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Feb 23, 2007

Through The Binoculars


Lots going on in the world of thoroughbred racing.

Particularly in the jockey colony.

Here are some tidbits:

1) A nationally known jockey last weekend was caught red-handed with an illegal foreign object in his mouth (in his mouth!) while proceeding to the starting gate on a favorite in a $100,000 stakes race.

The object commonly is known as a battery or a buzzer.

Whatever you want to call it - he was packin'.


The authorities, who have been known to frown on such practices, promptly banished the jockey to parts unknown, and found another rider to take his place on the horse, who then proceeded to finish off the board.

That was "shock" number one.

"Shock" number two is, that as far as I can determine, not a single member of the drive-by media is on this story. Maybe my friends at Daily Racing Form, the trades and/or the dailies could look into this matter.

Otherwise, my lips are sealed.

Jerry Hissam, the agent for jockey Calvin Borel, and one of the good guys, was a guest at my seminar last Saturday in Hot Springs, Ark., across Central Avenue from Oaklawn Park. The seminars are free, educational, and entertaining, even if I say so myself.

That said, Hissam was asked his take on the upcoming Southwest in which Borel would be riding Officer Rocket for Bob Holthus, who has won this stake four times since 2000.

Hissam said:

"I'm really glad that Teuflesberg went into the race."

 Hissam's logic was obvious. He figured Teuflesberg, who clearly had no shot, had the speed to soften up Hard Spun, and maybe set the race up for Officer Rocket. After all, the race was worth $250,000, which would mean a nice paycheck for Hissam.

For as we all know by now, Teuflesberg went wire to wire at 23-1, and Officer Rocket closed for second.

Obviously, this proves once again that you must be careful for what you wish.

On the subject of Teuflesberg, you need to check out the rider situation.

Robby Albarado had ridden Teuflesberg in the colt's last five starts, but passed on the trip to Hot Springs. Instead, he opted to stay home to ride the card at Fair Grounds, where he wound up with a first and a third for the day.

That left trainer Jamie Sanders left at the altar looking for a rider. At the last minute, she discovered that a fellow named Stewart Elliott was available, and put him on her horse. No one knows better than Elliott how to ride Oaklawn Park, especially on days such as Monday when an inside-speed bias exists.

Teuflesberg went right to the top, and improved his position, while Albarado presumably watched on TV in the Fair Grounds jocks' room.

The Elliott factor is ironic for a couple of reasons.

Last year, Round Pond, with Elliott up, and Happy Ticket, with Albarado aboard, produced the Race of the Year in the Azeri Breeders' Cup at Oaklawn. Those two great mares went head to head the whole trip, with Round Pond (and Elliott) prevailing by a nose.

So once again Elliott got the best of Albarado.

But the real irony is that Elliott got the money in the Southwest at the direct expense of Hard Spun and owner Rick Porter.

Elliott won a half-dozen stakes for Porter over a two-year period on Rockport Harbor and Round Pond. But Elliott lost the mount on Round Pond (Rocky was already officially retired) when Porter dumped trainer John Servis.
And, as we all know, Round Pond - with jockey Prado up - won the Breeders' Cup Distaff last November. That was the race that put Prado over the top for his Eclipse Award, and Edgar will be back aboard Round Pond for what is certain to be her lucrative 5-year-old campaign.

How sweet is revenge?

Don't expect an answer from Elliott. He's not about to burn any bridges, plus he's too good a guy to take knocks.

But you just have to wonder how Elliott felt at the quarter-pole of the Southwest when he peaked over his right shoulder, saw Porter's red and white silks coming at him on Hard Spun, and then proceeded to put him away.

5) But perhaps the dumbest person in this whole scenario was this writer.

Picture this scene.

I'm up in the Oaklawn jocks' room about 1 p.m. chatting up old buddy Joe Bravo, who's in town to ride Xchanger, who was expected to be a major player in the Southwest. Part of the conservation was professional (I was interviewing Jersey Joe for an upcoming magazine piece on Monmouth Park). And part was talking up the Southwest. I was giving an old friend my "expertise" about the Oaklawn racetrack.

While we were chatting, Stewart Elliott sat down next to Bravo, and I said to Elliott something brilliant like "Hey, Stew, how ya doin?"

Yes, sports fans, that was the extent of my conversation with Stewart Elliott, who, two hours later, won the Southwest on a 23-1 shot.

Hey, we all make mistakes.

Don't we?

6) On a brighter note, and sticking with the subject of the day, hats off to Smiling Jon Court for being voted the 2007 winner of the George Woolf Memorial Award. This is the most prestigious award a rider can win, and goes annually to the rider who combines accomplishments on the racetrack with personal character.

I got to know Court years back when he was riding regularly at Oaklawn, and I was covering for Daily Racing Form, and found him always gracious, accommodating and helpful.
One incident always sticks with me -

Court was riding a grass horse named With Anticipation for Long Jon Sheppard in the United Nations Handicap at Monmouth Park. Court rode his usual masterful race, and got With Anticipation up to win by a length - Court's first Grade 1 winner ever.

But the Monmouth stewards, who flash the inquiry sign on the average of once every five years, started blinking, and took With Anticipation down for at worst a borderline foul.

When the DQ came down, Court had every right to scream bloody murder. Instead, he stood at his locker and answered every question from the media (me) in a quiet, dignified manner.

Smiling Jon maybe didn't get his Grade 1 that day, but, more importantly, he got the respect from his peers.

On the same subject, Court is the son-in-law of veteran Oaklawn trainer Jinks Fires, who has a very nice three-year-old in the barn named Run Alex Run, who belongs on your horses to watch list.

7) Finally, one last jockey note: I'm hearing that Jose Santos is making progress in recovering from back injuries sustained in an Aqueduct spill a month back, and yesterday flew down to south Florida to continue his recuperation.

I'd like to see Santos make it back. But, on the other hand, maybe it would be best if Jose hangs 'em up while safe of mind and body after a distinguished career.

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