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Apr 28, 2006

RACING TODAY

By: JOHN PIESEN


Point One: In a Kentucky Derby considered by most observers, including this writer, as the most wide-open in memory, how can seven of the eight media members polled by the esteemed Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper pick the same horse (Brother Derek)?

Am I missing something?

And Point Two: Brother Derek went slow early, and finished well in a seven-furlong work timed in 1:28 2/5 yesterday at Santa Anita.

Does this mean they are looking to rate the horse in the Derby?

And, if so, is that a good thing?

Whatever, I have been on record for months in this space that Brother Derek is a toss-out in the Derby. By the same token, I'm not saying that all California horses are a toss. Point Determined, as a matter of fact, intrigues me.

The story line could be the same as last year. Just like Giacomo revenged the Derby loss of his sire Holy Bull, I can see Point Determined revenging the Derby loss of his sire Point Given.

One thing I know. If they put up a head-to-head on Brother Derek vs. Point Determined, I sure will take the price on Point Determined.

I found it interesting that Point Determined, a closer, worked three seconds faster than Brother Derek, a speed horse.

You can interpret workout times any way you please, but, I, for one, like to see my horse(s) work fast before the Derby. See Smarty Jones. See Lawyer Ron on Saturday.

I think back to the first Derby I covered for the New York Post.

The year was 1980, and, on the Wednesday before the Derby, I watched Genuine Risk, who would be double-digits, outwork Plugged Nickle, who would be the second choice, by three seconds.

Tom Kelly, a respected horseman who trained Plugged Nickle, sloughed off his colt's slow work. I'm sure that Mr. Kelly knew more than I will ever know about training horses, but although I was always a fan of Plugged Nickle, the red flag went up.

I went on to pick Genuine Risk second in the Post, and left Plugged Nickle out. Genuine Risk went on to win at 12-1 (the same price that our Fort Marcy winner Foreverness was last Saturday), and Plugged Nickle indeed ran out.

My top choice for that '80 Derby?

Glad you asked.

My top choice was a horse named Bold'n Ruling out of California. Trained by Mel Stute. Ridden by a young Patrick Valenzuela.

Bold'n Ruling went off at 70-1 on track, but only 23-1 in the separate pool at New York City OTB. To me, that was a sign my Post picks were taken seriously.

Bold'n Ruling made the lead from the inside leaving the backstretch (I actually found myself unable to breathe at that point), but faded to sixth, beaten five lengths by Genuine Risk.

After the race, I asked Valenzuela about the race.

"I hadn't even asked my horse to run when I made the lead," he told me, "I thought for sure we were the Derby winner.

"Then I heard a pop."

Sure enough, Bold'n Ruling never ran again.

As for me, that was the kickoff to a rather spectacular decade of picking Derby winners - Pleasant Colony (and the $500 exacta); Gato Del Sol, Ferdinand, Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Unbridled and Strike the Gold.

I'll be looking for another big Derby payday in 11 days. Call 888 484 3300 for more information.

Here's another reason why it pays to read this column:

Last week, I told the story in this space about jockey Francisco Torres - how he went from getting hurt riding at Oaklawn Park to portraying Braulio Baeza in the move Ruffian, being filmed down the road at Louisiana Downs.

I made the point in the piece of saying you need to bet Torres this year in Chicago, effective immediately.

It didn't take long.

Torres rode Three Hour Nap to victory in last Saturday's $250,000 National Jockey Club Handicap at Hawthorne, the site of the memorable 1999 Illinois Derby won by Vision and Verse.

Three Hour Nap paid $12.40.

The saddest racing story of the week was the untimely demise of Kentucky Derby prospect With A City.

With A City was a great story. An ex-claimer, he came out of nowhere to win the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park at 48-1. He followed by finishing dead last behind Lawyer Ron in the $1 million Arkansas Derby, but his connections still planned to run him in the Kentucky Derby.

But he'll never make it.

Shockingly, With A City was struck down with a still undiagnosed illness last week at Keeneland, and was euthanized.

That's only half the story.

Following the Lane's End, owner Ron Peltz offered shares in With A City to the general public. The asking price was $50,000 for two per cent of the horse, and the offer included a special perk - a box for four at the Kentucky Derby.

I spoke to Peltz, a Birmingham, Ala., businessman, in the week before the Arkansas Derby, and he told me that syndication business was brisk.

I'm just wondering: Where does this leave the folks who paid the $50,000 for two per cent - and the Derby box?

A DRF piece today says that Peltz had insurance coverage covering mortality.

Maybe so.

Speaking of Lawyer Ron, my connections tell me that the colt is doing better than ever, while galloping two hours daily under exercise rider Betsy Couch at Churchill Downs, and will breeze five-eighths Saturday morning under the Spires.

I'm hoping that trainer Holthus and jockey McKee will put the pedal to the metal, and give the media something to write about.

Finally, a word about last Sunday at Aqueduct.

If you missed it, racing was cancelled after the third race because the jockeys refused to ride over the sloppy racetrack.

Suffice to say that the racetracks were no less sloppy in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania, but it was business as usual Sunday at those venues.

Again.who is running the asylum?

This is what John Passero, the Aqueduct track superintendent, told the Form:

"There's nothing wrong with the track. I mean nothing. I've never been so disappointed. If this is the standard, they're going to quit every time. That's the way I feel about it."

Point made.



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