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Oct 05, 2007

Through The Binoculars

By: JOHN PIESEN


In last Tuesday's column in this space, it was noted that Oct. 27 could be a big day for George Steinbrenner. It was pointed out that The Boss presumably could be at Monmouth Park by day to watch his Majestic Warrior win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and at Yankee Stadium by night to watch his Yanks play the Rockies in Game 3 of the World Series.

That was my subtle way of saying...take the Rockies at 20-1.

The events of this weekend will go a long way to determine if the Boss will be in position to pull off that huge double.

The Yanks have to play some serious catch-up just to get to the Series, and Majestic Warrior had the misfortune to draw the one-hole (Death Valley) for Saturday's Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park.

How bad is the one-hole at Belmont going a mile?

Bad enough for John Veitch to once scratch Davona Dale from a mile stake at Belmont because she drew the one-hole.

Of course, if Majestic Warrior can repeat his Hopeful, the post won't matter.

I said in this space at the time that Majestic Warrior was the most impressive Hopeful winner I've seen since Secretariat and Damascus. And that was even before my time. Well, almost.

But as well all know, one race does not a champion make. So let's sit back and see if Majestic Warrior - from an impossible post - can do it again.

One good thing. You don't need to schlep to Belmont or your favorite simulcast venue. The Champagne will be shown on ESPN (hopefully) at 4:30 p.m.

As in the Hopeful, the horse to beat will be Ready's Image from the Pletcher barn.

The Toddster couldn't have drawn this race up any better. While Majestic Warrior is sure to break last from post one, Ready's Image no doubt will beat the gate from the outside post.

But the Champagne is far from a two-horse race. Not when Steve Asmussen is in the ballpark.

Super Steve has two in the race: Lantana Mob, the Sapling winner with Stew Elliott, and Pyro, who comes off a horror trip for third to Champagne rival War Pass in a Saratoga allowance.

It pays to note that the Asmussen-Elliott combo has been winning races in bunches since teaming up last summer...and the Smarty Guy is two-for-two on Lantana Mob (the Tyro and the Sapling).

Looking ahead, Elliott will once again be based at Oaklawn Park next spring, and look for him to run the table on Asmussen stock.

The Pyro story is interesting because of the owner, Ron Winchell.

Ron is the son of Verne Winchell, who won the Champagne back in 1961 with Donut King (the family business). With jockey Ycaza up, Donut King beat arguably the best Champagne field ever - one that included Jaipur and Sir Gaylord.

(The '07 Champagne just might be in that class. The eight 2-year-olds in the race are a combined 14-3-3-2 from 22 starts!) 

Now, here we are, 46 years later...and the Winchell Family is back in the Champagne. Call me a sentimental fool, but the bond between past and present is what makes racing so great.

That said, the biggest story of the '07 Champagne is Majestic Warrior and The Boss.

The big story of the Frizette, which will be run a half-hour after the Champagne, is Indian Blessing.

The Bob Baffert-trained filly overcame the one-hole to win her Spa debut by a pole with a 97 Beyer number. That's the best number in the Frizette field, and two points better than Majestic Warrior's number in the Hopeful.

Right now, the Larry Jones-trained Proud Spell is looking like the favorite for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, but Indian Blessing could go favored with an impressive showing in the Champagne.

There is one negative concerning Indian Blessing.

Rafael Bejarano rode the filly at Saratoga, but opted to take off for the Frizette in order to ride five stakes at Keeneland. Gomez replaces him on Indian Blessing.

So what gives?

Why does Bejarano (and agent Ferrer) take off possibly the best 2-year-old filly in America to ride the card at Keeneland?

You may or may not want to closely scrutinize the jock's Keeneland calls.

His five stakes calls (the fifth through the ninth races) are Sugar Swirl in the TCA; Saint Anddan in the Phoenix; Precious Kitten in the First Lady; Fidelio in the Breeders' Futurity, and Art Master in the Shadwell Turf Mile.

Speaking of jocks, the biggest story in racing this week was the five-year ban handed Roman Chapa for getting caught with a battery last February at Sunland Park.

(Once again, it was kind of the popular racing web site Equidaily to pick up my scoop on this story.)

Chapa has won more than 2,000 races in his career, many of them for super trainers Cole Norman and Steve Asmussen, and, until this point, never had a blemish against him.

Of course, like jock Billy Patin before him, Chapa had the misfortune to get caught. So many other riders, including some prominent names you wouldn't believe, have not been caught.

Needless to say, buzzers are not a good thing - especially for the horses,

Believe me, I've heard all the stories.

Unfortunately, they were off the record.

Speaking of  Keeneland, they are running the Spinster, a $500,000 Grade 1 for fillies and mares, on Sunday at the Lexington oval - one of the best betting stakes of the year.

Three of the 11 mares in the race are 3-year-olds, and, as such, will be in receipt of three pounds from their older rivals.

Three-year-olds are making a habit of beating older this year, and it would be no surprise if the trend continues in the Spinster.

In this case, the 3-year-olds are Lady Joanne, who has won five of her last six starts, capped by the Alabama, for trainer Nafzger; High Heels, the Hartlage-trained Fantasy winner at Oaklawn Park, and Panty Road, the Black-Eyed Susan and American Oaks winner from the Toddster. 

Several of the older mares have major shots, notably Teammate, from the giant-killer Allen Jerkens, one of the few horsemen who remember Donut King, and Altesse, from the Shugster.

Finally, this web site was not the only venue to notice that the Jockey Club Gold Cup matched the last two blowout winners of the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn.

In his on-line column this week, Steve Haskin listed Oaklawn Park as the "biggest winner" of the weekend.



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