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Oct 12, 2007

Through The Binoculars

By: JOHN PIESEN


Other than the Maryland Million at Laurel Park (see below) this is a relatively light weekend for thoroughbred racing. Then again, it's only 13 days and counting until the Breeders' Cup.

The Belmont feature, for example, is a bummer - the 30th running of the $100,000 Athenia Handicap for fillies and mares at a mile and a 16th on the weeds.

But every stakes race has a hook, and the Grade 3 Athenia indeed has two.

One is the fact that a mere two pounds separate the six mares in the race. Dance Away Capote, from the red-hot Tagg barn, packs highweight of 117 pounds. Fantastic Shirl is next at 116...and the four others are at 115.

This begs the question: why bother writing handicaps?

Having a 117-pound topweight in a graded stake is of course patently ridiculous...but two pounds separating the entire field is even more ridiculous.

So - as we said -- why even bother writing handicaps?

Maybe some of the great minds in racing can enlighten me.

The other hook is the return of Joe Bravo after a two-month stint on the disabled list.

Jersey Joe will ride a filly named Mabadi for leading trainer Contessa in the Athenia. Mabadi -- at least on paper -- looks like the rank outsider in the field, but don't  underestimate Contessa in his present form.

And don't underestimate the importance of Contessa reaching out for Bravo when he could basically pick and choose from five or six top jocks in the room. Contessa and Bravo are lifelong friends and colleagues from Jersey, and Gary would like nothing more than to put Joe on a winner - especially in a stake - on his first ride back.

Incidentally, Bravo has one call on Saturday evening across the river at The Meadowlands.

And that call is as intriguing as Mabadi.

Trainer Kelly Breen has given the call to Bravo on a first-starter named Jazzy Jenna (#2) in the ninth race.

Jazzy Jenna shows some good published works for Breen, a top guy with firsters. She is drawn well, and Jersey Joe will make the ultimate sacrifice of getting a late start on his Saturday night partying.

There are some other names in the news:

There is Stew Elliott, who, on a dreary Tuesday afternoon before hundreds at The Meadowlands, hit the daily double. He managed the feat of riding winners for both Pletcher and Asmussen, the two top dogs in the hunt.

There is George Steinbrenner, who was pictured wearing a Majestic Warrior cap (not a Yankee cap) as he was departing the Stadium on Monday evening. No one could possibly have had a worse weekend than The Boss, but I have to believe that somehow he'll get over it.

There is Roger Clemens, who is laughing all the way to the bank. Did you know that The Rocket was paid (by Steinbrenner) 15 grand PER PITCH this season?

There is Pure Clan, the unbeaten 2-year-old filly who won the fifth at Keeneland on Wednesday for trainers Holthus and Couch. The half-sister to Greater Good is two-for-two on the weeds, but look for her to transfer her form to dirt at Oaklawn Park.

There is Tueflesberg, who, thanks to the good work of Dr. Bramlage and his friends, is expected to make a full recovery after surgery for two broken sesamoids sustained in a race at Keeneland last Saturday. Since there were three breakdowns at Keeneland within three racing days, maybe someone better take a second look at the issue of polytrack safety.

There is Fabulous Strike, who would have been the Breeders' Cup Sprint favorite by virtue of his recent Vosburgh blowout. But it was reported that Fabulous Strike is out with a lung infection, leaving Midnight Lute very much the one to beat in the Sprint.

There is trainer Baffert, who now will run two favorites in the Breeders' Cup - Midnight Lute...and Irish Blessing in the Juvenile Fillies.

And there is Frank Costa. Despite long-term health issues, Frank, an ex-jockey who has been training horses in virtual obscurity for 30 years in the mid Atlantic region, is having the year of his life.

At Monmouth, Costa finished ninth to Pletcher with 15 winners, 11 seconds, and 11 thirds from 108 starters. And he currently leads the standings at The Meadowlands - where he is the only trainer stabled on the grounds --  with 11 winners from 40 starters.

Some folks are getting rich betting Costa at The Big M. His average win payoff is $19!

As mentioned above, Saturday is Maryland Million Day at Laurel - a dozen races  offering purses of $1.7 million.

With some exceptions, the races are great betting affairs...unlike most of the races these days at neighboring tracks.

The over-under for jockey Dominguez, who rides 11 of the 12 races, is five.

Let's take a look -

Race 1: Jockey Beitia is 1-for-51 at the meet...and the "1" is All-Star Prospect (#12), who will be co-favored with Be Oh Be (#13). Mr. Got Rocks (#9), who does his best work with Dominguez, gets RD back.

Race 2:  This is one of the exceptions. Silmaril  (#2), the last-out winner of the Endine, will be 2-5 with jockey Rose. Trainer Trombetta, a 25 per cent guy, has Wahoo Moon (#7), first-time Dominguez.

Race 3: Fire Hero (#8), second off the Tony Dutrow claim, gives Dominguez a major shot. Trainer Grove, who is sitting on a good day, can contend with Sue's Diamond (#4).

Race 4: Jockey Black down from south Jersey to ride Moon Catcher (#2) for trainer Ritchey. Three starts back, this filly won the Delaware Oaks, and subsequently got fourths in the Alabama and Cotillion. Dominguez has a shot for second with Loveyasister (#3) for Grove.

Race 5: Grand Champion (#2) with Dominguez up, basically needs to fall down to lose. Lemons of Love (#3) from Dutrow/Rose, can cap $5 exacta.

Race 6: Bingobear (#6), with RD aboard, has as good a chance as anyone in the most wide-open race on the program. Beware Scott Lake with Lycurgus (#3).

Race 7: Izzy Speaking (#4) the obvious chalk with Garcia off his Tremont second, and comeback win at 1-5. Body Rock (#8), from Fabulous Strike's trainer, got left in his Philly debut. Look for him to get a piece with an outside trip under RD.

Race 8: Lexi Star (#1) comes off a second to superstar Hystericalady in the Molly Pitcher at Monmouth. She won a Million race last year, and is short price with Rose. No coincidence that this is the only race that Dominguez is sitting out.

Race 9: All Attitude (#8) the obvious chalk with Dominguez. Look for Smarty Servis and jockey Black to give top one a battle with the lightly-raced Outside Lane (#6).

Race 10: Jockey Mena gives up a a day at Keeneland to ride golden oldie One Eyed Joker (#5) for Mike Maker and the Ramseys. The 9-year-old is 3-for-3 for Maker, including a $100,000 Ellis stake at 21-1. Flirtatious Smile (#7) an in-form Jersey turfer from Team Sleeter. RD will be a price on Broadway Producer (#11).

Race 11: This is the $300,000 Maryland Million Classic, and Dominguez is sitting pretty on Due (#3), last year's winner. Frank the Barber (#9) is an intriguing California shipper, with jockey Cohen coming long way for the mount.

Race 12: Half-sisters Mountain Sue (#1) and Po Sue (#1A) form powerful team for Grove in the finale. She's Our Hero (#9) has a shot off the Ferris claim with Dominguez.



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