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Jun 02, 2006

Through The Binoculars


How 'bout some kudos for Madison Avenue!

If you have caught the radio commercial currently running for the Belmont Stakes, you'd know what I mean. The spot hails the Belmont Stakes as the "test of the champion" which is no doubt true, if a mile and a half is the criteria.

The commercial uses past Belmont Stakes calls from Tom Durkin and Marshall Cassidy, who currently is calling crew races at Saratoga. Calls of Affirmed-Alydar, Easy Goer and Secretariat.

(This I know because I'm a big crew fan because my daughter Carrie was coxswain on the Penn Varsity Crew, which once beat Princeton.)

Unfortunately, none of the horses pointing for this year's Belmont remind anyone of Affirmed or Secretariat - or Commendable or Lemon Drop Kid for that matter.

The projected field of 11 includes exactly one Grade One winner - Wood Memorial winner Bob and John. What's more, for only the second time since 1970, a Belmont field will not include the Derby or Preakness winner. And, for the first time since 1983, not one horse will compete in all three legs of the Triple Crown.

The 2006 Belmont field is so weak that some folks are pleading with ABC to at least show the Acorn and Manhattan live on the 90-minute Belmont telecast to at least give people a reason to watch.

This, of course, won't happen.

After all, why would a TV network bother to show a live running of a Grade One race when it can bore you to death with tired old features?

That said, I found it interesting that NBC, during its Preakness telecast, did a piece from the Pimlico first-floor simulcast area. In the background (accidentally) was the tote board, showing the result of the previous race. And that's how thousands (millions?) of folks found out that Master Command won the Schaefer Handicap.

Next to television, the biggest joke in racing is the Hall of Fame.

How can anyone take seriously a Hall of Fame that does not include Larry Snyder, who merely rode 7,000 winners during a 30-year riding career, and who is now a respected lead steward at Oaklawn Park?

I feel the same way about the Baseball Hall of Fame.

How can anyone take the Baseball of Fame seriously when Pete Rose isn't in it?

Oh yes, I almost forgot. Pete Rose bet on baseball.

No other player, coach or manager I'm sure has ever bet on baseball.

I bring up the Racing Hall of Fame because it was announced this week that not a single contemporary horse, jockey or trainer got enough votes to warrant selection.

The Hall avoided total embarrassment because its senior committee voted Carl Hanford, Bill Boland and Cougar II into the Hall.

Congrats to all three, who totally deserve to be in the Hall, especially Hanford, who gave us Kelso. Carl is retired and living in Delaware, but you can find his wife every racing day at Delaware Park. She's the smiling lady at the paddock entrance.

But none of the 12 finalists in the contemporary racing categories qualified for induction by receiving at least 75 per cent of the votes cast.

And that's a crime.

Another crime this week was my handicapping of the Metropolitan Handicap Monday at Belmont Park.

My apologies for picking Sir Greeley.

An interesting sidelight to Monday -

A month back, Silver Train was beaten by Spooky Mulder at odds-on in an allowance race at Aqueduct.

Then, last Monday, 20 minutes after Silver Train won the Met Mile, Spookly Mulder opened 1-9 in a stake at Monmouth, and eventually went off at 4-5.

Spooky Mulder didn't hit the board!

The moral: this is not an easy game.

Speaking of handicapping and the Met Mile, let me refer you back to a Met Mile a quarter-century ago.

On the eve of the race, I attended a barbecue near Belmont Park. Also in attendance was one Angel Cordero Jr.

Angel and I thereupon had the following conversation:

AC: "Hey, Piesen, who you pick in the Met?"

JP: "Amber Pass."

AC: "Piesen, you crazy. I'll win with Fappiano. Easy."

Cordero then explained how he would win the race.

"Amber Pass will be in front, and I'll be tracking him from the inside. Amber Pass always drifts (out) on the turn. And when he does, Fappiano will blow by on the rail. Race over."

Angel was so convincing that I rushed to a phone, and called the racing desk at the Post to change my selection.

It was the first and only time in my career that I did such a thing.

And, the next day, the Met went off exactly as Cordero predicted. Amber Pass bore out on the turn, Fappiano dashed through the opening, and won the race.

That was the race that made Fappiano a star and a stallion, and the race that Sonny Hine, the late trainer of Amber Pass, always said was the worst beat of his life.

That reminds me. Carolyn Hine, Sonny's widow, is recuperating at home in Florida from a severely broken ankle. She would gladly receive well-wishes via Gulfstream Park or Calder.

And, as for Cordero, he's still going strong. As the agent for Johnny Velazquez, and a TV star. Check out the current Belmont Stakes TV commercial.

And, if anyone cares, Cordero is still the best jockey of my lifetime.

Unfortunately, such admiration didn't always work both ways.

If you happen to drop by the jocks' room at any of the three New York tracks, you'll see a sign:

"Press. Keep out."

That sign dates back to the '80s. And it was put up at Cordero's request.

(In those days, whatever Angel wanted, Angel got. Much like Lola.)

At the time, Angel was disturbed about some of the bad things I was writing about him in the Post. As was my wont, I did have occasion to criticize Angel from time to time.

The result?

"Press. Keep out."

And the sign still hangs there.

That reminds me.

Harry Rice, who has worked the NYRA jocks' room for these many years, is the subject of a compelling feature in the current issue of American Turf Monthly.

And the best part is that, below the piece is a half-page ad for my world-famous Secret Six System, featuring a photo that Brad Pitt would envy.

My thanks to the photographer.

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