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Jan 12, 2007

Through The Binoculars

By: JOHN PIESEN


The whole world seems to like the Ravens (-4) over the Colts on Saturday afternoon in Baltimore. Obviously the whole world believes that the Colts' three-TD victory over the Ravens last year over the same track never happened.

But while the Colts and Ravens are somewhere in the second quarter, the biggest sports story of the day will be happening down in New Orleans. That will of course be Hard Spun's 3-year-old debut in the $100,000 LeComte Stakes at Fair Grounds.

An aside here...

I am kicking myself for a lack of foresight. I am flying to Arkansas on Sunday morning to begin my three-month adventure as a publicist for Oaklawn Park. It never occurred to me to fly to New Orleans on Saturday, catch Hard Spun in the LeComte at 4:22 p.m. (Central), then shoot next door for the Eagles-Saints game at the Superdome...and make the quick trip up to Hot Springs the next day.

Oh, well. I guess I'll just have to go through life knowing that I'm a better handicapper (see 1-888-612-2283) than I am a travel guide.

That said, I'll leave the football to the football experts at this site, and concentrate on Saturday's racing action, starting, of course, with Hard Spun.

What an angle!

A Philly horse running in New Orleans three hours before Saints-Eagles.

A Hard Spun-Eagles parlay anyone?

Readers of this site know that I have been touting Hard Spun since October as the best 3-year-old in the land, a faster, bigger version of Smarty Jones.
A Danzig colt owned by Rick Porter (see Rockport Harbor and Round Pond), and trained by Larry Jones (see Wildcat Bettie B), Hard Spun started three times on the mid-Atlantic circuit, and won all three times, by a combined margin of 22 lengths.

And the next time that jockey Pino asks him will be the first time.

Obviously the word is out on Hard Spun. At least one Vegas hotel has him on top in the Derby Futures.

But Saturday is crucial. This will be Hard Spun's first time going two-turns, and he's clearly facing more quality than he did in his Delaware and Philly Park races.

"Hard Spun will be tested for courage and distance," says trainer Jones. "This is an important race for him."

Even more so for owner Porter.

Porter was saying yesterday that he turned down zillions from the sheiks moments after Hard Spun won his Delaware debut by nine lengths.

"The phone call was pretty clear," Porter recalls. "Do you want to sell Hard Spun for a lot of money?"

Porter told the sheiks thank you but no.

"I've second-guessed myself," Porter told the Philadelphia Inquirer, which is sending 14 reporters and five photographers to Eagles-Saints - but no one to Fair Grounds. "I think  about what I should do with a sound mind. Should I sell? But my desire to have a really good horse steers me back away.

"Hard Spun is worth millions right now. On the other hand, he might be worth nothing after Saturday. One bad one, and no one's interested anymore. That's the problem. If he doesn't run good, all my dreams are shot.

"You might try to say he had an excuse, but one bad race in this game - if he doesn't live up to his potential, the bubble's burst. And once the bubble's burst, it's hard to get it blown up again."

Personally, I would expect that Hard Spun, who will be 4-5 from post three in a field of seven, will go right to the top in the LeComte and improve his position. But if he breaks well, and sits third or fourth early, that will be alright too.

Win or lose, Hard Spun heads back to Hot Springs (I could have caught a ride on the van), and will race in the Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby on the Oaklawn road to the Triple Crown. That's the road traveled by Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex, who, between them, won four of the six Triple Crown races in '04 and '05.

Since I can't (didn't) make it to New Orleans, I'll do the next best thing and watch the race from Monmouth Park, where presumably Hard Spun will win the Breeders' Cup Classic come October.

Here's capsule look at Saturday's other features:

Affectionately Handicap (Aqueduct)

This is a rematch of Victory Pool and Dina. A month back in the Gold Beauty over the same track, a fresh Victory Pool (7-1) got the jump on Dina (5-2), and beat her a length and a half.

Normaly, I would love Dina in the rematch, but then you notice she's lost nine straight,  is 2-for-19, and the lowest money-winner in the six-horse field.

Looking for a price? Take a look at Bobcat Greeley. In her first start for trainer Dickinson, she won a Mountaineer stake at 6-1, and gets jockey Dominguez here. She must avoid a speed duel with Great Intentions.

Check to see if Dickinson makes the trip.

                                               
San Fernando (Santa Anita)

Spring At Last (second). Midnight Lute (third), Brother Derek (seventh) and Arson Squad (eighth) all had excuses behind the perfect-trip Latent Heat in the one-turn Malibu.

Of the four, Arson Squad had the worst trip. The gelding is 3-for-5 over the track, and is first-time Gomez.

Looking for a price? Take a look at West Point Stable's Awesome Gem. He goes turf-to-dirt, and is drawn well inside his main foes. If he wins, check out the mob in the winner's circle.


Marshua's River (Gulfstream)

Trainer Clement holds a pair of aces in Naissance Royale and Bright Abundance, graded stakes-winners with jockeys Prado and Desormeaux. respectively.

Might want to use those two, and longshots Factual Contender and Baena in the gimmicks.

Rare to see a $75,000 feature on a Gulfstream Saturday but it is what it is.

                                         

Native Dancer (Laurel)

Wouldn't you think that a race named for Native Dancer would be a million-dollar Grade One in New York?

But once again it is what it is.

A race starting from the mile chute at Laurel favors the outside horses. Consequently, I would not be at all shocked to see Reckless Ways, Tartlet and the shipper Judiths Wild Rush (7-8-9) dominate.

Of the others, you need to respect Baby League from the connections that gave us Flatterer years back...as well as City Attraction, who comes off a sharp second in the fog to Half Ours, and looks the main speed with jockey Smith coming down from Long Island to ride.

Otherwise...

This week has been a roller-coaster ride for Barbaro and his millions of fans. On Tuesday, it looked bleak, but the last 24 hours have produced some encouraging news out of Kennett Square.

Here's keeping our fingers crossed.

It is interesting to note that two of the three Letters to the Editor in last Sunday's editions of Daily Racing Form focused on Barbaro.

One writer, Jeff Richardson of Lincoln, Neb., suggested that Barbaro should be Horse of the Year.

"No contest," he said, and he made several salient points to support his opinion.

And another writer, Jill Byrne of Louisville, the wife of trainer Pat Byrne, and his chief assistant, said that she was shocked that Michael Matz didn't as much as make the cut for Eclipse trainer.

Jill pointed out that in a poll conducted by the Thoroughbred Times, Matz was an overwhelming winner.

This columnist agrees 100 per cent with the views of Richardson and Byrne.

The votes already are counted, and it's a sure thing that Invasor will be Horse of the Year, and Pletcher the top trainer.

Maybe it's about time that the fans, not the writers, get to vote.



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