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Mar 02, 2007

Through The Binoculars

By: JOHN PIESEN


Since I still have yet to see or hear word one about a certain world-famous jockey being caught with a buzzer in his mouth, nor has any journalist contacted me on the subject, I have to presume that no one in the racing business cares. If anyone did, it would be page one news - above the fold.

I don't get it.

Or maybe I do.

What's more, the second biggest racing story of the year barely gets a ripple.

In case you missed it, Cole Norman -- one of the winningest trainers in North America over the past decade -- while driving his Cadillac one afternoon in Hot Springs, lost control. The vehicle crossed over into oncoming traffic, and crashed head-on into a vehicle coming from the other direction.

The woman in the other vehicle was killed instantly. And, it was learned that the woman was a cousin of former President Bill Clinton.

A few days later, officials at Oaklawn Park, where Norman is the defending six-time champion, asked Norman to depart the premises, while allowing him to leave his 40-horse string in the hands of his chief assistant, Jorge Lara.

In the immediate aftermath of the crash, the story got scant attention in the national media, and there has not been a line anywhere in the last two weeks.

Moreover, there have yet to be formal charges filed by law enforcement authorities.

In the meantime, trainer Norman is reportedly undergoing re-hab in his native Louisiana, and his horses are winning their share thank you, with Lara as the listed trainer.

In fact, it would be no surprise if Jorge Lara beats out D. Wayne Lukas and Steve Asmussen for leading trainer.
  
Switching gears, and turning to the subject of the three-year-old division, which does get a lot of play ---

I confess to taking a bit of a beating (only a bit) since Hard Spun flopped in the Southwest last Monday.

I just need to say: "hey guys, I'm not abandoning ship".

Anyone with eyeballs saw that Hard Spun got a nightmare trip in the Southwest. He did everything wrong, and still got beat only three lengths while spotting five pounds to the winner. I've never quite understood why Triple Crown prep races are not run at level weights.

Two days later, the Ragozin numbers came out...and Hard Spun got a 6, while the winner, Teuflesberg, got a 9.

In the world of the Ragozin sheets, obviously lower is better.

Hey, I'll be the first to admit that if Hard Spun was the super horse I thought him to be, he would have overcome all adversity, and won the Southwest anyway.

Hard Spun is now the forgotten horse on the Derby Trail, but a Rebel romp would put him right back in it. That's how it goes with Top Ten polls.

Although I have a good rapport with the connections of Hard Spun, I am not privy to state secrets.

That said, I want to go on record by saying you will see a different strategy in the Rebel.
There will be no more taking back. I expect Hard Spun will be sent...and sent hard.
And let the proverbial chips fall where they may.

Otherwise, if you examine the various Kentucky Derby Top Ten polls, you would think that the Derby already has been run...and that Nobiz Like Shobiz is now a cinch to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed.

But, the last I looked this is still one of the most wide-open Derbies in years. And, looking at specifics, have we really forgotten Street Sense's Breeders' Cup Juvenile last November?

Just because no one picked Street Sense that day (including myself), that doesn't mean he didn't run the biggest race by a 2-year-old in years.

And, for the record, this is what his jockey, the Oaklawn-based Calvin Borel, told me about Street Sense the other day:

"This is the best horse in the world!"

Borel is putting his money where his mouth is.

Calvin is also the regular rider of Officer Rocket, who ran a huge race for second in the Southwest, and will be one of the favorites in the Rebel.

But, with the Rebel nearly three weeks away, Borel already has informed trainer Bob Holthus that he cannot ride the Rocket in the Rebel. We are talking 3-1 in a $300,000 race here.

The reason? There is a possibility - only a possibility mind you - that Street Sense will make his season debut the same day in the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs.

"Officer Rocket is a real nice colt," Borel told me, "but there is no way I would even think of taking off Street Sense. He's the (Kentucky) Derby winner."

In another Triple Crown development, the good California colt Exhale is off the trail.

Several horsemen told me that Exhale was the best California-based Derby hopeful, prompting me to take a piece of the 30-1 in the Futures.

Alas, before I could inhale, Exhale was out. He is scheduled to undergo surgery this week for a chip and a flake in his knee.

Exhale was being pointed for Saturday's Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. Instead we may not see him again until Del Mar.

Speaking of the late Bob Lewis, years back he raced a nice 2-year-old named Perfect Mandate with Wayne Lukas in California. Unfortunately, Perfect Mandate was injured in his second start, a stake, and was retired to stud.

One of his offspring is a colt named Flying First Class, who last week - in his second start - crushed a strong maiden group by eight lengths at Oaklawn - for Lukas.

The colt's time of 1:09 2/5 was the second fastest of the meet, the fastest by a 3-year-old at the meet, and when I ran into Randy Moss the next evening at a toast for former DRF icon Don Grisham, before I could say hello, Randy said "107!"

That would be Flying First Class's Beyer number for his maiden win. And if it's the Beyer numbers that float your boat, it's worth noting that this was the highest Beyer run by a 3-year-old this year - and, for what it's worth, nine points higher than No Biz Like Shobiz's number in winning the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park.

And I may be wrong on this, but it seems to me that Beyer numbers in Florida generally are considerably higher than those in Arkansas. But, then again, they have an ocean.

Finally, there is a 3-year-old filly running here at Oaklawn named Devil House who looks to be the real deal. She has won five straight, will go next in the Fantasy, and then on to the Kentucky Oaks, which, the last I looked, has a future book.



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