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Apr 21, 2007

Through The Binoculars

By: JOHN PIESEN


Once again, the Road to the Triple Crown runs through Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Such was the case in '04 with Smarty Jones, and in '05 with Afleet Alex. Only some extenuating circumstances ended the streak in '06 when Lawyer Ron got beat. Of course, Lawyer Ron probably will win the Breeders' Cup Classic next fall.

That brings us to Curlin.

You may recall that in my Derby Top Ten last week, I listed Curlin second - to Hard Spun. As far as I could tell, no other Top Ten had Curlin in the top ten last week.

And then Curlin went out and won the Arkansas Derby on Saturday by a record 10½  lengths, posting a Triple Crown prep-best Beyer of 103. By comparison, Dominican got a 93 for winning the Blue Grass.

Maybe it's the fact that the Arkansas Derby got virtually no media exposure explains why Curlin remains a state secret as far as the national media is concerned.

I am looking at some Derby Top Tens published today by the Louisville Courier Journal.

Hold on to your life jackets.

This is embarrassing.

Rick Bozich ranks Curlin fourth - to Scat Daddy.

I'm sick already.

Jennie Rees ranks Curlin seventh - to Street Sense.

Jennie does a great job, but obviously she was writing her Blue Grass lead at the time of the Arkansas Derby.

Eric Crawford ranks Curlin eighth - to Nobiz Like Shobiz.

Eric may need to review his rankings.

David Grening ranks Curlin 10th - to Street Sense.

I once had David's job so I know the work load can be overbearing.

Cliff Guilliams ranks Curlin seventh - to Nobiz Like Shobiz.

You get my drift.

On the other hand, let's take a look at how the gamblers see the Derby.

Churchill Downs ran Pool Three of its Derby Futures over the weekend, and
Curlin is not No. 10 or No. 7.

No, indeed.

Curlin is the 7-2 favorite.

And you have to go back a ways to find the second choice - Street Sense at 6-1!

Nobiz Like Shobiz?

10-1.

Scat Daddy?

11-1.

For more on Curlin, I went to the barn this morning to check him out.

Not a pimple.

Then I jumped in my rented car, and followed him to beautiful Hot Springs
Memorial Field to make sure he got out of town OK.

Remember Pete Anderson?

If not, Pete was one of the great New York riders from the lost generation, and, now, in his second career as a trainer, he has developed Delightful Kiss for Hobeau Farm into a good three-year-old. 

Delightful Kiss, who closed for fourth in the Arkansas Derby, was on the same flight to Louisville with Curlin, and Storm in May and Deadly Dealer, who finished two-three in the Derby.

In other words, the first four finishers in the Arkansas Derby shared the same plane to Louisville.

Anderson watched Curlin load, and said to me:

"John, old buddy. Curlin has run only three rimes so he has lots to prove. But as I look at him, I'm thinking Secretariat and Swaps."

You'll notice...not Scat Daddy and No Biz Like Shobiz.

Later today, before penning this column, I checked with the Keeneland barn to make sure that Curlin arrived safely in the land of the Blue Grass.

"I'm looking at Curlin in his stall right now," assistant trainer Scott Blasi said from Keeneland, "and he's doing fine."

Oh, yes.

"Curlin told me to thank the folks in Arkansas for their hospitality and their support."

Done.

Now, let's get back to the nuts and bolts of handicapping.

On my phone service (1-888-612-2283) last weekend, I gave out Teuflesberg in the Blue Grass at 9-1. He got beat a half-length after leading to the shadow of the wire. In my mind, he should have been 6-5. Doesn't matter. He got beat. Sorry.

The news was better at Oaklawn. I said that Curlin was a lock, and I made Officer Rocket and Storm in May my second and third selections. Officer Rocket was slammed at the start, and was eliminated. Storm in May finished second at 30-1 to complete a $59 exacta.

Another example of where you need to go to get winners...especially winners on the Triple Crown trail. www.JohnPiesen.com

Which reminds me.

Some folks don't get it.

There was a first-time starter in the Arkansas Derby named Olympic Chief. The Rev. Sharpton has a better chance of getting elected President than this horse had of winning the race. He was 50-1 on the morning line, and should have been 500-1.

Yet, Olympic Chief went off a shorter price than one horse --  a stakes-winner named Slew by Slew (50-1 compared to 52-1).

Olympic Chief of course finished last, beaten 60 lengths. But his connections were happy. The horse didn't bother anyone, and he actually finished the race.

A note on ESPN.

I'm sure money was the issue. It always it. But someone has to tell me why mighty ESPN devoted an hour to the Blue Grass, and completely ignored the Arkansas Derby. Although I think I heard the announcer say during the wrap-up that the Derby will be shown live later on ESPN News.

I have to believe that few racing-media folks have access to ESPN News.

Oh, yes.

Steve Asmussen, the trainer of Curlin, won the two other stakes on the Derby program, as well as two other races, one for old buddy Maggi Moss.

According to historians, this was the single biggest day for a trainer in the 103-year history of Oaklawn Park.

On the other hand, Asmussen is 0-for-5 in the Derby.

He'll never have a better shot.

 Incidentally, they will flip a coin tonight at Curlin's barn to see which owner gets to see  his silks in the Derby. I make Shirley Cunnigham's black and blue silks the 4-5 favorite.                                                                                          

Finally, here's my latest Derby Top Ten:

  1. Curlin
  2. Hard Spun
  3. Circular Quay
  4. Storm in May
  5. Chelokee
  6. Scat Daddy
  7. Nobiz Like Shobiz
  8. Tiago
  9. Zanjer
  10. Street Sense





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