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Sep 14, 2007

Through The Binoculars


Before Hard Spun came along, veteran trainer Larry Jones made his reputation with fillies.

This is worth noting because, at the present time, Jones has an unbeaten 2-year-old filly in his Delaware Park shed named Proud Spell, and she’s heading to Belmont Park for
Saturday’s renewal of the Grade 2 Matron Stakes.

A daughter of Proud Citizen, Proud Spell, owned by former Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones, won first pop at Delaware by a pole, and came back to blow out winners,
posting a randy 95 Beyer number in the process.

“Proud Spell is on the small side,” Jones was saying this morning from the Keeneland Sales, “but she acts like she can run a little. We’re going up to New York with a lot of confidence.”

Proud Spell will be the first-ever Belmont Park mount for her rider, Gabriel Saez.

Although flying below the radar at Delaware Park, Saez, a 19-year-old product of Panama, is developing into one of the more accomplished young riders in the game.

In a riding colony dominated by hotshots Ramon Dominguez, Jeremy Rose and Mario Pino, young Saez has more than held his own. He starts the weeks in sixth place with 51
winners, and figures to move up a notch because jockey Alvarado, currently fifth in the stands, today starts a week’s suspension.

Saez is winning races at an 18 per cent clip, and as proof he’s still flying under the radar, he shows a flat-bet profit on $2 win wagers. Last week alone, he rode four double-digit winners.

Perhaps more important Saez already has survived a career-threatening crisis.

While enjoying a successful first meet last spring at Oaklawn Park, Saez was nailed on
a drugs charge, and was suspended by the Oaklawn stewards.

But, with the support of his agent, Ruben Munoz, and trainers Larry and Cindy Jones, Saez has made the most of his second chance, and has come back swinging for the fences. 

“This kid will be a superstar,” veteran rider Tony Black told Delaware officials last week.

If Saez was Rick Ankiel, and this was baseball rather than horse racing, the Saez Saga
would be page one news across the map.

Speaking of Larry Jones, he purchased an Unbridled’s Song colt yesterday for $800,000
at Keeneland on behalf of Delaware auto dealer Rick Porter.

This is the same Porter who owns Hard Spun, the Kentucky Derby runner-up whom Jones is pointing for the Kentucky Cup on Sept. 29 at Turfway Park.

It’s also the same Porter who bought and raced another son of Unbridled’s Song.

His name was Rockport Harbor.

Because of injuries, Rockport Harbor, trained by John Servis, never made the 2005
Kentucky Derby.

But maybe here we are looking at a contender for the ‘09 Derby.

As for Hard Spun, despite being beaten in all three Triple Crown races, the Danzig colt remains – at least in one man’s opinion – one of seven remaining candidates for Horse
of the Year.

The others are Street Sense, Curlin, Lawyer Ron, Rags to Riches, Any Given Saturday
and Majestic Warrior.

You notice that three of the six – Lawyer Ron, Rags to Riches and Any Given
Saturday – come from one barn: Todd Pletcher.

At this point, Street Sense – by virtue of his Derby and Travers victories –
clearly is the leading prospect for Horse of the Year.

But all bets are off if Street Sense gets beat in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, a distinct possibility over the speed-favoring Monmouth Park strip.

If the winner of the Breeders’ Cup turns out to be Lawyer Ron, Curlin, Hard Spun or Any Given Saturday, it will be hard for the Eclipse voters to deny him racing’s top honor – especially if he wins decisively.

Then what will happen if some 30-1 shot jumps up to win the Classic?

That would open the door for Rags to Riches.

If Rags to Riches wins Saturday’s Gazelle, and follows with a blowout score in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, she well could be the champion.

After all, an unbeaten 3-year-old campaign, featuring victories in the Belmont Stakes
and Breeders’ Cup Distaff would be a pretty impressive resume.

I included Majestic Warrior on the list because he looks to be the most impressive 2-year-old colt I’ve seen in years.

Victories in the Champagne and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile would complete a Seattle Slew-like four-for-four campaign for Majestic Warrior, who beat the best two-year-olds on the East Coast in winning the Hopeful in only his second start.

So that’s the Magnificent Seven for Horse of the Year. No doubt it will be interesting to follow their progress over the next three months.

Another horse who has had a sensational year is Ginger Punch, who vaulted to the top of the filly/mare division with her victory last Saturday in the Ruffian Handicap at Belmont Park.

In that race, Belmont lover Take D’ Tour, who has been invincible when permitted to run loose on the lead, indeed opened a daylight advantage midway through the race. But Ginger Punch ran her down after a long, sustained drive, and held off the dangerous Miss Shop through the final furlong.

Trainer Bob Frankel was naturally delighted with Ginger Punch’s victory in the Grade One stake…but he was no less thrilled winning a $35,000 claimer earlier in the day with the nine-year-old Gigli.

For Frankel, who comes from the mean streets of Brooklyn, winning a claiming race can be just as fulfilling as winning a grade one.

“Sure, I’m excited,” Frankel said in the wake of Gigli’s victory. “The horse is nine years old, and everyone knows he needs more distance than a mile 16. People kept asking me if he got claimed. Who would want to claim him? He runs one or twice a year.

“I just want to make sure he gets a nice home.” 

The three Grade Ones last Saturday at Belmont were billed as preps for the Breeders’ Cup.

But, ironically, it appears that none of the three winners – Ginger Punch, Man O’War Stakes winner Doctor Dino and Garden City winner Alexander Tango – are headed
for the Breeders’ Cup.

Meanwhile, trainer Asmussen, who doesn’t always play the game by the book, sure ‘nuf is keeping Curlin at Saratoga, rather than shipping him early to Belmont, the site of the colt’s next start in the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 30.

The Preakness winner yesterday worked three-quarters in a sharp 1:13 over the notoriously deep Oklahoma training track at the Spa, his fourth move since his disappointing third-place finish in the Haskell at Monmouth.

Assistant Blasi needed to look no further than Page One, Verse One in the trainers’ manual for his post-work quotes. 
“Curlin worked super,” Blasi said. “I couldn’t ask for him to be doing any better.”

Lord knows, if I had a dollar bill for every time a trainer told me that…

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