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Aug 24, 2007

Through The Binoculars



Yes, I know the last five Travers odds-on favorites - including Bernardini last year - have won the race with no problem, and from everything I see and hear, Street Sense will have no problem making it six.

And chances are they are probably right. There is no denying that Street Sense is the best racehorse in North America at the present time, he's a head and a nose short of being 5-for-5 this year, he's in peak form, has top connections, and of his six rivals, only one has won a Grade 2 much less a Grade 1.

No wonder Street Sense will be 1-5 in the Travers...and I suspect he has a 90 per cent chance to win.

But it's that 10 per cent that intrigues it should anyone who has spent more than  a day and a half in this game.

Hey, by all means Street Sense needs to be used in every gimmick. But maybe, just maybe, he'll fall that head or a nose short with his standard stretch kick.

In other words, in case you haven't heard, and despite everything that you see and hear, Street Sense doesn't have to win the Travers.

Yes, as noted above, there is not another Grade 1 horse in the Travers field. But there sure are some Grade 1 trainers. And that's where upsets occur.

Scroll down the list. There is Zito, who beat Smarty Jones and Saint Liam. There is McPeek, who beat War Emblem, and nearly beat Thunder Gulch And there are  McGaughey and Howard, who have been knocking off super horses since the Carter Administration.

Hey, just last week, Student Council won the Pacific Classic at 23-1 under Howard's training.

"I'm going into the Travers with a lot of confidence," Howard, who trained Mineshaft to Horse of the Year four years back, told me this morning. "We are very excited about our horse. He's overcome some health issues, and some gate problems, and he's at the point now where we feel he can become a really good horse. You know that Mr. Farish and I wouldn't be running this horse if we didn't think he had a chance."

Howard's horse is Grasshopper, who is 3-1-1 in five starts, capped by a six-length allowance victory over the Saratoga track, posting a 104 Beyer number. If indeed it's the Beyers that float your boat, Street Sense received the identical fig for his Jim Dandy triumph.

Then there is Sightseeing.

The Shugster, who - for those scoring at home - has won three Travers, has been pointing this Pulpit colt all year for the Travers, and his fast-closing third to Street Sense (and his gallop-out) in the Jim Dandy was most impressive.

And you have to figure that jockey Prado doesn't hurt his chances.

Looking down the list, Loose Leaf was a blowout winner over the track for McPeek at nine furlongs, and he's two-for-three with leading rider Desmormeaux.

The Helen Pitts-trained For You Reppo, who has a big stretch kick, overcame a slow start to beat Sightseeing a length for second in a maiden race last winter at Gulfstream Park.

Incidentally, Pitts was McPeek's No. 1 assistant for years before going out on her own. And it was McPeek who picked out a nice 2-year-old last Fall, and wound up giving him to Pitts to train.

That, of course, was Curlin.

As for C P West, you must respect a speed horse from trainer Zito. The Came Home colt never stopped running when second to Street Sense in the Jim Dandy, and he worked a bullet half in :46 the other day.

Jockey Cornelio rode C P West for the first time in the Jim Dandy, and obviously went to school.

The bottom line is that Street Sense is by far the likeliest winner, but he still has to come with his "A" race.

Hey, the Travers is never the easiest race to win. If it was, jockey Cordero would have won the race more than once (Chief's Crown) in 23 tries.
Speaking of Cordero...

This was at the Fourstardave Gala the other night at the Gideon-Putnam in Saratoga.

John Henderson, the founder and president of the Fourstardave Fan Club, was speaking to Cordero, and mentioned that John Piesen sends his regards.

At the mention of my name, Cordero was not impressed.

"You know, Angel," Henderson then told Cordero, "...Piesen always says that you are the best rider he ever saw."

"Hell," Cordero replied, "...Piesen never wrote that when he was at the Post!"

Cordero is probably right.

So I'm writing it now:

"Angel Cordero Jr. is the best rider I ever saw."

Good luck, Junior.

And good luck to some other racing luminaries, the three aitches: Hal Handel, Herb McCauley and Hard Spun.

Handel, a premier Jersey/Pennsylvania racing executive for many years, yesterday was hired by NYRA as top gun. NYRA could not have made a better hire, and, by Handel accepting the position, it makes one think that NYRA is a lock to keep the franchise.

"If not," says Handel, "I'll be out of a job."

Sure, Hal. And I have some oceanfront property in Pittsburgh to sell.

McCauley, at age 50, announced yesterday he is planning a comeback.

One of the most talented and aggressive riders of his generation, McCauley looked kaput when he broke his leg horribly in a Monmouth spill back in 1998. Herb has spent the last few years in racing, mostly as a horse broker, but no jock I ever saw missed riding more than he has.

At his age, the odds are stacked against him, but I'm sure he hasn't forgotten how to ride. And he's at his riding weight of 114 pounds.

Just a warning to these young turks. If you mess with ol' Herb, you're gonna find yourself in the infield.

Here's an off-the-track example of McCauley's competitive nature.

Back in '93, I somehow found myself flying first class from Newark to the Breeders' Cup in California, and who walks up from coach but Herb McCauley.


As for Hard Spun, I'll be his biggest fan on Travers Day when he runs in the co-featured King's Bishop. He'll be a short price, but he won't be able to afford any missteps from a tough post in a tough field.

There are no gimmees in Grade Ones at Saratoga, and that goes for this race.

Hard Spun does have some history on his side.

Exactly 10 years ago, a nice colt named Tale of the Cat won the King's Bishop three weeks after getting beat four lengths in the Haskell.

Like Tale of the Cat, Hard Spun was beaten four lengths in the Haskell.

Finally, here are a couple of Saratoga 2-year-olds to watch:

Sabooh and Prussian.

Both impressed in first-out blowout wins, and look Breeders' Cup quality

Sabooh is kin to Rags to Riches, which reminds me to congratulate the Toddster for yesterday breaking his 0-for-30 schneid.

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