . .," Jan. 19), we are a step closer to ending the ancient tradition of slaying the stars of our sport. It is time to stop sending them to the killers after their racing life has been fulfilled.

In recent years, several racing states have had a remarkable increase in purses because of the connection with casino gaming. Horsemen in these states have finally enjoyed some relief from the rising costs associated with racing and training Thoroughbreds. As a good-faith effort, the local horsemen's associations of each state might designate some funds to lobbying for the passage of anti-slaughter legislation by the entire Congress. If we cannot change the way our sport is perceived by the public, the new kids on the block, like X-Games and Nascar, may replace racing in the very near future.

Tim Pearl - Louisville, Ky.

Lava Man slighted by biased mindset

Lava Man has become a blue-collar workhorse who has risen to national significance. Unbelievably, however, he remains, in most people's eyes, a suspect racehorse of dubious qualifications.

Lava Man has won a jaw-dropping 11 of his last 15 starts. In 2006 he won 7 of 8 races, both on grass and dirt, for a total of $2.77 million. He was victorious in the Santa Anita Handicap, the Hollywood Gold Cup, and the Pacific Classic, Southern California's big three Grade 1 handicaps. No other horse in history can make such a claim. The only race he lost last year was the Breeders' Cup Classic, finishing a well-beaten seventh behind the eventual Horse of the Year, Invasor. Yet such achievements earned Lava Man only a tie for last place in Eclipse Award voting for 2006 Horse of the Year.

The criticism against Lava Man has been that he does not travel well. His domination on the West Coast is all too easily dismissed thanks to a prevalent East Coast bias and the theory that he faced weaker, smaller fields.

Invasor is a great-looking horse, winning four Grade 1 races last year. I take absolutely nothing away from Bernadini and his Preakness win, but his Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup victories were against relatively poor competition and small fields. Barbaro was a flash of brilliance but will remain a question mark as to how great he might have been. None of these horses ever shipped cross-country.

Too much emphasis is placed on the Breeders' Cup Classic. Had another horse, say Brother Derek, won the Classic, would he be contending for Horse of the Year? Would Invasor still have been a slam dunk in that case? Are Eclipse Award votes based on actual merit or perceived greatness?

Michael Souza - Westerly, R.I.