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Mar 24, 2006

RACING TODAY

By: JOHN PIESEN


I'm getting tired of saying "I told you so".

But I told you so.

A month back in this space, I did a piece on Lawyer Ron, proclaiming him numero uno in my personal Kentucky Derby Top 20. At the time, Lawyer Ron was lucky to make the teens in most polls, and was overlooked completely in others.

Coming on the heels of Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex, there obviously is a trend brewing here. Namely, all three spent the winter at Oaklawn Park.

Last month, Lawyer Ron could have been had at 25-1 in the Derby futures. Minutes after he smoked the Rebel last Saturday at Oaklawn, his odds dropped to a consensus 7-1, and he is now first - at worst second - in virtually every Derby poll.

And, after he wins the Arkansas Derby on April 15 at Oaklawn, Lawyer Ron's odds will be 4-1, and no doubt he'll be 'bout 2-1 on race day.

And, yes, as I was saying in this space months back, the road to the Kentucky Derby once again runs through Hot Springs, Arkansas.

More about Lawyer Ron down the road.

For now, I want to talk about four other 3-year-olds. You won't find any mention of them in the national media, but you will here because that's what I like to do. Tout horses before they get good.

Bullet . Malameeze, trained by the underrated Bobby Barnett, had a nightmare trip for fourth at 11-1 in the Battaglia Memorial on March 4 at Turfway Park. He'll return this Saturday against pretty much the same horses in the $500,000 Lane's End at Turfway.

Willie Martinez, who rode Malameeze in the Battaglia, won't be able to ride him in the Lane's End - which, in a previous lifetime, was the Jim Beam - for a good reason. He will be in Dubai that day to ride Brass Hat in the $6 million Dubai World Cup.

So Barnett tapped John McKee (Lawyer Ron's jock) to ride Malameeze. This marks the first time ever that McKee gives up a day at Oaklawn to ride out of town.

Malameeze has only one win, a Turfway maiden-special, in eight starts, but don't let the record fool you. This guy's got a lot of talent, and he'll get better the further he's asked to go.

Bullet . Film Fortune, trained by Hall of Famer Jack Van Berg, is a maiden as we speak, but no ordinary maiden. He had two bad-trip seconds to nice horses in California, prompting Van Berg to ship halfway across the country to Oaklawn for the Rebel.

Film Fortune found yet more trouble in the Rebel, but once he found running room, he closed like a shot for fifth to Lawyer Ron, beaten only five lengths. Beaten five lengths by the best 3-year-old in the land is hardly a disgrace.

Van Berg told me last Friday that Film Fortune was his best since Alysheba.

As a result of that comment, I touted Film Fortune on Ralph Sirico's Saturday morning radio show out of Vegas. I suggested on the program that Lawyer Ron was a no-brainer, and that Film Fortune, a 30-1 shot, be used in the gimmicks.

Despite his bad trip, Film Fortune narrowly missed the superfecta, and among the horses he beat were such sharpies as Private Vow and Music School from the powerful Asmussen and Howard barns, respectively.

Before the Rebel was made official, Van Berg gave jockey Elliott the return call for the Arkansas Derby.

Did someone say a Lawyer Ron-Film Fortune exacta?

Bullet . Sayhellotolarry, a son of '98 Arkansas Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Victory Gallop, has won twice at Oaklawn for trainer Harold Williams, a grandson of Francis Genter, who owned '90 Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic winner Unbridled.

"We'll nominate Sayhellotolarry to the Arkansas Derby," says Williams, "but more likely he'll go to Hawthorne for the Illinois Derby."

The Illinois Derby will be run on April 8th.

Keep that in mind.

It's interesting to note that jockey Borel will give up live mounts in the Apple Blossom and Oaklawn Handicap that day to travel to Chicago for Sayhellotolarry.

You may even get a price on this colt in the Illinois Derby. After all, he's merely an Arkansas horse.

Bullet. Fidrych, from the John Servis barn, may not be the next Smarty Jones, but he's going to win some races this year, starting it says here Saturday on the Turfway undercard.

Fidrych, whose best distance may be a mile, is named for Mark (The Bird) Fidrych, that wild and crazy guy who pitched for the Detroit Tigers back in the '70s.

Fidrych raced twice in stakes at Oaklawn, and, on both occasions, he had bad trips.

Some other news.

By now, we all know that Rockport Harbor has been officially retired. It's so sad that Rocky really never had a chance to show his greatness, and all because he had the misfortune of getting stepped on at the first turn of the Remsen States 16 months back at Aqueduct.

I went to the Servis barn this morning to say goodbye to Rocky, only to learn he'll stay on through the end of the meet April 15. Meantime, Servis's phone has been ringing off the hook with offers from breeding farms to stand Rocky.

Personally, I'm so sad to see that Rocky's racing career is over, but I'm glad he'll have a happy second career.

Speaking of offers, they keep coming for Lawyer Ron, but he's not for sale.

I'm just wondering.if a yearling can sell for $16 million last month, how much is Lawyer Ron worth?

And, in case you missed it, that yearling was named The Green Monkey.

No kidding.

Finally, there will be some new blood in the jocks' room at Monmouth Park this summer.

Jorge Chavez, who has fallen on hard times in New York, will ride full-time at the Shore, and his agent will be Danny Mellul, who had Joe Bravo all these years. And Eddie Castro, the top gun at Calder the last three years, will ride full-time there. His agent is Mike Gonzalez, who remembers that I drove harness horses in a previous lifetime.

As for Bravo, he will get permission this week from the medics to resume riding. Joe missed the entire Gulfstream meeting because of a broken back sustained in a spill on opening-day.

Bravo. Chavez. Castro. Elliott.

Monmouth should be a blast this summer.

And the Breeders' Cup is only a year away.



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