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May 18, 2007

Through The Binoculars

By: JOHN PIESEN


SIZING UP THE PREAKNESS

Of the 20 horses who competed in the Kentucky Derby on May 5, how many would you guess are coming back in Saturday's Preakness?

The answer is three.

The first three.

Street Sense. Hard Spun. Curlin.

That's all, folks.

Isn't it remarkable that 17 horses, who commanded so much attention from the media and the players a mere two weeks back, seemingly have disappeared off the face of the earth?

Where have you gone Scat Daddy?

Nobiz Like Showbiz?

Any Given Saturday?

Tiago?

Hey, let's not be too hasty about Tiago. From all reports, Tiago, who was Brad Thomas' selection, finished strongest in the Derby, and actually passed Street Sense and Hard Spun in the gallop-out.

That said, it's good to see the media attention that Larry Jones and Calvin Borel suddenly are getting, especially considering the fact that, for three months at Oaklawn Park this winter, I rarely saw any press within 100 yards of either guy.

Even my man Andy Beyer has discovered Hard Spun and trainer Jones. Andy has a well-crafted thousand-word puff piece on them in Monday's Washington Post.

Which reminds me.

Right there on page one of Sunday's New York Times was a terrific Borel feature from Joe Drape.

Too bad nobody was talking or writing about Borel back in February and March when he was winning races at Oaklawn with the same rail move he showed the world in the Derby. In fact, there was one race Borel won on a Bob Holthus claimer by coming through on the rail where there was room for maybe half a horse. To this day, I don't know how Calvin didn't wind up in the infield. He can thank Terry Thompson.

But the bottom line is that Calvin Borel is a good rider. And a good guy. Always has been. And he deserves all the notoriety (sic) he's getting.

I hope you'll join me for my Preakness Weekend Selections. Friday there are 5 stakes races at Pimlico including the Black-Eyed Susan, and then the Full Card at Pimico (and Belmont Park) for Preakness Day. I hit the exacta ($101.80) and trifecta box ($440.00) in the Derby, and feel confident we'll have another stellar Preakness next week. Sign up for your picks here online, or call me toll free at 1-888-612-2283.

Back to the Preakness.

Obviously, the Big Three of Street Sense, Hard Spun and Curlin -- the $440.00 Derby trifecta box on the John Piesen Hot Line (1-888-612-2283) -- will dominate the pre-race attention. Dominate is the wrong word. They will get 99 per cent of the media attention in the days leading up to the race.

And it will surprise absolutely no one if they again finish 1-2-3, if not necessarily in the same order.

The key to this logic is Michael Matz.

After much deliberation, trainer Matz has decided to run his good colt Chelokee in the  Barbaro Stakes on the Preakness undercard rather than in the Preakness.

Matz - as is owner Little -- is very high on Chelokee, but he clearly has deduced the colt has no shot against the Big Three in the Preakness.

And Chelokee would have been the fourth choice!

That leaves - at this writing - five others to round out the Preakness field. You've seen the names in all the papers. King of the Roxy, Xchanger, Flying First Class, C P West and Mint Slewlep.

Where is Ravel?

The offer that this writer made back in March is still open. Back then in this space I said that I would eat Ravel's oats if Ravel ever beats Hard Spun in a meaningful race. At the time, Ravel was ranked higher than Hard Spun in virtually every media Top Ten, and was even ranked No. 1 by some experts.

Although Ravel didn't make the Derby, his trainer Todd Pletcher did. That was the good news. The bad news is that Pletcher threw five blanks, making him 0-for-19 in the Derby.

It's interesting that King of the Roxy will be only the second-ever Preakness starter for the Todd Squad. But Todd is still getting the ink. There's a feature on Roxy in Monday's New York Post in which owner Barry Irwin says he is running for second money (after Street Sense).

Personally, I find it deplorable that Richard Migliore, who rode Roxy to a second-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby, gets bumped for the Preakness. That figured because why pay round-trip airfare from California when stable jock Johnny V. is on the grounds. Of course, The Mig probably would have agreed to pay his own way.

When Roxy worked three-quarters in 1:14 4/5 on Saturday morning at Belmont Park, Garrett Gomez was in the irons...while Johnny V. was on workmate Sunriver.

What gives there?

At this point in time, Gomez has no Preakness mount. But Pletcher is suggesting that he will run something else in the Preakness (right now it's a top secret), and, if he does, we can presume Gomez will have the call.

King of the Roxy yet may be the best of the Little Five...or Little Six. Roxy has won two graded stakes, has placed in two others, and has banked nearly a half-mill in seven starts.

Incidentally, Roxy's claim to fame is that he was the reason why Lawyer Ron wound up in Pletcher's barn.

On the same day (Sept. 23, 2006) that Roxy won the Belmont Futurity for Pletcher and Irwin, Lawyer Ron, then trained by Holthus, finished second at odds-on to Strong Contender in the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs.

Two days later, Lawyer Ron magically went from Holthus to Pletcher, and last month won the Oaklawn Handicap, and this month will be favored to win the Met Mile.

As for Roxy, I have to believe that he would have a better chance in the Preakness if the race were run at a mile rather than at a mile and three-sixteenths.

That probably holds true for Flying First Class and Xchanger as well. Both colts boast high speed, and could pose problems on the front end for Hard Spun.

Of course Hard Spun doesn't need the lead. He showed that in the Lane's End when he sat a stalking third, and inhaled the speed on the stretch turn.

But don't dismiss Flying First Class out of hand. You may remember that he was favored over Curlin the Rebel at Oaklawn. He didn't run a lick that day, but he sure did in the Derby Trial, and this wouldn't be the first Triple Crown shocker from trainer Lukas. He held FFC in high regard at Oaklawn, and does so more than ever in the wake of his Derby Trial blowout.

Like FFC, C P West is in good hands. Trainer Zito won the Preakness with Louis Quatorze when no one gave him a shot.

C P West was only 10-1 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall, and had a nightmare trip. Both his races this year were excellent, and he has top jock Prado. Would that not be a story for the ages if Edgar wins the Preakness a year late?

As for Mint Slewlep, who will be the rank outsider, it pays to note that he was beaten a mere two lengths by C P West closing for fourth in a fast-run Withers Mile.

Finally, thanks to Bloodhorse columnist Steve Haskin, we now know more - much more - about Curlin's Derby trip.

To paraphrase:

Curlin had to steady early when Sedgefield and Storm in May came together in front of him, forcing Curlin to drop well back going to the first turn.

Leaving the half-mile, Curlin, in 13th place at the time, was sandwiched between Zanjero
and Sam P. After working hard to get through those two, he then hit a wall of horses.

There was one opening available. Jockey Albarado shot for the hole, but jockey Flores, on Liquidity, came out and shut him off.

And, in coming out, Flores opened the fence for Street Sense.

Turning for home, Curlin was fanned way out to the middle of the track, and passed Any Given Saturday, No Biz and Sedgefield in the final furlong to get up for third.

To his credit, trainer Asmussen has not complained about Curlin's Derby trip, citing instead that Curlin, despite his inexperience, performed well to beat 17 horses in the Kentucky Derby. 

And, obviously, Curlin lives to race another day.

 



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