Jim Murray, my late dear colleague at the Los Angeles Times, used to get a lot of mileage out of the shtick of writing well-known people imaginary letters. Wherever you are, Jim, my apologies for borrowing the gimmick. If you must borrow, a sage once told me, borrow from the best.

"Miss Cavendish, have a seat and take a letter.

"Address it to: Ron Charles, care of Gray Haired Men's Dept., Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California.

"Dear Ron:

"I saw the other day where Frank Stronach, your boss, gave you a promotion. Seems like you were the president of Santa Anita, and now you're chief operating officer (COO) of the whole schmeer, Magna Entertainment Corp.

"Congratulations. I guess.

"I'm sure you were aware that Magna had been widely advertising this post for several months. Readers of the trades spotted one of the ads in early November. After a few paragraphs, the ad went on to say: 'Applicants should have an understanding of the thoroughbred racing industry.' If there had been an it-goes-without-saying contest, that sentence would have won first prize.

"You might recall what happened the last time Frank gave the top guy at Santa Anita an extra hat. He brought in Lonny Powell from Turf Paradise to run the track, and not long afterward expanded his duties. I believe the additional title was vice president of racing for Magna Entertainment. Powell had enough to do, learning how to run Santa Anita, without trying to put out Magna fires all over the country. Not long after his promotion, he was gone.

"I had heard the rumors, so I called Stronach in Austria to confirm Powell's departure. He called me back--about 3 o'clock in the morning, California time--to say that he was hiring Jack Liebau to replace Powell. After going on for a few minutes about Liebau's many qualifications, he said: 'He's a good guy, isn't he?' Now I know Stronach doesn't have a reputation for paying attention to newspapermen, but I've always wondered: If I had said that Liebau was a stiff, would he have still gotten the job?

"But when a company is $700 million in debt and it can get a talented guy like you to do two jobs, I guess that's the way to go. But watch out, Ron, if FS starts sending you out for strudel.

"Geez, Ron, doesn't FS know that you've got enough on your hands at Santa Anita? You've got Cushion Track running out your ears, and shouldn't have to worry about taking calls from the slot-machine manager at Gulfstream Park, crabbing that business is off.

"I sympathize with you about what's gone on at Santa Anita this winter. I should have gotten my first clue when Steve Wood, the track superintendent, left shortly after the Cushion Track installation began. Then Steve Guise, the plant manager, left a little while after that. I was doing a magazine story about the new surface at Santa Anita in July when somebody suggested that I talk to Guise. I interviewed him, and filed the piece soon after that. Before the story was published, Guise was history. The decision was made to delete everything he said. I went back to my original draft the other day, and this was one of the Guise quotes: 'The one good thing about Cushion Track is that rain doesn't hurt it at all.'

"But that's water (not sure if the pun is intended) over the dam.

"Good luck, Ron, on all of your jobs. What's the old expression: Here's your hats, what's your hurry?

"Sincerely,

"Bill"