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May 26, 2006

RACING TODAY

By: JOHN PIESEN


For more years than I can count, I found it amusing when a friend - in the medical profession no less - would tell me that she couldn't watch a horse race live. She would listen to the call, and if nothing went wrong, she would watch the replay.

I'm not amused any more.

Like most everyone, I had to turn away from the TV screen when Barbaro broke down, thankful that I had left Baltimore that morning to attend my son's graduation from Bucknell.

I had been an eye-witness to Mike Venezia. And to Ruffian and Go for Wand and Prairie Bayou. And to so many other horrors. Much too many. Every time they put up that awful blue screen at a New York racetrack, I would turn to my friend Russ Harris in the press box, and share a cry.

I can remember like it was yesterday watching streams of thousands leaving Belmont Park in the awful moments after Go For Wand broke down in the homestretch of the 1990 Breeders' Cup Distaff.

And, like Go For Wand, Barbaro broke down right in the middle of the homestretch - in full view of the thousands of men, women and children.

Who can you blame?

No one.

And I certainly can't blame the Jacksons for doing all they can to save Barbaro. Any other horse would have been put down on the spot. Fortunately, the Jacksons have the money - the initial surgery cost six-figures - to do all they can to save this wonderful colt.

I have the confidence in the Jacksons, trainer Mike Matz, and the doctors to do the right thing for the horse.

Now, we can only hope for the best, while fearing the worst. So much can still go wrong. We all know that.

In the meantime, hats off to my colleagues in the written and electronic media who have done a masterful job covering this tragedy. NBC, in particular, is to be commended for its coverage.

On the other hand, Edgar Prado was booed Sunday at Belmont Park when he entered the paddock to ride the third race.

Who are these people?

I guess they are the same people who find it amusing when a horse throws his jockey in the post parade, and runs off.

Prado, always a class act, deserves all the credit in the world for pulling up Barbaro when he did, thereby hopefully saving his life. I've seen other riders just bail out under similar circumstances.

Edgar's last thought was not himself. He was concerned only with Barbaro, and his survival.

Personally, I was amazed that Prado even showed at Belmont on Sunday. I'm sure he felt, no matter what, he was obligated to keep his commitments to the owners and trainers who hired him.

And he even permitted himself a half-smile when he brought home a longshot in the final race.

Barbaro. Our prayers are with you.

Random thoughts ---

In the likely event that Sweetnorthernsaint, who ran the entire Preakness on an injured foot, doesn't make the Belmont, it means that - possibly for the first time ever - that not a single horse will make all three legs of the Triple Crown.

Perhaps this has happened before. I don't know. I do remember that back in 1980 a filly named Genuine Risk was the only horse to compete in all three legs. She won the Derby, and was second in the Preakness and Belmont.and wasn't even voted champion 3-year-old filly.

As for this year's Belmont, I join the chorus by asking:

Who cares?

With all the bad luck that NYRA has had in recent years, isn't it amazing that now they get a so-what Belmont.

More irony: Assuming that a 3-year-old - perhaps Bernardini, perhaps something else -comes forward to win two or three Grade Ones, he will deny Barbaro the 3-year-old championship and Horse of the Year. And to think only 72 hours ago Barbaro was the only horse who mattered.

And still does.

And more irony.

Trainer Albertrani - a good guy - starts a 15-day suspension for a drug violation, during which time he is denied the privilege of the grounds at every racetrack in the land. The suspension expires on June 5, five days before the Belmont.

And still more irony:

The Middle East owners of Bernardini might not even run Bernardini in the Belmont. But they definitely will run Deputy Glitters.

Will Steppenwolfer be the Belmont favorite?

Whatever the field for the Belmont, maybe the wise thing to do will be to play the "eight" horse.

This marks the third straight year in which the best 3-year-old doesn't make it to July?

What an unfortunate sight to see the Preakness field spread out the way it was through the stretch. Except for the winner, every horse in the race was exhausted coming home.

The Barbaro breakdown aside, can we not expect more from a Triple Crown race?

It seems like years since we've had a close finish in a Triple Crown race.

I am not going to knock Brother Derek. How could I? But for months in this space I wrote that Brother Derek would not be a factor in the Triple Crown despite the fact that eight of nine media people polled by the Louisville Courier-Journal had him on top every week in the months leading up to the Derby.

The last I looked, there was no four or five-horse field at Louisville and Baltimore.

For what it's worth, the folks who paid for my selections last weekend were well-rewarded. They hit the $2,300 Pick Four on Friday at Pimlico. The $1,600 Pick Four Saturday at Pimlico. The $172 Preakness exacta. And the $120 trifecta in the Peter Pan Saturday at Belmont.

If ever a sprinter can be Horse of the Year, it's this year.

Friendly Island, the impressive winner of the Maryland Breeders' Cup Sprint Handicap on the Preakness undercard, was beaten a pole by Bordonaro a race back in the Count Fleet at Oaklawn Park.

I'm just saying that Bordonaro is the best sprinter I've seen in years.

The first three finishers in a harness race last week were:

1) Maris

2) Steinbrenner, and

3) Yankee No. The tri paid $100 and change.

And a horse named Ponder won a harness stake last week at The Meadowlands. Can Alydar be next?

Finally, a hockey note ---

With Carolina leading the Devils, 4-1, with a minute to play in its clinching game in the Stanley Cup playoffs last week, the Devils' announcer came right out and said:

"It looks like the Devils' season is coming to an end."



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