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Mar 28, 2008

Thru The Binoculars

By: JOHN PIESEN


Thru The Binoculars

The binoculars were focused squarely on Turfway Park last Saturday -- and the ESPN telecast in particular -- mostly because there was nothing else really going on in the world of thoroughbred racing. March Madness appeared to be dominating the back page.

The first thing I noticed at Turfway was that Maren's Meadow won the Bourbonette quite easily, and at $17.60. One reason she got away at that price is because her jockey, Gabriel Saez, is the best young rider who nobody -- except the readers of this space -- have ever heard of.

And. speaking of this space, it was written here last Friday that "you need to check out Maren's Meadow in the Bourbonette."

Let's face it. I couldn't get much more subtle than that.

But then came the bad news.

I also said that you need to check out Miner's Claim in the Rushaway...and he got nailed on the wire after leading every step because jockey Husbands neglected to see the horse coming up the rail.

The main event, the Lane's End, proved a colossal disappointment because old friend Turf War was, to put it mildly, just awful. At the quarter-pole, it still looked like I had  the exacta box when Adriano (my third choice) made the lead, and Racecar Rhapsody (my second choice) skimmed the rail behind him to take second. But RR could not  sustain his move, and backed up through the lane.

Meanwhile, the six (count 'em) ESPN announcers continued to talk non-stop for the entire hour. Some of their chatter was useful. Some not. But the bottom line is that -- at no time during the 60-minute telecast -- did I hear a mention of Eight Belles.

In view of the events of recent weeks, the single biggest story on the Road to the Triple Crown has become Eight Belles -- and, to a lesser extent, stablemate Proud Spell.

Maybe it's because those two happen to be ladies in a man's world. (Then again, so was Rags to Riches).

I wasn't at all surprised because, at least until Tuesday morning, I had not seen or heard word one about Eight Belles in the national media.

That all changed when I surfed the web on Tuesday, and found a Derby piece from long-time colleague Steve Haskin.

Buried down toward the bottom of Haskin's newsy piece were six paragraphs on Eight Belles in which he described the filly as "exceptional...with a future that is limitless", and that she ran as fast in winning the Honeybee at Oaklawn Park as Sierra Sunset did in winning the Rebel the day before.

As of now, trainer Larry Jones plans to run Eight Belles in the Fantasy, which brings me to a scoop of consequence:

New York hotshot Ramon Dominguez, who will journey to Arkansas to ride Eight Belles in the Fantasy Stakes on April 6 at Oaklawn, actually will be in town the previous day to ride Ginger Punch for trainer Bob Frankel in the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap. 

Ginger Punch, you may recall, last October won the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Monmouth Park, and later was named Eclipse champion. Dominguez replaces jockey Bejarano, who is sidelined with injuries sustained last month in a Santa Anita Spill.

The Apple Blossom will be a rematch of Ginger Punch and Hystericalady, who finished one-two in the BC Distaff. They'll know each other even better because they will share the same flight next Wednesday from California to Hot Springs.

I would think that Dominguez would have a good chance to post an Apple Blossom-Fantasy sweep that weekend. But, of course, there still is a very good chance that Ramon will have to wait 'til the Arkansas Derby (April 12) to get back aboard Eight Belles.

If Eight Belles were to run in the Arkansas Derby, she no doubt would be 6-5.

In the meantime, I got a call Monday from old buddy Brad Telias, who covers racing for CBS and the Sporting News...and brought him up to snuff on Eight Belles.

As for Pyro, I'm obviously going to be very right or very wrong on him. I notice that every media type worth his credential has Pyro listed No. 1 in his or her Derby equation, while this writer has him sixth (see below).

In third place, behind Eight Belles and Proud Spell, is Denis of Cork...and I may be dead wrong here.

Since Denis' big win back in mid-February in the Southwest at Oaklawn, nothing much has gone right with this horse, who happens to be unbeaten after three starts.

First, he was withdrawn from the Rebel at the last minute for reasons unknown, and will be shipped to New York for the Wood. And now jockey Albarado is taking off Denis for a one-race commitment on Country Star for Frankel in the Ashland at Keeneland.

Why Albarado, one of the top three race-riders in the game, is doing so defies  intelligence. And his replacement, Julein Leparoux, is not exactly the second coming of Arcaro.  

Rumors are wide spread that Denis has health issues, but judging from his 1:00 work on Sunday at Fair Grounds, and previous works, that does not appear to be the case.

So now we are looking at Denis vs. War Pass in the Wood...and it would take Mark the Magician to figure that one out.

The Santa Anita Derby, which will be run on the same day (April 5) as the Wood, should be easier to figure. It looks like a rematch of the Sham in which Colonel John, with the better trip, defeated El Gato Malo.

Both horses have kept their form. Over the weekend, Colonel John worked five furlongs in :59 3/5, and El Gato Malo went seven in 1:24 3/5.

Then you have to consider a major jockey change -- Tyler Baze to Desormeaux -- on San Felipe winner Georgie Boy. Actually, I thought that Georgie Boy was fortunate to beat Gayego in the San Felipe...but maybe that's because I called it the other way on my world-famous phone service -- 888 612 2283.

As for the coming weekend, the two major events will be the Florida Derby at Gulfstream, and the World Cup at Dubai.

Dubai has Curlin. The Florida Derby has Face the Cat, Big Brown, Hey Byrn and Tomcito, any or all of whom could by Derby caliber. That said, we may be looking at a Derby Top 10 shakeup next week.

Finally, some folks took coach Pitino seriously when he was quoted the other day as saying: "The Derby wouldn't be that big a deal to me. It's just a hobby. It's a fun thing."

I got to know Pitino years back when he was coaching the Knicks, and I was the racing beat guy for the New York Post.

We both had horses with trainer John Parisella. Actually, Rick had eight..and I had one. But my one -- a filly named Crafty Starlet -- was faster than Rick's eight -- a story for another day.

But, when it came to racing, no one took the game more seriously than Pitino. And he continues to do so 'til this day. Last year, he had a Derby horse with trainer Cam Gambolati named Buffalo Dan, and Rick was dreaming Derby dreams with this horse...until he (the horse) got hurt. He has since come back to win a grass stake at Gulfstream.

In the meantime, we join in wishing Rick good luck in the Sweet Sixteen.

Again its the Florida Derby Saturday... March 29th. I'll have my 1, 2, 3 order of finish in this race plus the full card at Gulfstream Park. (Click Here). To Get All Upcoming Derby Preps, Click Here!

Here is my Kentucky Derby Top Ten as of

HORSE /
Next race
JOCKEY / TRAINER ODDS
COMMENT
1. Eight Belles
undecided
Dominguez /
Jones
6-1 Connections are undecided to run her (field) in the Fantasy or the Arkansas Derby
2. Proud Spell
April 5 Ashland
Saez /
Jones 
6-1 Top pick's barnmate could go in either
(field) Kentucky Oaks or Kentucky Derby
3. Denis of Cork
April 5 Wood
Leparoux  /
Carroll
12-1 Unbeaten colt worked well Sunday, will face the acid test in the Wood
4. El Gato Malo
April 5 S.A. Derby
Flores /
Dollase
15-1 Was much the best when sustaining his first defeat in Sham Stakes
5. Visionaire
March 29 Fla Derby
Lezcano /
Matz
19-1 Working well at Palm Meadows since winning the Gotham for Matz
6. Pyro
April 12 Blue Grass
Bridgmohan /
Asmussen
4-1 It's a bit early to annoint him after two slow Louisiana stakes wins
7. Colonel John
April 5 S.A. Derby
Nakatani  /
Harty
17-1 Looked good working :59 3/5 for S.A. Derby; a quality colt
8. Georgie Boy
April 5 S.A. Derby 
Desormeaux /
Walsh
20-1 Hate to see the jock (Baze) get fired before he makes a mistake
9. War Pass
April 5 Wood
Velasquez /
Zito
9-2 Trainer Zito insists all is well in the wake of Tampa disaster
10. Adriano
April 19 Lexington
Prado /
Motion
6-1 His only dirt race was bad, but he has the best rider in the game



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