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Feb 22, 2008

Through The Binoculars


The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.

Trite but this case.

In the space of a matter of hours last Sunday, Winning Colors, the last of the three fillies to win the Kentucky Derby (1988) was euthanized at a farm in Kentucky, and Eight Belles won the second division of the Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn Park, where this is being written.

The winning margin of Eight Belles was 13 ½  lengths. After some due diligence, it was discovered that that was the biggest margin in an Oaklawn stakes ever. And Oaklawn has been kicking since 1904.

"It would have been 25 lengths," said jockey Thompson, "if I let her run."

As soon as Eight Belles crossed the finish line, my mind turned to Winning Colors...and that was before I learned of Winning Colors' death.

Physically, Winning Colors and Eight Belles could be identical twins -- strapping, gray, long-striding gray fillies with similar running styles. True, Eight Belles came from off the pace in scoring her first stakes win going a mile Sunday, but, as the distances commence to stretch out, no doubt we'll see her on or near the lead in all her  races.

As was Winning Colors.

At my seminar Monday, the first question I asked Rick Porter, the owner of Eight Belles, was: "Are you thinking (Kentucky) Derby with this filly?"

Porter's reply: "It's up to the trainer."

So I went to the trainer, old friend Larry Jones (who trained Hard Spun to a second place finish in the Kentucky Derby last year)...and asked him the same question.

"I don't think I'd want to do that to a filly," Jones replied. "Besides, she has to show me she can do this again."

Fine…but nowhere did I hear a definite "no."

The next race for Eight Belles will be the $100,000 Honeybee at Oaklawn on March 16, and that will be a much saltier test for her. The competition will include the unbeaten Pure Clan and Kadira, both of whom can motor.

If Eight Belles blows those fillies out of the water, than I would hope that Porter and Jones will start thinking Winning Colors.

Porter may be the luckiest guy in racing. In the last five years, all he has done -- thanks to John Servis and Jones -- is come up with Rockport Harbor, Round Pond, Hard Spun, and now Eight Belles, and Sacred Journey, a 3-year-old who may be a player.

Porter names all his horses for landmarks in Maine, where he has a summer home. Eight Belles is no exception. She is named for the Portland home of Andrew Wyeth, one of the foremost painters in the world.

Speaking of Sacred Journey, this guy put up sizzling fractions (:22, :45) in the $250,000 Southwest Stakes on Monday -- his first time going two-turns, and his first stake.

Not surprisingly, Sacred Journey tired late...and a colt named Denis of Cork went flying by to win by 2 ¼ lengths. 

Just as the comparisons between Eight Belles and Winning Colors are clear, so are the comparisons between Denis of Cork and Smarty Jones.

Like Smarty Jones, Denis of Cork was unbeaten and unknown going into the Southwest. Denis of Cork won the race much easier than Smarty, and his time was a mere two ticks slower.

And, like Smarty Jones, his next race will be Oaklawn's $300,000 Rebel -- on March 15.

The connections of Denis are interesting. The owners are Mr. and Mrs. William K. Warren Jr., who campaigned 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam. The trainer is David Carroll, who, in his younger days, was the chief exercise rider for the Phipps Stable -- see Easy Goer and Personal Ensign. And the jockey is Robby Albarado, the regular rider of two of the last five Horses of the Year -- Mineshaft and a nice colt named Curlin.

Unless I'm terribly wrong (it's been known to happen, but not recently if you have been monitoring the John Piesen Hot Line), Denis of Cork will fly under the national radar because -- Smarty, Afleet Alex, Lawyer Ron and Curlin notwithstanding -- the media mavens still have no clue about Oaklawn.

This might be the time to see what Vegas is offering on Denis of Cork.

This is the real deal.

But, again, we'll learn more on the third weekend of March in Hot Springs, a nice place to hang.

And, speaking of Oaklawn, guess who's coming to dinner?

None other than Maggi Moss, only the most successful (and glamorous) owner in thoroughbred racing -- an Eclipse finalist last year for those scoring at home.

From her Des Moines, Iowa, home, Maggi directs the fortunes of a vast colony of horses -- and trainers -- from New York to Florida to New Orleans to California and to Hot Springs. For this, she gave up a lucrative career representing the bad guys.

At Oaklawn alone this year, Maggi is 4-5-0 from 12 starters from the Asmussen and Chris Richard barns. And I suspect she is not coming to Hot Springs this
weekend for the baths. I think we will see some significant horses flying Maggi's blue and green. 
Otherwise, the biggest story of last weekend occurred on opposite coasts.

At Santa Anita on Monday, there was one winner of the $3.1 million Pick Six. 

And the winning ticket was purchased at The Meadowlands!

An unidentified New Yorker, who has a history of big scores, purchased a $4,320 ticket. In addition to nailing the $3,120,256 payout, a Santa Anita
record, for good measure he had 24 five-for-six tickets, worth $186,878.

Not a bad day's work.

His ticket: 

Leg One: 1-2-3-4-5-7-9-10
Leg Two: 1
Leg Three: 4-6-7-8-11-12
Leg Four: 1-4-5-7-9
Leg Five: 3
Leg Six: 1-2-4-5-6-7-8-9-13

The guy got "lucky" when the "1" won leg six at 33-1. He was Paparazzi Charm, who hadn't raced since June, and who was 33-1 on merit.

"The timing is good," he says, "...I'm getting married next month."

It's safe to say he's not the only one who got lucky.

And, finally, comes news that old friend Pete Ferriola, who has been retired and living well in Florida since 2001, is up for the job as private trainer for Ernie Paragello's  Paraneck Stable.

Ferriola, now 66, was a multiple meet-winning training champ in New York in the '80s and '90s. His archrival was Gasper Moschera, who likewise is leading the good life in Florida.

There was a day back in the '80s when NYRA, unhappy with Ferriola, told the Pistol that he was no longer permitted to stable horses at Aqueduct, and would have to move them to Parr Meadows, two hours to the East on the tip of Long Island.

As the beat writer for the New York Post, I came to the Pistol's defense with a  scathing piece chastising NYRA for its decision.

The next day NYRA had a change of mind, and welcomed Pete back.

I'm not sure...but I think I got a thank you.

Happy days...

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