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Feb 15, 2008

Through The Binoculars

By: JOHN PIESEN


The NYRA Mess - Who has The Black Hat?  --  Notes From Oaklawn

I just received an e-mail from John Lee, one of the good guys at the New York Racing Association. I'm glad John hasn't forgotten me even though I am currently 1,200 miles away in the heart of Clinton Country.

Here's the gist of the e-mail:

"Over the weekend, NYRA met with representatives of the State government, and reviewed drafts of a proposed new franchise bill in a bid to resolve the franchise stalemate. Unfortunately, this review process indicated that the franchise discussions are going backward, not forward.

We find the current state of negotiation to be pointing irrevocably towards a cessation of racing this week."


Whew!

This sounds serious.

If NYRA is serious, and it sure looks like it is, Aqueduct will shut down in a matter of days. And if it does, who knows for how long?

Personally, I have no idea who the good guys are in this dispute. It's really hard to choose a side. This is no cowboy movie where it's easy to make the difference between John Wayne and the guys in the black hats.

As far as the gambling public is concerned, they are all wearing black hats.

They just better get this thing solved before they run the Wood Memorial at Finger Lakes and the Belmont Stakes at Monmouth Park.

At least here's a good thing:

They just ran the fourth at Gulfstream Park on the TV in my office at Oaklawn Park, and Sparkle City prevailed at $7 for my Piesen Hot Line customers who had the foresight to call 1-888-612-2283 or sign up online for my best bets.


After all, what else is going on today than Georgetown-Villanova 1985 Redux?

Q: What other major sports event occurred on the same night that Villanova beat Georgetown in 1985?

Give up?

A: That was opening night of the new Garden State Park. I recall upwards of 40,000 storming the gates at Garden State that night, despite the TV competition from neighboring Villanova.

Alas, the next night they had maybe 400...and it was downhill from there. Garden State Park is now a shopping mall.

Time out:

They just ran race six at Gulfstream, and Soaring By, my second Hot Line single, ran second -- at 9-1.

Otherwise, this was a very interesting morning.

In quick succession, I made stops at the Lukas barn, the Jones barn, the Servis barn, the Fires barn, and the Holthus barn.

Of the five barns, the Holthus barn was the most interesting because inside are what I believe are the best 3-year-old colt and the best 3-year-old filly on the grounds.

The filly is the Holthus-trained Pure Clan, whom we will discuss at length later as she prepares for her 3-year-old debut in the Honeybee.

The colt, however, is ready to run. His name is Turf War, and Holthus was kind enough to find an empty stall for him.

Turf War, a two-time stakes-winner, and a full lookalike brother of Grasshopper, was vanned over the weekend from Ocala, Fla., to Oaklawn, where he will run next Monday in the $250,000 Southwest Stakes.

His trainer, Mark Casse, and Bob Holthus are old buds, which explains why he is stabled in the Holthus barn.

Thus Turf War, in my mind, qualifies as an Oaklawn horse...and a main player on the Hot Springs Road to the Triple Crown, a road traveled in recent years by the likes of Smarty Jones, Aflee Alex, Lawyer Ron and Curlin.

And, wouldn't you know it? Once again, the national media is ignoring Turf War, even though he has earned over a half-mill, and stands in the top five among the 488  Triple Crown nominees in earnings. And, although Calvin Borel, whom I recall won the '07 Derby, has chosen Turf War over a Seattle slew of others as his Kentucky Derby mount.

I notice the name of Turf War is not included in the body of 23 horses in the first pool of the Kentucky Derby future book published by Churchill Downs. If you want to play Turf War, you can have him at 5-2 as #24 with 425 other horses.

And I notice that none of the six handicappers in the current Derby poll of the Louisville newspaper bother to mention Turf War in his top 20.

When, oh when will they ever learn?   

Back to Borel...

On Saturday, Calvin departed Oaklawn to ride Blackberry Road, a major player in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.

Talk about a worse trip than the Titanic.

Calvin, doing his thing to save ground, got stopped five times, clipped heels, never gave his horse a chance to run, and got beat a pole by Pyro. He wasn't going to beat Pyro, but he should have been second.

(P.S.: Calvin missed his plane connection back to Hot Springs, and never got  back in time to ride at Oaklawn on Sunday. He's had better weekends.)

What's more, the inside was the worst place to be Saturday at Fair Grounds. The place to be was the eight-path. That's where Proud Spell came flying to just miss catching Indian Blessing in the Silverbulletday, and, of course, where Pyro wound up.

At the Larry Jones barn this morning, trainer Jones couldn't help but see the irony.

"Nineteen times out of 20," Calvin is going to get stopped at some point," Jones  said. "The 20th time was Street Sense in the Derby."

Oldtimers of course recall that Street Sense and Calvin got an EZ Pass at the Derby last May, and caught the Jones-trained Hard Spun in the stretch.

And, who was that finishing third that day, eight lengths behind Hard Spun?

Curlin. That's who it was.

But don't feel sorry for Jones. He may not have another Hard Spun in the barn, but it says here that he has the best 3-year-old filly in the land in Proud Spell, and another potential super 3-year-old filly in Eight Belles.

We'll learn more about Eight Belles on Sunday when she runs in the Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn.

Jones also has a mare in Saturday's Pippin Stakes named Gasia, who can run a little bit. This morning she worked five furlongs in a bullet 1:00, and jockey  Thompson never asked her to run.

I must at this point review last Friday's look at the Santa Anita Pick Six, and its 181K carryover.

In this space we tried to pinpoint the contenders in the six races.
 
Toss the first leg because the two horses we mentioned scratched. But we had  the next five winners listed, and the payoff was 22 grand.

This is one of the good things about reading this venue.

Finally, kudos to Edgar Prado for winning career race No. 6,000 Sunday afternoon at Gulfstream.

Readers of this space know that I consider Prado the best rider going. And, besides that, he is a very special person.

The next time there is even a hint of scandal concerning Edgar Prado will be the first.

Hopefully, come May. there will be a Belmont Park for Edgar Prado to work on 7,000.

 



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