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Aug 10, 2007

Through The Binoculars

By: JOHN PIESEN


Ran into Lou Raffetto the other day at Monmouth Park, and wished him luck on his revolutionary experiment that starts today. Raffetto spent the first 20 years of his racing front-office career at Monmouth before moving on to become CEO of Maryland racing, and still maintains a home on the Jersey shore.

In case you missed it, starting today (Friday) at Laurel Park, thanks to Raffetto the takeout has been sliced to 11.4 per cent, compared to the national average of 20 per cent.

Raffetto calls the program: "Ten Days at 10 per cent!"

The takeout will be 10 per cent on all bets on all live races at Laurel, which runs a 10-day meet through Aug. 23...plus the necessary allocation to the Maryland Million Fund, resulting in a blended rate of 11.4 per cent.

Going further, the lower takeout really kicks in on the gimmicks, where the average takeout rate is 25.75 per cent.

"We want people to focus on the Maryland product during a very competitive period (meaning Saratoga and Del Mar)," says Raffetto. "We decided this is the best time to walk the walk. I have been encouraged by the positive response that we have received from the fans and the media."

Wishing Raffetto luck...and hoping that other racing venues follow his lead.

Switching gears...

On Wednesday, my hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y., sure made news both at the front and the back of the newspaper.

We all know the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn was hammered that morning by a tornado, the first twister to hit the borough in 118 years, producing millions of dollars in damages, but thankfully no loss of life.

Later in the day at Saratoga, a 2-year-old named Maimonides, a $4.6 million colt from the sheiks and trainer Baffert, won his debut by 11 lengths with five and a half furlongs in 1:04 2/5, clearly the most impressive performance to date at the Spa.

Well, maybe except for Lawyer Ron.

It was reported in the media that Maimonides was named for a prominent Jewish philosopher of the Middle Ages. But residents of Brooklyn, N.Y., know better. He had to be named for Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn.

This is important to know because it just happens that this writer entered the world in Maimonides Hospital.

Meantime, that was vintage Baffert in the winner's circle.

"Trainers live for a horse like this," Bob said. "I'm just going to brag on him for a couple of weeks, and raise the insurance on him. You don't normally put a two-year-old on a plane (from California), and ship him in, and run him in a maiden race. In fact, this is the first maiden race I've ever won at Saratoga.

"Now, I will go into Pletcher mode. Keep my mouth shut, and let the horse tell us where to run next."

That said, I can just see the Louisville Courier-Journal headline next spring on the first Sunday in May:

MAIMONIDES, NAMED FOR BIRTHPLACE OF LEGENDARY RACING WRITER JOHN PIESEN, WINS KENTUCKY DERBY!

Well, maybe not...

Speaking of Pletcher:

The Toddster pretty much made it official this week. He will not run Belmont winner Rags to Riches in the Alabama, nor will he run Haskell winner Any Given Saturday in the Travers. He will have the Alabama favorite in Mother Goose winner Octave, but will likely sit out the Travers.

At this point, Street Sense has only two opponents for the Travers - Sightseeing and Loose Leaf, but chances are the race will wind up with six or seven. Regardless, Street Sense figures to be the shortest Travers favorite since 1967 when Damascus won the race by 22 lengths at 20 cents to the dollar.

(That was before my time, so I just wonder how nervous the players were when Damascus was 16 lengths back at the five-eighths pole.)

For those keeping score at home, this will be the 40th anniversary of that event.

Don't feel too bad for old Todd if indeed he comes up horseless for the Travers.

Tomorrow, for example, Todd will run eight (count 'em, eight) at Arlington Park, including four in the three big grass races, and jockey Gomez will be aboard five of them.
 
Will eight be enough?

Let's take a look...

Race 5:
Tiganello (#5) won the Mister Gus Stakes in his only start over the course. He sheds the blinkers, one pound, and is first-time Gomez. He has Delaware shipper Galantas to beat.

Race 6:
Happy Humor (#9) is a $600,000 son of Distorted Humor, the sport's hottest sire,
He is the only horse in the field who was nominated to the Triple Crown, and is the most lightly-raced member of the field. He is also one-for-one over the track. Trainer Holthus would love nothing more than to beat Pletcher with Morada Key.

Race 7 (The $400,000 Secretariat):
In recent days, Pletcher won the Virginia Derby, the United Nations, the Delaware Handicap and the Whitney Handicap with one part of an uncoupled entry - in each case (except for the UN) the longer price. Here he has Red Giant (#5), who won the Virginia Derby at $76, and Pleasant Strike (#9), who is two-for-three over the course, including the Arlington Classic.

For what it's worth, Gomez rides Red Giant while jockey Douglas stays on Pleasant Strike.

The horse to beat is the late-running Going Ballistic, a $4,000 yearling who has banked nearly $400,000.

Race 8 (The $750,000 Beverly D):
The well-traveled Honey Rider (#6) is by far the biggest money-earner in the field with $2.3 million and counting. She picks up eight pounds off the United Nations, in which she closed for second to uncoupled male stalemate English Channel (the favorite Saturday in the Sword Dancer at the Spa).

Citronnade, riding a four graded-stake winning streak on the left coast, is the chalk speed from the one-hole. A possible upsetter is Royal Highness, whose second last time at Delaware was much better than it looks on paper.

Race 9 (The Arlington Million):
Pletcher is shooting high here with Sunriver (#2). The four-year-old and The Tin Man
Are the only speeds in the race, and Sunriver is getting five years (but no pounds) from the nine-year-old grass star. 

It would be no shock if Sunriver and The Tin Man cook each other on the lead, setting the Million up for one of the Euros.

And did you know that the Million was the brainchild of the late Sonny Werblin? But before Sonny implemented the idea for the Million, he sought and received the approval of DRF columnist Joe Hirsch.

Race 11 (The $45,000 Nicole's Dream):
Yachats (#1) had worse trip than the Titanic last time at Monmouth in his grass debut. Previously she was beaten a neck by graded stakes-winner Teammate. Ready to Talk (#9) is fresh from off-the-grass score at Arlington, and Albarado sticks around to ride.


Finally, on the day of the Funny Cide retirement celebration in the rain at Saratoga, congratulations to the golden gelding, and to Team Knowlton for always doing the right thing by the horse,

Who knows if we will ever again have such charismatic Derby winners back-to-back as Funny Cide and Smarty Jones?



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