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Nov 02, 2007

Through The Binoculars


This is the time of the year when it becomes difficult to get excited over New York racing. An exception was Thursday when the players chased a three-day Pick Six carryover of $243,011. That number prompted an $800,000 play, sending the pool skyward past $1 million.

It also prompted this writer to play a modest Pick Six ticket at the new OTB facility in Woodbridge, N.J.

I found myself alive after three races, all won by $6 horses, but my world came crashing down in race four of the sequence when Classic Marilyn came again under jockey Chavez in deep stretch to score at 16-1.

Two things here.

Classic Marilyn, who came into the race 2-for-39, had never passed a horse in her entire career. Her modus operandi was to make the top, remain there for a half-mile, and fade into oblivion.

So when track announcer Durkin uttered the words "Classic Marilyn is coming back", it was a shock of nuclear proportions. And sure enough, Classic Marilyn did come back to win by a neck.

Point two is that Classic Marilyn is owned by radio-talk show personality Mike Francessa, who was on the air at the time doing "Mike and the Mad Dog" on WFAN from New York.

Being the nice guy I am, and knowing that Francessa was buried at the time with Yankees baseball, I called The Fan to congratulate him. Much to my surprise, Francessa had no idea Classic Marilyn had won the race, and, in fact, I broke the news to him on the air.

As a result, I doubt very much that Francessa had one of the four winning Pick Six tickets, each of which came back $164,081...four favorites, one third choice -- and Classic Marilyn .

Leaving out Marilyn proved to be costly indeed. Note that the 5-for-6 consolation paid a munificent $316.

In other developments...

After Barbaro and Round Pond last year, trainer Matz is having a 2007, but you may want to check out a 2-year-old Matz firster Saturday afternoon at Delaware Park.

The filly's name is Life Lesson, and she's No. 7 under super-jock Dominguez in the $40,000 maiden-special for 2-year-old fillies at six furlongs.

A $375,000 daughter of Unbridled's Song, Life Lesson shows only a modest work pattern at Fair Hill.

"I'm really looking forward to seeing this filly run," Matz was saying this morning by phone from Fair Hill. "She came to me in Florida last spring, and I liked her right away. But she needed some gate work so I had to take my time with her.

"I believe she's a real nice filly."

This race won't be easy. The nine-horse field includes some good-looking prospects from trainers Jones, Ritchey, Gorham and Gaudet.

During my conversation with trainer Matz, I learned that 1) Round Pond, the '06 Breeders' Cup Distaff winner for Matz, will be sold Sunday at the Fasig Tipton Sale at Keeneland, and 2) Rick Porter, the owner of Round Pond, recently informed Matz (by fax) that his training services were no longer needed.

I find it interesting that, whereas most owners go a lifetime without finding a good horse, Porter - thanks to trainers Servis, Jones and Matz - has had three stars - Rockport Harbor, Round Pond and Hard Spun - in the space of three years.

Speaking of Hard Spun, let's pass on the following item from DRF handicapper Dave Litfin:

"Proud  Spell finished second at 9-1 to an obvious favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Hard Spun ran second at 8-1 in the Classic, picking up a cool million bucks. Both are trained by Larry Jones, who can train for me anytime."

Trainer Jones incidentally gave Hard Spun a gala farewell party on Tuesday at Delaware Park before loading him on a van (with Discreet Cat) for the trip to the sheiks' stud farm in Kentucky.

Did you know that Hard Spun's connections wanted to race the colt at 4, and asked the sheiks for permission to do so? The sheiks said OK, but only if they used their own trainer.

To his credit, Porter said no.

My favorite post-Breeders' Cup line comes from Barbara Foster Luna.

Asked her favorite BC moment on Thursday night on the Racing From the Meadowlands television program, Barbara, a prominent Jersey
horsewoman-broadcaster, replied:

"Junior Soprano singing the national anthem."

Speaking of Jersey-based lady sportscasters...

Props to Jeannine Edwards of ESPN for being chosen the No. 1 national sports sportscaster by Sports Illustrated.

In choosing Edwards, SI cited her interview with Dr. Larry Bramlage last Saturday in the wake of George Washington's tragic breakdown in the Classic.

Edwards, political correctness be damned, posed the following question to Dr. Bramlage: "Could the sloppy nature of the racetrack cause the injury?"

That took a lot of guts to ask that question.

Some background on Edwards.

Back in the late '90s, doing business as the New Jersey correspondent for Daily Racing Form, I did a piece on Jeannine, who at the time answered to Jeannine Phillips, an assistant trainer for the late Fred Hooper.

I also couldn't help notice that Jeannine, with her obvious good lucks and charm, would make a compelling subject for an interview on Racing From the Meadowlands, for which I was a co-host.

Sure 'nuf, Jeannine was an immediate hit on the program...and a new career was born.

One more Breeders' Cup note -

In all the furor generated by Curlin's victory in the Classic, there has been virtually zero media coverage of his rider, Robby Albarado.

This is unfortunate because the Albarado story is the ultimate rags to riches story. He came from abject poverty in the Cajun backwaters of Louisiana, has survived several horrific falls to become the regular rider of two Horses of the Year in a period of five years - Mineshaft and Curlin.

And, to put it mildly, he is very much one of the good guys in this game.

My connection with Robby goes back to 1996.

That was my first year covering Oaklawn Park for Daily Racing Form, and also the first year there for the Louisiana Kid.

Several trainers touted me on this new jock, and, although I never made a practice of doing jockey features, I did a piece on Robby for DRF. Robby told me that this was the first time he'd been interviewed.

Robby went on to win the riding title that year at Oaklawn, and repeat the next year. He's been back many times for stakes at OP, notably of course last spring for Rebel and Arkansas Derby victories on Curlin.

Readers of this space know that I've had issues with the Eclipse Awards over the years.

And here we go again.

Albarado deserves the Eclipse Award. But he won't get it. Jockey Gomez will get it because he tops the money standings.

And how's this for irony?

Gomez, Albarado and Borel, who no doubt will be the three finalists for the jockey Eclipse, all had their first success at Oaklawn Park.

The two biggest races on the Saturday racing calendar are a continent apart - the $150,000 Long Island Handicap at Aqueduct, and the $250,000 California Cup Classic at Santa Anita.

Royal Highness, the two-back winner of the Beverly D. at Arlington Park, will be making the last start of her career in the Long Island, and it will be no stroll in the park. As the 122-pound topweight under new rider Javier Castellano, she will be asked to concede from seven to nine pounds to the field.

No doubt Royal Highness is running in this spot because she needs only to hit the board to reach $1 million in earnings. She enters the race with $990,081, gleaned on a 4-6-2 record from 15 starts.

It says here that Royal Highness, who is coming off a sixth to Breeders' Cup Mile winner Lahudood, will have her hoofs full against several talented European rivals, notably Green Girl, Mary Louhana, Rising Cross and Dalvina.

The roster of Long Island winners is dotted with Euros, and it would be no surprise if we see another Euro import get her photo taken Saturday.

Moving west, this will be the 18th edition of the Califirnia Cup, an 11-race, $1.3 payday for Cal-breds.

As in the Long Island, there will be a short-priced topweight in the Cup Classic, and that would be Lava Man, one of the most accomplished Cal-breds of all time.

As the 124-pound highweight, Lava Man, to be ridden by Corey Nakatani, must concede from 5-to-11 pounds to the field, and, moreover, must break from post 10 in the 11-horse field.

Those are reasons enough to play against Lava Man, who skipped the Breeders' Cup for this much softer spot. The 6-year-old gelding, arguably the most successful claim in racing history, boasts a 17-8-3 record from 42 starts, and has bankrolled $5.2 million.

Absolutely Lava Man is an amazing horse, but obviously his recent races - a pair of sixths - suggest that he has lost something off his fast ball. Still, he is 4-3-0 from seven starts over the track, and he boasts a huge class over his 10 rivals.

For example, check out Valiant Effort, who may go off second choice to Lava Man.

The last time that Valiant Effort faced Lava Man, in the Charles Whittingham Handicap back in June at Hollywood Park, Valiant Effort went off at 69-1, and was beaten 38 lengths by Lava Man.

Still, off the basis of a recent seven-length blowout over the track, Valiant Effort looks to be the main threat to Lava Man.

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