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Nov 10, 2006

Through The Binoculars



Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex, the 2004 and 2005 three-year-old champions, spent their winters at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. Both colts won the Arkansas Derby. Both won two-thirds of the Triple Crown. And both unfortunately were retired prematurely.

And, lest we forget, both were hyped in this space many months before they became superstars and media darlings.

Since good things come in threes, please permit this columnist to give a heads-up on the 2007 Arkansas Derby winner and 3-year-old champion.

The name is Hard Spun.

Not much of a name, we admit.

But one helluva racehorse.

Like Smarty Jones, Hard Spun is a Pennsylvania-bred.

Like Afleet Alex, Hard Spun broke his maiden first pop at Delaware Park by open lengths.

Hard Spun is a $400,000 son of Danzig owned by Rick Porter (of Rockport Harbor and Round Pond fame), and trained by rising star J. Larry Jones, who calls him "the best horse I"ve ever trained."

And like Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex, Hard Spun will spend the winter at Oaklawn Park, where he is projected to compete in the Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby. You may recognize those races as those won by Smarty Jones leading up to the "04 Kentucky Derby.

This columnist, you may recall, had the good fortune to enter Smarty Jones in all his 3-year-old races that season. And, needless to say, negotiations are underway to do likewise with Hard Spun.

There will be more - much more - on Hard Spun in this space in weeks to come. And, I would expect, you will start reading about him in the national media starting say in mid-April.

One more note -

Trainer Jones is hoping to run Hard Spun in the Pennsylvania Futurity at Philadelphia Park (a race won by Smarty Jones in "03), but the travel restrictions currently in place because of the mid-Atlantic equine herpes scare, may prevent him from doing so.

In the event that there is a Pennsylvania Futurity, and Hard Spun makes the race, he will be the same 10 cents to the dollar as Smarty Jones was three years back.

Obviously, I don"t need to tell you that that"s it"s not too early to shop the Derby Futures.

You also may recall that after Smarty Jones won the Pennsylvania Futurity, he shipped to New York to win the Count Fleet Stakes at Aqueduct.

Now, in view of what"s going on at Aqueduct, we can only hope there will be a Count Fleet Stakes.

Or any other Aqueduct stake for that matter.

In case you missed it, Aqueduct cancelled on Thursday (its third cancellation in nine racing days) because the main track "deteriorated" in the wake of Wednesday"s heavy rains.

(The announced crowd Wednesday was 1,239.)

Incredibly, there was not a cloud in the sky on Thursday, and temperatures reached the high "60s, but Aqueduct cancelled at 11:40 a.m., an hour before first post.

NYRA management advises that it will cost millions to repair the track, but NYRA, which recently filed for bankrupty, is broke. At least until the slots come in.

I just wonder what would have been the situation years back when WHO KNEW FROM SLOTS?

My best guess is that the inner track, now scheduled to open on Nov. 29, will open earlier.

In the meantime, they are scheduled to run the Red Smith Handicap on Saturday at Aqueduct, the final graded grass stake of the New York season.

The operative word is scheduled.

It would be improper to release the winner in this space inasmuch as said winner can be found for a nominal fee on my world-famous phone service (toll free at 1-888-612-2283), which continues to be the source of a multitude of winners at crooked numbers. You can also get the same stellar picks online at

For those keeping score at home, the Breeders" Cup Distaff exacta ($446) is a perfect example.

One clue -

Columnist Dave Litfin writes a 400-word analysis of the Red Smith in Saturday"s editions of Daily Racing Form, and at no point does he mention the winner.

That brings us to Bernardini.

Two points --

The critics of jockey Castellano"s ride keep coming - premature move being the operative phrase.

Instead of admitting that they were wrong suggesting all Breeders" Cup week that Bernardini was Secretariat, they are blaming the jock for getting him beat by moving too soon.

Again, I would like to point out that Bernardini was in front at the stretch call in every one of his victories...and that the winner was in front at the stretch call of every other dirt race on Breeders" Cup Day at Churchill Downs.

But why let the facts get in the way of the truth?

And point two:

The media seems quite taken with the fact that Bernardini was retired to stud 48 hours after the Breeders" Cup.

Obviously, none had bothered to read this space, which was predicting the colt"s retirement back as far back as Labor Day.

Interesting that the sheiks will stand Bernardini at their Lexington farm for $100,000 a pop. In the next paddock will be Rockport Harbor, who will command a mere $20,000 for the same purpose.

It seems to me that five Rockport Harbors clearly is worth one Bernardini.

Turning to hoops, how great was it to read that Larry Brown will be getting another $18 million from the Knicks (although I read in one New York tabloid that the Knicks got away cheap)?

Says buddy Phil Mushnick in Friday"s editions of the New York Post:

"So now what? Do we make this month"s cable check out to Cablevision, or just send it directly to Larry Brown?

I would think now that in the future it will cost more than $400 to take a family of four to a Knicks" game.

Prior to the Brown judgment, it cost $362.39 to do so, or about $25 less than it takes a family of four at attend a Lakers" game.

And in case you are wondering why the Knicks are getting so much negative press these days in the mainstream media, here"s the reason:

The working press, for the last half-century, was seated at midcourt for basketball at Madison Square Garden. But this year, Cablevision kicked the working stiffs out, to behind the end line, and sold their seats to the public - for $2,800 a pop!


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