07/31/2001 12:00AM

Not all dollars created equal


TUCSON, Ariz. - Horse racing in North America is having a hard time keeping up with technology these days.

Racing still times in fifths in a few places, in a game where time - or at least consistency in producing it - defines ability. Tenths or hundredths are just as easily available, and obviously more precise.

Racing can measure substances in nanograms, but can't figure out a way to provide uniform standards concerning drug use or limitations. And it certainly can't catch up with the creative technological skills of some of its participants and practitioners who are willing to try anything - including Clorox, the same stuff you use to get your shirts white - to supposedly speed up their mounts, regardless of what it may do to the horse.

Despite available technology, the horses' numbers posted on television during a race are entered manually for the most part and frequently lag as much as a sixteenth of a mile behind the changing action.

There is also indecision and inaction about how to handle the complexities of currency exchange, despite tools readily available to first graders on their home computers, which would do conversions instantly.

The issue of what to do about crediting Canadian-earned dollars that currently are worth 65 cents has puzzled the Jockey Club into a study mode, but not an action mode as yet. The United States Trotting Association's board of directors voted in March to discontinue the folly of crediting Canadian dollars at par, and start converting them as of Jan. 1, 2002, but that move now is being challenged by some of that sport's biggest breeders. That's understandable from their point of view, since their stallions and mares and their offspring have been the beneficiaries until now of phony earnings in the record books of the sport, just as they are in Thoroughbred racing.

Mark Simon, editor of Thoroughbred Times, spoke out about this charade recently, in a dead-on-target editorial called "Canada is a foreign country." The subhead of the story read, "And its dollar is not on par with the U.S., no matter what the Thoroughbred industry says."

The situation has been exacerbated in the last year or two by the fact that virtually every racetrack in Ontario now has slot machines, and they are producing unprecedented riches in purses in the province.

The Ontario Jockey Club, on one recent weekend, had the $1 million North America Cup for pacers and the $1 million Canadian Trotting Classic for trotters on a Saturday, and the $1 million Queen's Plate for Thoroughbreds on Sunday. Those are Canadian dollars but the races are still worth $650,000 each - not too shabby - in U.S. dollars.

Last year's winner of the North America Cup was a pacing colt named Gallo Blue Chip. He won $2,428,815 last season according to the official record books, but not according to the bank where his owner keeps his money. It says he actually won $2,112,201, a not insignificant difference of $316,614. Eleven other horses in harness racing who competed in Canada last year were credited with $100,000 or more than they actually won.

No sport that likes to think of itself as major league can afford to knowingly credit $300,000 in fictitious earnings. Simon wrote, "This policy means that all data pertaining to racing in North America contains inflated Canadian earnings. That is the case for past performances, charts, dollar amounts for claiming prices for horses in Canadian races, information on catalog pages, sire lists, and other statistics."

He noted that while the 2000 Queen's Plate was worth $1 million, with $600,000 to the winner, Woodbine paid the winning owner about $390,000 U.S., but the winning horse received $600,000 U.S. credits for his race record, and the sire $600,000 U.S. in earnings for sire lists. Simon asked, "How misleading is this?"

He also recited the case of Dance Smartly, who made 13 of her 17 starts in Canada and was credited at the time, erroneously, as being the leading distaff earner in North America. Had her Canadian earnings been discounted, as they should have been, Lady's Secret earned more.

Simon urged The Jockey Club to correct these inaccuracies. All record keeping organizations in racing should, if they value their integrity and accuracy.