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Feb 03, 2006

RACING TODAY

By: JOHN PIESEN


Don't you love the way that television covers thoroughbred racing?

Last Saturday was the perfect example.

For weeks, NBC had promoted 90-minute coverage of the Sunshine MillionS and jockey Bailey's last hurrah. Thousands (millions?) of racing fans planned their day around the 4:30 to 6:00 (Eastern) telecast.

So what happened?

A hockey game between the Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars (what famous married Dallas player dates an Oaklawn horse-owner?) ran late? Overtime. A shootout. A winning goal that was overruled. On and on and on.

Finally, it ended. I don't remember who won, but does that really matter?

IT WAS FOR GOD'S SAKE A HOCKEY GAME!

Shuffleboard draws higher TV ratings than hockey!

So the 90-minute racing telecast became a 60-minute telecast. Minus commercials, at least 35 of the 45 minutes were spent fawning over Bailey.

I don't know which was worse TV programming: hockey or the Bailey lovefest.

Hey, don't get me wrong. I admire Bailey. He's one of the all-time great riders. Although no Angel Cordero Jr. (see Bill Heller's piece on Equidaily). And he was generally a good guy. Although he did have his moments, notably when he sabotaged Smarty Jones in the Belmont.

Hey, how come no one's talking about that!

It's scary but I may be the only racing writer around who covered Jerry Bailey before he became Jerry Bailey.

As the New York Post's hard-working beat reporter, I remember talking to Bailey in the Belmont jocks' room back in 1982. Jerry had won three Grade Ones on a nice colt named Copelan only to get dumped. (Yes, this was before Jerry Bailey became Jerry Bailey).

I remember commiserating with Bailey at great length about losing Copelan, and he was near tears. It was the end of the world. He had looked at Copelan as a career mount, and he was gone. And, at the time, Bailey was riding two or three a day in New York. On the pecking order, he was somewhere below Nick Santagata and Jose Amy.

Fast forward to 1988.

I was fortunate to own a 3-year-old maiden filly named Crafty Starlet. She had started twice at Golden Gate for trainer John Parisella, and she looked to be in an easy spot in her New York debut.

I called Jerry at home, and asked (begged?) him to ride the filly.

"You got it, John," he said.

Thanks to Jerry Bailey, Crafty Starlet won the race by a nose. I still have the tape of the race, including Marshall Cassidy's classic call. I pop it in when I get down.

Of course, when Jerry Bailey did become Jerry Bailey, he would snap at me if he didn't like something I wrote about him. (He probably won't like this column). And he was also known to call newspaper editors to complain about something he didn't like written about him.

If you think Jerry has a giant ego, you're right.

But the guy could horseback. Because he won seven Eclipse Awards, and Cordero won only two, that doesn't make him three times the rider Cordero was. In fact, it was mostly no contest when they went head-to-head. It was a major news story when Bailey beat Cordero in any race, major or minor.

It makes me shudder just a little bit when I read that Jerry Bailey was the greatest jockey of all time. He wasn't even the greatest jockey of his time!

But he was the greatest GRASS jockey of all time.

Speaking of jockeys, a footnote to the Eclipse Awards.

Do you realize that Edgar Prado got all of 20 votes for Eclipse rider?

And do you realize that Edgar Prado beat Eclipse winner John Velazquez in all three important New York meets last year - the Belmont spring, Saratoga, and the Belmont fall?

Yes, I know that the standings now read: Johnny V: Two Eclipses; Prado: Zero.

But if you took a poll of horsemen on which rider they would want for a big race, the answer would be Prado by open lengths.

An example: trainer Brothers wasted no time replacing Bailey with Prado on 3-year-old star First Samurai. Of course, Johnny V,. has his pick of 20 Todd Pletcher Derby prospects.

Speaking of the Derby, pool one of Churchill's Derby Futures came and went last weekend, and, once again, the Oaklawn horses are getting short shrift.

Only one Oaklawn horse gets a tumble in the futures (and in most top tens). That's Lawyer Ron, who should be the favorite. He's four-for-four on dirt by an average margin of six lengths, and boasts a 106 Beyer. Instead, he can't be found in most Top Tens (did someone say Smarty Jones?), and he's 21-1 in the futures.

Hey, 21-1 sounds good. But the colt's trainer, Bob Holthus, is down at 200-1 in Vegas.

I'll be talking more about the Oaklawn-based 3-year-olds in this space in weeks to come. There are several good ones, from the likes of trainers Howard and Servis, and owner Gill.

It was strange to see the name Favre listed in the Oaklawn program on Sunday. Brothers Ed and Kevin Favre were listed as the owner and trainer of a horse who finished 11th in the fourth race. Their cousin Brett is an NFL quarterback of some renown.

The other big news out of Arkansas:

  1. The University of Arkansas varsity football team will open its '06 season against big bad Southern California at Fayetteville on Sept. 2. A word of advice on the game that will be aired nationally at night on ESPN: the Hogs get all their guys back!
  2. The University of Arkansas varsity basketball team managed to blow an 18-point lead to arch-rival Kentucky on Sunday afternoon national television.but at least they covered.

Meantime, the biggest news to come out of the Super Bowl countdown is a black and white issue. Coach Cowher has decreed that the Steelers wear their white threads instead of black.

I have to presume Cowher knows more than I do about such things, but I don't get it.

All I know is that 47 points is a lot of points for two teams who like to sit on a lead.

Can you imagine the suspense? It's 21-21, and the Steelers are inside the five.



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