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Sep 29, 2006

Through The Binoculars

By: JOHN PIESEN


As a professional handicapper, I generally make it a practice to ignore hunches. Hunches are for fools. Are they not?

Well, maybe not.

Here are two examples.

Last week, in conjunction with a magazine piece on Fair Grounds, I buzzed jockey Robby Albarado. Alas, Robby never got back to me. My old friend, the late, great sportswriter Clyde Hirt immediately would have banished Robby to his phone-duckers list.

So I went to plan B. I called Lenny Pike, Albarado's agent. I wished Lenny good luck with Strong Contender in the weekend's Super Derby at Louisiana Downs. He said thank you, and then went out of his way to point out that -- due to his hard work - jockey Albarado also would be riding four stakes on the under-card.

You know what happened.

From my simulcast perch Saturday afternoon in The Meadowlands press box, I watched Albarado win four of the five stakes (three at double-digits) on the LAD program - including, of course, Strong Contender in the Super Derby.

That was hunch one.

Hunch two really was off the wall.

Now, I've known New York TV bunny Mary Ryan for years, and often helped her out on her Mornings at Saratoga fluff. Mary is a great gal, but I can't remember the last time that I actually watched her TV in-house spot.

That is until last Saturday.

There were three stakes on the Saturday program that afternoon at Belmont Park, and Mary, with about 30 different trainers to choose from, wound up schmoozing with Carl Deville, the obscure trainer of Meadow Breeze, who was the rank outsider in the Matron.

I have to believe that the Pletchers and the Zitos of the world all turned Mary down for the interview, and that Carl Deville was her last option. For some reason, I kept the Deville interview on the TV, and broke up when Mary said to Deville: "Carl, I notice Meadow Breeze is 20-1 on the program. Can you tell me why is that?"

Deville replied that the price was out of line, and that he gave his filly a good shot.

Like I've never heard that answer before.

We all know what happened. Meadow Breeze blew 'em away, and paid $70.

The moral?

There are worse things than hunches in this game…and you need to pay attention to Mary Ryan.

Now I find out that if I had bet Meadow Breeze, they would probably have asked me to return the money. After all, the DRF reports that Meadow Breeze got a mere 83 Beyer number in the Matron.

Yikes!

The nerve!

Lord only knows the Beyer numbers of the Pletcher fillies - Featherbed and Octave - who dead-heated for second behind Meadow Breeze. But I guess ol' Todd doesn't worry about Beyer numbers. He's still sending both fillies to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Speaking of Pletcher, he has shipped Wait A While to the left coast for Saturday's Yellow Ribbon Stakes for fillies and mares at 10 furlongs on the grass, and that jockey Gomez will give up a day at Belmont for the call.

I'm not surprised that Pletcher, en route to his third straight Eclipse Award, leads the nation this year with $20 million, but I am kind of shocked to see that Gomez, of Hot Springs, Ark., tops the national jock standings with $15 million.

Gomez, incidentally, will bid farewell to New York on Oct. 25. He plans to return to California that day, and will remain on the left coast indefinitely. Presumably, one of his main clients will be Pletcher, who plans to send a 30-horse string to Santa Anita.

The Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita opens Wednesday, with or without Patrick Valenzuela, and racing secretary Rick Hammerle, formerly of M onmouth, told me the other day that "California horses will do terrific in the Breeders' Cup."



Presumably, Hammerle is including Lava Man in his assessment. The winner of four straight Grade Ones, Lava Man has become the most popular California horse since John Henry, but he'll have to sprout wings to handle Bernardini - the same Bernardini who was 11-1 in the Preakness last May.

If only I had a tenski for everyone who has told me that he or she made a killing on Bernardini in the Preakness.

Last weekend, Bernardini worked five-eighths in 1:00 4/5 at Belmont, and is on track for his sheik-on-sheik showdown a week from Saturday with Invasor in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont.

What a Big Apple Saturday that will be! Bernardini and Invasor in the Gold Cup, Round Pond in the Beldame, Henny Hughes in the Vosburgh, the Yanks and the Mets in the playoffs…and Rutgers football!

The Sheiks won't have to wait a week to add to their bank accounts.

On Saturday, they will run the Jerome and the Kelso at Belmont, and the Sheiks will be short in both races.

In the Jerome, the sheiks will run the unbeaten Discreet Cat, who may be the only horse in America able to warm up Bernardini. But he'll never get the chance because they are all in the family.

You will recall that last time out, at Saratoga in August, Discreet Cat, making his first start since beating Invasor by six lengths in Dubai back in March, won a third-level allowance race by 11 lengths at 2-5.

You won't get that price Saturday. The only problem will be finding a quorum.

As for the Kelso, that means Ashkal Way, who was scratched from the Shapiro last Saturday at Laurel for this spot. Ashkal Way is four for five this year, and comes off a neck victory in the Bernard Baruch at Saratoga.

The main threat to Ashkal Way likely will be Meteor Storm, who has recovered from ankle surgery. This will be the first start for Meteor Storm, a Grade 1 winner, since the McKnight last December at Calder.

Back to Pletcher for a minute.

They ran two Grade Ones at the Monmouth Park meet that closed on Sunday, and Pletcher won both - with Bluegrass Cat in the Haskell, and with English Channel in the United Nations.

In all, Pletcher won 11 stakes down the Shore - and that's mostly with his second and third-string!

Maybe Pletcher can bail out Monmouth.

Alas, the bottom line was not a good one at the seaside racing palace.

The average daily on-track handle dropped 10 per cent, daily attendance dipped seven per cent, and all-sources handle was down 1.6 per cent.

Racing folks in New Jersey are counting on slot machines to bail out racing in the Garden State.

The only problem is that racing folks seemingly EVERYWHERE are counting on slots for to rescue the game.

This, in itself, is racing's biggest problem.



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