06/27/2006 12:00AM

Too much filler, not enough action


TUCSON, Ariz. - Bear with me while I make what most readers will consider an invidious comparison between Thoroughbreds and their despised, or ignored, trotting and pacing cousins.

I assume, safely, that 99 percent of Thoroughbred followers have never heard of a 3-year-old pacing colt named Total Truth.

Last Saturday night he won the $500,000 Hoosier Cup at Hoosier Park in Anderson, Ind., racing twice, in an elimination mile and final, his mile times four-fifths of a second apart.

The previous Saturday night he won the richest race for 3-year-old pacers, the $1,350,000 (U.S.) North America Cup at Woodbine.

A week before that, on June 10, he was second in a $45,000 Cup elimination.

A week earlier he won the $91,000 Burlington at Woodbine.

And two weeks from Saturday night, Total Truth will race in the Meadowlands Pace, for a purse of $1,250,000. But before that, he will have to start on July 8, in a $50,000 elimination.

He has won $969,250 this year and $1,072,075 overall, including the $102,825 he earned last year, when he won 4 of 7 starts at 2.

Despite all that, he is not the top-rated 3-year-old pacing colt in North America.

Artistic Fella, who is, will meet Total Truth in the Meadowlands Pace, presuming both qualify. He is 7 for 11 this year, and those seven wins have come consecutively. Most recently, he won the $175,000 New Jersey Sire Stake at The Meadowlands last Saturday night, just two weeks after he won a $75,000 prep there and five weeks after he won the $225,000 Berry's Creek at The Meadowlands.

Which brings us to Preakness winner Bernardini and Belmont winner Jazil. Neither will compete until late July or early August, perhaps in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga or Haskell at Monmouth, and then, if all goes well, in the Travers at Saratoga Aug. 26. That means that to sustain interest in these horses and in classic Thoroughbred racing, publicists and racing writers have to find ways to "fill," as they say in television, for two months or more.

In a land where patience runs short and attention spans are shorter, trying to sustain interest without continuity is difficult. There are only so many stories you can write about how both colts are doing well, eating up, not coughing or sneezing, breezing beautifully, or recuperating after their Triple Crown ordeals.

It will be argued, of course, that the Thoroughbred and Standardbred are entirely different beasts, subject to different stresses, tuned to different frequencies, bred to totally different degrees of fragility. That argument is a human view, not necessarily an equine one. It also is difficult to prove. It might be convincing if Thoroughbreds, racing infrequently as they do at top levels of competition, did not break down as often as they do. Would you have an even higher rate of breakdowns running horses more often? Who is to say? Historians will cite contrary evidence, where runners of old battled with less down time than their fragile successors of today. It is trainers, not horses, who make those calls, and it is patient owners - or impatient and restless ones - who acquiesce.

Thoroughbred racing has tried, since Barry Weisbord introduced the idea in the current era, to hold series at top levels of competition, and is still trying. I learned the problem with that decades ago, as a racing secretary with a championship harness series, where lesser lights and their connections tired quickly of chasing horses they could not beat, and opted instead for less enticing but more practical purses on their home grounds or elsewhere.

I am neither revolutionist nor revisionist. I am not trying to change training methods nor necessarily indicting common practice. I am just a clod who loves horse racing, regardless of breed, and has hacked out a living trying to figure out how to keep the American public interested in whatever racing product I was pushing.

I have been connected with professional sports all my life - football, basketball, horse racing - and I know how hard it is to keep interest alive in something that happens every two months or so.

I like what Total Truth and Artistic Fella do, racing weekly or bi-weekly. Besides, with allocated time almost used up and days growing shorter, a guy can't afford to sit around watching grass grow and waiting for real excitement while watching cheap claimers cavort, while the prima donnas primp.