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Apr 27, 2007

Through The Binoculars


Back home from Arkansas, and one of my first stops was a stress test.

I can think of better ways to spend five hours, but it's something that needs to be done.

Actually, it wasn't that bad because the technician was a big racing fan, and in fact knows a helluva lot more about the game than I do. Yet, that said, he wanted my Derby picks.
I gave him the web site and the phone-service number.

The man obviously knows my Derby resume. Winner after winner. Exactas. Tris. Supers. Eight of 11 winners at one point in time. You know the drill.

In the weeks leading up to the Derby, I will sneak a look at various media Top Tens. It's more laughs than a Leno monologue. Actually a Carson monologue, but I don't want to be accused of living in the past.

One of the few Top Tens I take seriously is Steve Haskin's in Bloodhorse. Not so much because he's a terrific handicapper, but because he has a nose for news.

But now I have to wonder if Steve's been dipping into the mint juleps. He has Any Given Saturday on top...and Curlin sixth.

Hey, it's horse racing, and as we all know so well, anything can happen - especially on Any Given Saturday -- in a horse race. But this time I won't even go as far as to say I would share an oat bucket with Any Given Saturday if he beats Curlin. I doubt Mt. Pletcher would give me the opportunity.

But, hey it's the Derby...and every one is entitled to his or her opinion.

Speaking of opinions, here are a couple.

  1. The Derby should be like the Masters. Previous winners (especially the previous year) should get an automatic berth, regardless of graded stakes earnings. This way trainer Matz would be able to run Chelokee. Right now, Chelokee needs three defections to get in, and that probably won't happen. There's something terribly wrong when three trainers (Pletcher, Asmussen and O'Neill) have half the field.
  1. This whole graded-stakes earnings deal is out of whack. There must be a better way. Personally, why can't they run 28? I'm told they used to run 28 on the Widener chute at old Belmont Park, and there never was a problem. Hey, it's the Derby we're talking about...not a maiden race.

The bottom line is Chelokee - and Delightful Kiss - should be permitted to run.

On a related topic, old bud Randy Moss told his ESPN audience last week during the Lexington Stakes telecast that his first Derby was 1980. By coincidence, that also was my first Derby...and it was quite memorable to stay the least.

I've never told this story before. So here goes.

When New York Post sports editor Greg Gallo called me after the Thursday morning draw for my one-two-threes, I told him: 1. Bold n Ruling 2. Genuine Risk. 3. Jaklin Klugman.

"Piesen," he replied, "you can't do that. Nobody ever heard of Bold n Ruling. He's a thousand to one!"

There were two reasons for my pick. I actually liked Bold n Ruling, and I wanted to see what (if any) following I had back home in New York. Those were the days when OTB ran a separate pool.

And, sure enough. Bold n Ruling went off 70-1 on-track...and 23-1 at OTB.


Then they got to run the race. Randy Moss said he got to watch the race next to Red Smith. A few seats down, I got to watch the race with Ray Kerrison. Gallo was a no-show. I guess he was embarrassed that his lead guy was in the paper  picking a 70-1 shot.

You can look it up. Bold N Ruling made the lead from the inside leaving the three-eighths pole. My heart stopped. I was probably legally dead. But he took a bad step, and finished sixth to my second choice.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. It didn't take long to find out. While winning rider
Jacinto Vasquez was being interviewed in the press box (the guy called him Jacinto Velasquez), I was in the jocks' room chatting up Bold n Ruling's rider, a young chap named Patrick Valenzuela.

I asked PVal his take.

"Kid," he said, "I had it won. I hadn't asked my horse to run yet. I was a cinch. But my horse broke down. He finished sixth on three legs."

Sure enough, Bold N Ruling never ran again.

Footnote: All was forgiven the following year when I nailed the Pleasant
Colony-Woodchopper $500-plus exacta cold, which earned me a set of mint julep glasses for winning the press box contest.

The $500 exacta was at OTB. Believe it, there was no exacta betting on-track!

Speaking of the Lexington, did anyone notice that Starbase finished second  at 40-1, and that Forty Grams finished third at 10-1.

Starbase and Forty Grams both came out of Oaklawn Park. And, the same day, Kettleoneup and Xchanger (both Oaklawn horses) won stakes at Hawthorne and Pimlico, respectively.

My point is that every year horses come off the deep Oaklawn strip to win races at other tracks. I'm talking claimers and allowance horses here, not just stakes horses. It pays to notice that "OP" in the PPs. 

Speaking of Oaklawn, a pair of Derby-bound 3-year-olds who raced at Hot Springs this year made yesterday's Keeneland work tab.

Curlin, who will be favored despite Haskin putting him sixth, went five-eighths
in 1:00 4/5 with exercise rider Carmen Rosas aboard - the last quarter in :23 2/5.

"He looked like Curlin," trainer Asmussen told the press corps.

Hard Spun, with jockey Mario Pino flying in from Maryland for the work, went a
mile in 1:42 2/5, the final furlong in :12.

"I'm happy, and the horse is happy," said trainer Jones.

Folks can take anything they want from works, but I prefer my Derby horses to work fast.

One example was that same 1980 Derby.

On Tuesday morning, Plugged Nickle, who would go off the second choice, and Genuine Risk, who would go off at 10-1, worked minutes apart at Churchill Downs. I know because I was there. Remember, it was my first Derby.

Plugged Nickle went his five furlongs in 1:03. Genuine Risk went her five in :58.

No one else seemed to care...but I though the works were significant. And that was one reason when I called Boss Gallo with my picks Thursday morning; I picked Genuine Risk (bless her heart) second, and left Plugged Nickle out. Plugged Nickle, as it turned out, was beaten a pole - but wound up sprint champion.

The bottom line then, and still is...I like to see fast horses work fast. It's just me.

Any Given Saturday?


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