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Apr 13, 2007

Through The Binoculars


The Road to the Triple Crown winds up Saturday afternoon with the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Racetrack in Lexington, Ky., and the $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.

Like in so many races on the Triple Crown trail this spring, there will be stick out favorites in both races, both of which will be run at a mile and a furlong.

At Keeneland, Eclipse champion Street Sense was made the 4-5 morning-line favorite in a field of seven for the Blue Grass. And, at Oaklawn, where I have toiled the last three months, Curlin was installed the 7-5 overnight favorite for the Derby. But that's a generous price. He will be no higher than 3-5 at post time.

In handicapping the races, I've come to the conclusion that, despite the shorter field, there is more of a chance of an upset in the Blue Grass than in the Arkansas Derby.

There is the chance that Street Sense, a one-dimensional closer, will be the victim of a false pace in the Blue Grass.

Of the seven horses in the Blue Grass, the only speed is Teuflesberg.

In fact on paper, Teuflesberg, who wired the Southwest Stakes two-back at Oaklawn, is the absolute lone speed of the Blue Grass.

Those with long memories will recall that a colt named Sinister Minister wired the Blue Grass last year by open lengths...and was never heard from again.

With due respect to Sinister Minister, Teuflesberg has the much better credentials.

In his last start, in the $300,000 Rebel at Oaklawn, Teuflesberg, with regular rider Stew Elliott up, hopped at the start, and that mistake pretty much cost him any chance to win.
Still, he got back in the race, and actually moved with Curlin on the second turn.

It was quite a sight to see: Teuflesberg, a $5,000 horse running in lockstep with Curlin, a $3.5 million horse. Curlin went on to win handily, while Teuflesberg faded through the lane.

Trainer Jamie Sanders pleaded with Elliott to ride Teuflesberg back in the Blue Grass, but Mr. Smarty chose to stay at Oaklawn on Saturday to ride several live horses, notably Run Alex Run, a very good-looking three-year-old, in the Northern Spur.

But Sanders lucked out.

A jockey named Prado somehow was open for the Blue Grass, and Edgar agreed to take the mount.

There is no better speed-rider in the business than Edgar Prado, and you have to believe that Edgar will do everything in his power to put Teuflesberg on the lead, and try to steal the race.

Moreover, Sanders got lucky again when Teuflesberg drew an outside post (the six).

This way, Teuflesberg, usually a bad actor in the gate, won't have to stand long in the iron monster.

"The (outside) post is a blessing in disguise," says Sanders.

Not only is Street Sense a devout closer, but so is Great Hunter, the Pennsylvania-bred who is listed as the 9-5 second choice.

You can pretty much assume that jockeys Borel and Nakatani will be watching each other, and that none of the other riders in the race will be going to go hell-bent after Teuflesberg, knowing full that the horses in the back are the ones to beat.

Who knows if Teuflesberg can pull off another Sinister Minister? But I do know that, at 12-1, the reward is certainly worth the risk.

I'll have my final opinions in both Derby Preps along with a full card's worth of winners, exactas, trifecta, and more, at both Oaklawn Park and Keeneland for Saturday's big day. To get aboard, just call my office toll free at 1-888-612-2283, or easier still, sign up for my Road To The Derby package right here online.

Unlike the Blue Grass, the Arkansas Derby is loaded with speed.

There is the Wayne Lukas-trained Flying First Class, who looked his old self last Monday working five-eighths in a bullet: 59 2/5 at Oaklawn. In this case, it's Prado off, but FFC gets a first-rate speed rider in Terry Thompson, who rode three winners on Thursday, and knows every inch of the Oaklawn track.

Then there is Deadly Dealer, who scored back-to-back wire jobs for trainer Todd Pletcher in Florida.

"This horse is super fast," his exercise rider, a fellow named Angel Cordero Jr., told me the other day, "but we just don't know how far he'll carry that speed."

Deadly Dealer drew the outside post for the Arkansas Derby, so you know that jockey Velazquez will have no choice but to send him.

A third speed horse is Storm in May, who won the Sunshine Millions Dash. Since no Sunshine Millions horse has ever run in the Arkansas Derby, nobody quite knows what to expect from this guy.

Trainer Bill Kaplan isn't saying.

"This sucker can run," Kaplan told me, "but he can run from behind too."

Kaplan will be the first Midwood (Brooklyn) High School graduate to ever run a horse at Oaklawn Park. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if Storm in May, dismissed at 15-1 in the morning line, gets a piece of the trifecta and superfecta.

I say a piece because if Curlin runs back to the Rebel, the rest of the Arkansas Derby field is running for second money.

"Curlin looks like a freak," says Bob Holthus, who has Officer Rocket in the Derby. "I wouldn't be surprised if Curlin wins the Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby."

Speaking of the Kentucky Derby, I got a phone call on Thursday morning from Larry Jones, the trainer of Hard Spun. The call came moments after Hard Spun, in his make-or-break work for the Kentucky Derby, breezed five-eighths in a bullet 1:00 1/5 with veteran jockey Larry Melancon up at Churchill Downs.

"He worked great," Jones said. "Now it's on to the Derby. The Derby is no longer a dream. It is now a reality."

This is a very good quote, as well as very good news for the readers of this space, who have followed the exploits of Hard Spun since last September at Delaware Park. Except for the one hiccup in the Southwest here at Oaklawn, Hard Spun has been death and taxes while traveling the Derby trail.

When the news of Hard Spun's good work spread at Oaklawn, there was a huge general sigh of relief. I figure that's because the whole place is down on him in the Future Book, be it Vegas or Churchill.

Hard Spun closed at 20-1 in Churchill's Pool Two. It will be interesting to see what price he closes in this weekend's pool three. I have to think he'll be no more than 8-1 in the actual betting.

Let me digress for a moment. .

I had the Aqueduct races on Thursday afternoon on my TV, and was informed after the second race that the rest of the card was cancelled due to heavy rain.

Now I see that the Mets-Phils game is going on as scheduled. It makes me wonder why they just don't close the New York tracks until the day they find a buyer...or open the casinos.

The Instant Racing room here at Oaklawn stays open to 2am, and you can't find a parking spot...or an open machine.

Yes, sir. Can't wait 'til they get slots at the Big A.

Finally, two more points about the Arkansas Derby.

Point One:

When Curlin won the Rebel, jockey Albarado was flying the gold and burgundy silks of Stonestreet Stables. But on Derby Day, Albarado will be wearing the green and gold of Padua Stables.

(Stonestreet and Padua and some other rich folks are partners in Curlin.)  

"The owners made several calls to inform us they are alternating silks," a racing official explained to me. "I've never seen this before.  Beats the heck out of me."

Point two:

The field of 10 includes a first-time starter named Olympic Chief. The horse has been working leisurely at a Kentucky training center. He will be ridden jockey Kato, whose claim to fame was a last place finish on the 88-1 Carmella Soprano Thursday at Keeneland.

The owner of Olympic Chief, an Arizona attorney, put up 15K of his clients' green to run the horse, and he honestly believes he has a chance to win...and then go right to the Kentucky Derby.

I have nothing against a great story, but it will be interesting to see exactly how much is wagered on Olympic Chief on Saturday.

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