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Mar 16, 2007

Through The Binoculars


Hard to believe, but it has reached the point where only Todd Pletcher has won more Derby preps than John Piesen.

Since handicappers will have problems getting through to Pletcher since he doesn't answer his phone messages, the next best thing is to contact Piesen for his selections at  or by calling toll-free 1 888 612 2283. And I promise you will get an answer.

There are still six weeks of  Derby prep races left so, if you haven't done so yet, there is still time to sign up to get all my prep picks on nearly 20 selections including exactas and trifectas.

I am passing on this information --  knowing full well that this is one column that will not pick up -- because I am riding high with my Derby picks.

The reader of course realizes that the odds are at least one gazillion to one against a handicapper nailing a major big-field Derby prep 1-2-3...but that's exactly what happened at the Louisiana Derby.

Watching on TV in my office at Oaklawn Park, I noticed that Circular Quay crossed the screen first, Ketchikan cross the line second, and Zanjero come in third. I thought that sounded familiar...and the reason it did was because that's how I picked them at my office 1 888 612 2283 and on

But now the bad news. The cold trifecta came back a mere $81.60 in the eight-horse field, or about half of what it should have paid.

Why? I wondered.

Maybe it's because I bet a cold 5K trifecta!.


That can't be.

No, it must be because a lot of folks played  my picks, thereby skewing the payoff.

If that's the case, than fine.

That's the reason I toiled as a newspaper handicapper all those years, surviving in the New York jungle. And that's why I am selling my picks at bargain-basement prices at the current time.

Moreover, I did give out one clue in my column in this space last week. I recall writing that the Pletcher barn is convinced that Circular Quay is BY FAR the best of its armada
of 3-year-olds. And that's saying something inasmuch as Pletcher trains five of the present top ten Derby hopefuls.

I guess if Vegas wanted to offer a price for and against Pletcher winning the Kentucky Derby (Todd is 0-for-14 going in), I guess it would be even money.

And, as I bite my lip, I would take the "no".

If I'm wrong, I imagine it will be Circular Quay who proves me wrong. But in the meantime, Circular Quay still has to find a way to make up 10 lengths on Street Sense.

Then again, I wouldn't be surprised if the Derby winner comes out of Hot Springs, Ark. It has many times. See Sunny's Halo, Lil E Tee, Grindstone, and, most recently, Smarty
Jones. And there were some cudda shuddas in there.

This year, there are four hot prospects coming out of Razorback country.

There are Flying First Class, Curlin and Officer Rocket, who will be the first three choices in Saturday's Rebel, and Hard Spun, who detoured to Turfway Park for the Lane's End.

You may remember that I wrote a month back in this space that if Ravel (maybe fourth
on Pletcher's depth chart) ever beats Hard Spun in a meaningful race, I will gladly share his oats.

I stand by that offer.

I like to spend quality time at the D. Wayne Lukas barn these days at Oaklawn Park. Not because it's the best decorated barn in the land. And not because Lukas was Pletcher's mentor. No, it's because D. Wayne is a fund of information, much of which, unfortunately, is off the record.

Over the years, Wayne and I have had our moments. He won't admit it, but he reads every line about every horse in the barn, and he doesn't forget when you write something negative. But we get along fine now. And we share a love of Hot Springs.

I asked Lukas yesterday if he recalls ever sending a 3-year-old from a maiden race directly into a major Derby prep - as he is doing with Flying First Class.

"Sure, I have, John, many times," he said.

But when I asked him to name one, he couldn't. The closest he could come was Grindstone, but that one ran in an allowance race between breaking his maiden and winning the Louisiana Derby.

I bring this topic up just to remind the reader how strongly Lukas feels about Flying First Class.

Here's another Lukas story.

Lukas planned to enter two at-best modest fillies in Friday's Honeybee Stakes, and gave the call on one of them to top Oaklawn whippersnapper Terry Thompson. Thompson took the call because he had been informed  that Devil House, the best 3-year-old filly on the grounds - and Thompson's mount - would not be entered.

But at the 11th hour, the connections of Devil House changed their minds, and decided to go to the Honeybee, for which she will be odds-on.

Lukas could have stood his ground and insisted that Thompson ride his filly (and the stewards would have supported him), but he freed Thompson up to ride Devil House.

Hey, that's something that Bobby Knight, Wayne's good buddy, would never have done.

The other trainer making news at Oaklawn is a fellow named Chris Richard, a Tom Amoss protégé who has been out on his own only two years.

After going three for three on Sunday, Richard is 13-for-31 at the meet - 42 per cent.

This is Frank Passero territory!

Two weeks back, Richard was my guest at one of my seminars at the beautiful Players Restaurant, across the street from Oaklawn.

During the Q and A, a fellow asked Richard: "Give us one horse who you'll love next time."

Richard's reply: Front Court.

Front Court is scheduled to make his next start in Wednesday's ninth-race feature at Oaklawn...and he's the only 3-year-old in the field, one of my personal favorite handicapping tools.
Finally, did you notice the results of Pool 2 of Churchill Downs' Derby futures?

If not, take heed. The "all others" is the 6-1 favorite, with Circular Quay, No Biz Like Shobiz and Street Sense co-second choices at 8-1.

This means, that unless Street Sense runs lights-out Saturday in the Tampa Bay Derby,
No Biz and Circular Quay will determine the Derby favorite in the Wood Memorial.
In other words, it says here that if either No Biz or Circular Quay wins the Wood, that's your Derby favorite.

This weekend, there are 4 good prep races. Saturday, The Rebel from my home base here at Oaklawn, The San Felipe at Santa Anita, The Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs and Sunday The WinStar at Sunland Park. You can get all my Best Bets in the Pre-Derby Prep races including the Kentucky Derby - all for a new subscriber price of only $65. A $35 savingsoff the regular price of $100. Get on board and START WINNING ALONG WITH ME.

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