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Jan 04, 2008

Through The Binoculars

By: JOHN PIESEN


GULFSTREAM PARK OPENS FOR THE WINTER MEET

Since Gulfstream Park opens on Thursday, that seemed a natural choice to lead this column.

But, upon further review, that might be a mistake in judgment.

For two reasons.

First and foremost, after some lengthy research, I discovered that the total purses for Gulfstream's opening nine-race card come to $235,000. By comparison, the total purses for Aqueduct's nine-race program  the same day amount to $370,000...or 50 per cent more!

And, secondly, the Big A offers a $46,000 Pick Six carryover.

I'm not at all sure what to make of the disparity in purses. For years, I've been under the impression that Gulfstream Park offers the best winter racing on the planet...while New York winter racing is the proverbial pits.

Surely, years back when Hialeah Park was thriving, Florida indeed offered a vastly superior winter product to New York. Most folks believe it still does. Maybe so, but unless the difference in purse structure on Thursday is an aberration -and I doubt it -we are looking at an entire new ballgame here.

Then again, quite possibly neither Florida nor New York is the winter place to be for the nation's horseplayers. Maybe, just maybe, the best winter racing on the continent can now be found at Santa Anita and Oaklawn Park.

Oaklawn is still two weeks away, but Santa Anita is off to a thriving start. Opening day last Wednesday attracted a crowd of 30,000 -and track officials were unhappy that the number was down from the previous year.

But, more importantly,  Santa Anita is a good place to cash a bet. The races are competitive, longshot players have a shot, and certainly it has the best jockey colony.

I found it interesting that Santa Anita offered a half-mill Pick Six carryover on the holiday card Tuesday...and the sequence produced a $54,000 payoff although three of the winners paid single digits (including a $3.60), and the other three winners paid in the teens, maxing at $18.

I would call that pretty good bang for the buck.

One thing I wish that Santa Anita would change is its ridiculous practice of making some exotic payoffs based on $1 bets and some on $2 bets. You need a physics degree from MIT to figure which is which and what is what.

What is wrong with keeping the traditional $2 payoffs?

Somebody please tell me.

I'm in the book.

Back to the New York vs. Florida issue for a minute.

One area in which Gulfstream will hold an edge over Aqueduct is size of fields.

New Gulf racing secretary Bill Couch, who holds the same position at Thistledown, has said his first priority is to increase the field sizes. And, judging by the first day, he's off to a fast start. A total of 101 horses were entered for the nine races -an average of 11 a race.

On the other hand, the horses in general are no better than the horses racing in New York, and as noted up top, if the first day is any indication, they are racing for a lot less money in Florida than in New York. This is especially surprising inasmuch as Gulf purses are now fueled by casino profits, such as they are.

The opening-day feature at Gulf, the $75,000 South Beach Stakes for fillies and mares, attracted a full field of 14 before scratches. Quite A Bride (Mott/Desormeaux) is the consensus best bet in the Form, and no doubt she'll be 6-5 or less. She has to be used in the gimmicks along with Soldier Girl, Perfect Motion and Snow Cone.

An interesting longshot in race four is Life Lesson (#11).

Why does that name seem familiar?

Then I remembered.

Two months back, in a conversation with Michael Matz, the trainer of Life Lesson, he told me that the filly was training very well at Fair Hill, and in time could be a stakes filly.     

"But," Matz added, "...she might need one." 

Sure 'nuff.

Sent off at 3-1 in her Delaware Park debut on Nov. 3, Life Lesson, a $370,000 daughter of Unbridled's Song, broke a step slow, raced second into and through the turn, and backed up to finish sixth of nine, beaten a dozen lengths.

Life Lesson has since been training lights out at Palm Meadows, gets a nice outside post and a top jock (Lezcano) for her return, and is listed on the bottom at 12-1 in the Form.

Now let's move on to New York...and a look at Thursday's Pick Six:

Race Four
Chanced (#8) was the 9-5 favorite against Love Co (#1) and Fairy Godmother (#6) on Nov. 14, but blew the break, and was beaten badly by those two, both of whom had wide trips. Unrelinquished (#4) took some late money for her debut on Dec. 2, but was left. Bridgmohan II, who tripled Tuesday, has the return call. City Attitude (#9) had troubled trip first time; may do later.


Race Five
Note that the three bottom fillies -Credit At Tiffanys (#1A), Mesa Girl (#8) and Tough Bellesa (#9) -- all exit maiden wins for $35,000. If the Beyers float your boat, Bellesa had by far the best number of the three. Trainer Fawkes, up from Florida for this meet, will get going one of these days. He has a shot here with Mommy'sstar (#5), who had tough trip in last, but who figures to break on top with Chuckie. 

Race Six
Note that trainer Hushion claimed Delta Breeze (#5) for $60,000 off a strong second on Nov. 23, now runs her back for $35,00. Obviously, she needs to be used. Little to choose amont three fillies who finished 1-2-3 in the mud on Nov. 23 -Too Tired Tonight (#1), Bedside Story (#6) and Simply Gifted (#9).


Race Seven
Trainers Iselin and Parisella, once partners on super filly Crafty Starlet, have major players here with Ok to Play (#2) and Double Delta (#7), respectively. Electrical Carlita (#5), the clear class from Andy Berg, is a .400 career hitter over the IDT, and a win here puts her over 500K. The Contessa entry of  Embraceable You (#1) and Moneypenny (#1A) is super strong, as is Mint Landing (#8), a Dutrow dropper. Obviously, one needs deep pockets in this race.

                                                                         
Race Eight
That'srightofficer (#5), looks like stakes material off his debut...but then again he can  bounce. Your move. Once again, jockey Lopez must be caught -on Be Bullish (#3) in the pink silks.

                                                                       
Race Nine
If you're alive, hopefully you have Tricky Tuck (#1) and/or Aces Mark (#6).

And, once again, for my Aqueduct selections, you need to ring the John Piesen Hot Line (1-888-612-2283) or click on John Piesen's Best Bets

                                                                   

Finally, condolences to wife Patrice and the rest of the extended family of Louis Wolfson, who succumbed last weekend after a long battle with Alzheimer's Disease  at age 95.

Mr. Wolfson, of course, was known mostly as the owner of the immortal Affirmed, and other great ones, including Raise A Native and Roman Brother, but he was also one of the savviest racing -and business -- people in the game.

Many times, Mr. Wolfson would call this writer to critique a piece I did for the Form or the Post, and always he would be right. He was forever a good source...but, much more important, a good friend.

Back in the '50s, Lou Wolfson fought like hell to purchase the Brooklyn Dodgers. If only he had, you can be sure the Dodgers would still be in Brooklyn.

I have to believe that Lou Wolfson's death deserved more than a one-line obit in the New York Daily News.

And I have to believe that Lou Wolfson deserves a plaque in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame.

Without Lou Wolfson, it is not a Hall of Fame.



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