Jun 08, 2007
Through The Binoculars
By: JOHN PIESEN
Students of handicapping well understand that throwing out the favorite in a given race is tantamount to handing Willie Sutton the keys to the vault.
A classic example was last weekend when readers of this venue were advised to toss Cowtown Cat, the 3-5 favorite, in Saturday's $300,000 Ohio Derby at Thistle Down. It was pointed out that the Mt. Pletcher colt was beaten in his prior race - the Kentucky Derby - by a mere 52 lengths while bounding home dead last in the 20-horse field.
It was further suggested that the best way to play the race was to box the five Oaklawn Park alumni in the eight-horse lineup.
Delightful Kiss, coming off the Arkansas Derby, aired at 25-1, and Moyer's Pond, a two-time OP winner, finished second to cap a $250 exacta. Cowtown Cat was off the board, once again beaten at double digits.
Fact is Saturday was another especially good day for the folks who have the foresight to ring up the John Piesen Hot Line (1-888-612-2283). As you can see on the home page of my website, JP nailed five straight winners Saturday at Belmont Park, including several triple-digit gimmicks.
Hopefully, my four-month hot streak will continue up to and including an appearance in the national handicapping contest at Oaklawn in mid-August. But that's a story for another day.
In the meantime, the Belmont Stakes, to be run Saturday at Belmont, continues to generate the most buzz in the racing world.
No one will disagree that the Curlin-Street Sense duel in the Preakness was an all-timer. Kind of the racing equivalent of Lebron's game five against Detroit.
But racing has taken two blows to the head since the Preakness.
First, of course, was the decision by Street Sense's connections to skip the Belmont.
And now comes word that the Sheiks have purchased both Street Sense (now we know why Street Sense is not going in the Belmont) and Hard Spun for stallion duties.
So much for either horse competing next year as a 4-year-old.
Let's be practical here. I make the over-under July 15 for the career finale for both horses.
And you can be sure Curlin won't be far behind.
My old teammate Ray Kerrison sums up this sorry situation with his usual eloquence in Monday's editions of the New York Post.
It's been years since we've seen three such supremely talented 3-year-old in one crop.
Just don't expect to see any of them much longer.
As of now, the field numbers seven for the Belmont Stakes with Curlin looking like 3-5.
But here is something to think about:
Unlike Churchill Downs and Pimlico, the New York tracks require that all runners spend extended time on race day in the detention barn. This factor adds an entire new handicapping factor to the equation.
Some trainers boast outstanding records coming out of the detention barn.
Some do not.
Meantime, Curlin this morning had his final work for the Belmont at Churchill Downs. With regular exercise rider Carmen Rosas up, Curlin went a half-mile in :50 3/5 over a fast strip.
"Curlin looked great," said trainer Asmussen. "At this point, the most important part of the work is that he went relaxed and smooth."
Curlin will be flown Tuesday afternoon to Belmont Park accompanied by assistant trainer Scott Blasi. Asmussen is due Thursday.
Meanwhile, Larry Jones, the trainer of Hard Spun, can always hook on as a meteorologist if he decides to give up the 24/7 world of horse training.
Jones, who is negotiating for a gig this week on the Mike and the Mag Dog radio/TV program, had planned to work Hard Spun on Monday morning at Belmont, but switched to Sunday because he feared soaking rain and a sloppy track.
So Hard Spun's work was moved up to Sunday, and he went five-eighths in 1:03 with new rider Garrett Gomez up for the first time. And, sure enough, Belmont got three inches of rain Sunday night.
Hard Spun had been stabled at Delaware Park, hard off exit 4B of I-95, under the supervision of Larry and wife Cindy Jones, and barn manager Wayne Hughes, who, in a previous lifetime, was the top assistant for harness racing immortal Bill Haughton.
During a visit to Delaware Park last week, I was informed by Hughes that the barn was overrun with inquiring media during the two weeks between the Derby, where Hard Spin finished second, and the Preakness, where he ran third.
"I guess the media lost the faith after the Preakness," Hughes said, "because we haven't had a single media person here...that is until you showed up."
I couldn't help notice that Hard Spun is looking terrific despite the hard grind.
"Just look at him," says trainer Jones. "You can barely see any sign of a rib, and he's still got a belly. I guarantee you he's as heavy today as he was going into the Derby. We're very fortunate. It's something that doesn't happen. I run enough cheap ones to know they don't come out of a race as good as Hard Spun does. And they don't even try, half of them.
"It's unbelievable to think about what he's done, and the paces he's been setting in the races, and to be as good as he is."
I'm sure that Curlin looks equally terrific.
But I have to wonder what kind o toll the five races in 11 weeks will take on Curlin.
Then there is the travel factor.
Since March 11, Curlin has been transported from New Orleans to Hot Springs, from Hot Springs to Lexington, from Lexington to Hot Springs, from Hot Springs to Louisville, from Louisville to Baltimore, from Baltimore to Louisville...and finally Tuesday from Louisville to New York.
Hey, there's no bigger Curlin fan this writer. You'll recall I picked him in the Derby and Preakness. But I'm not about to concede him the Belmont at 3-5.
The Belmont today picked up a seventh runner. His name is Time Squared, who has won two of his last three starts for trainer Biancone, and was beaten only three lengths in the Blue Grass by Dominican and Street Sense.
Time Squared is owned partially by Lewis Laken, who raced Rebel winner Greater Good with trainer Holthus.
Laken and friends parted with $1 million for Time Squared, a New York-bred, at auction.
"With Curlin and Hard Spun in the Belmont," says Biancone, "...we'd be delighted to finish third."
Jockey Leparoux, who rides everything in the barn, has the call on Time Squared for the Belmont.
The Belmont field, which also will include Tiago, Imawildandcrazy guy, Slew's Tizzy and Digger, will be drawn at a media brunch on Wednesday morning, and will be shown locally on Fox TV.
Digger's owner says that any purse money that Digger scores in the Belmont will go to charity. A noble gesture indeed. But Digger has as much chance of getting a piece of the Belmont pie as Tony Soprano has of surviving Sunday.
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