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Jul 21, 2006

RACING TODAY

By: JOHN PIESEN


Two of my biggest targets in this space - and with just cause - have been the zebras and ESPN.

Certainly, the good citizens of Seattle would agree about the zebras. As if what the NFL zebras did to Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl wasn't bad enough, what transpired last night at Yankee Stadium was just as bad.

In case you missed it, the Seattle Mariners led the Yankees, 4-2, in the home ninth, with this columnist's favorite closer, J J Putz, on the hill.

Only this time Putz was the putz.

Before he knew what hit him, the Yankees had a run in, a bloke on second, and Posada at bat. Posada sends a shot toward right, but all-star second-baseman Lopez makes a great stop, and tosses the slow-footed Posada out by a good half-step.

Only umpire Reilly, perhaps influenced by 54,000 screaming Yankee fans, or perhaps not, calls Posada safe. The replays showed clearly that Posada was out, and the Yankee homers on radio and TV reluctantly admitted that he was out.

And, of course, the Seattle skipper got tossed.

"The Yankees caught a break," was the consensus of opinion.

On the next pitch, Damon hit a sac fly to center.and following a two-hour rain delay, the Yankees win it on a short-porch home run.

When one side is wearing Yankee pinstripes, and the other side is the Seattle Mariners, what else could you expect?

And, since bad news comes in threes, it was reported yesterday that the Seattle Sonics of the NBA were sold to Oklahoma City interests, who no doubt will move the team to Soonerland by the end of the year.

It has to be tough being a Seattle sports fan these days.

You may recall that the zebras gave the Yanks a gift win over the Pirates last year at the Stadium, and since the Yanks won the division in a tie-breaker over Boston, I guess that was kind of significant.

And I find it interesting that so often a zebra will have one play to call during the course of a game.and get it wrong.

This was also the third extra-inning loss for Seattle in the five games since the all-star break.

In the racing game, the zebras are called stewards - but they are still zebras.

Here are two recent examples:

At Philly Park, the stewards blinked the number of the third finisher in a race for 15 minutes.and then took down the winner!

And at Churchill, the stewards watched the stretch run of a race for 20 minutes because jockey Toups, on the leader, went down at the quarter-pole. The bettors were kept in the dark the whole time because at no time did the stewards find it necessary to light the inquiry sign.

That brings us to ESPN.

On Sunday, ESPN slotted a one-hour racing telecast, featuring the Delaware Handicap, from 5:00 to 6:00 Eastern.

The only problem was that a ladies' golf tournament ran two hours over, so the racing show came on at 7:00 on tape delay.

And when a horse broke down on the backstretch, ESPN chose to virtually ignore the incident, and blow off reports on the horse and jockey (even with two extra hours to work with).

Can't wait to see what ESPN does with the Travers. Isn't that the annual conflict with the Little League World Series?

Not that it matters, but Jazil is out of the Travers with a sore leg. And I wouldn't be surprised if the Belmont Stakes turns out to be Jazil's last race. (See Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex).

At this point, Bernardini looks like 1-9 in the Travers.

While ESPN as usual went into the tank last Sunday, rival HBO deserves credit for a compelling look-back piece at the Villanova-Georgetown NCAA championship game from 1985.

One thing missing from the piece was the fact that the Villanova-Georgetown game, from Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., was played on the same night (April 1, 1985) as the re-opening of Garden State Park - the track of the 21 st Century.

I was one of 40,000 people who stormed the gates at Garden State that night, and, like everyone else, I was torn between the action on the racetrack, and the action on TV. Villanova, after all, is 30 minutes from Garden State Park.

Twenty years later, we are still talking about Villanova-Georgetown, while, at the same time, lamenting the fact that Garden State Park is now a shopping mall.

I guess the first sign was that - on the second night of the Garden State meeting - the attendance was 1,200.

I'm sure the HBO piece will be repeated often. Try to catch it if possible.

Garden State Park may be history, but Monmouth Park is still going strong. Business is up across the board, the racing is first-class, the ocean is still five minutes away, and if you like chalk, you're in seventh heaven.

On Sunday, for example, favorites went nine-for-10 -- the expception Cigno d'Oro at $40.40 in race eight. Most of the nine won end-to-end, and seven of the nine were blowouts.

The program was also newsworthy for the simple fact that trainer Pletcher didn't win a race. Of course, the weekend wasn't a total loss for ol' Todd. He won the Delaware Handicap, the Delaware Oaks and the Bowling Green for starters.

I understand that Todd's third straight Eclipse Award is in the mail.

Personally, my vote will go to George Handy.

A year ago, Handy was left horseless when owner McDonnell, his main man for 10 years, decided that George, after 60 years in the game, suddenly forgot how to train.

Luckily, George, at age 83, was saving something from his Social Security checks, and claimed a New Jersey-bred named Vow for $7,500 a month back at Monmouth.

Handy had a race in mind for Vow, but racing at Monmouth was cancelled that day because of the State's budget crisis. They brought back the race last Friday, and George put Vow in - confident of winning the pot and cashing a bet.

Yes.on both counts.

Vow got up by a neck under jockey Chavez.and paid $25!

Wow Vow!!!

Congrats to George Handy - and congrats to the folks who had the good judgment to get down on Vow as my phone-service (1-888-612-2283) best bet.



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