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May 23, 2008

Thru The Binoculars

By: JOHN PIESEN


Met Mile Highlights A Big Holiday Racing Weekend

They will run the $600,000 Metropolitan Handicap (Met Mile) on Monday afternoon (Memorial Day) at Belmont Park, and Nick Zito will have the horse to catch and beat in Commentator, a winner of his two starts this year by a combined 28 lengths.

But Commentator, who will be the 122-pound starting highweight and short-priced favorite, doesn't have to win.

With that in mind, I will try my best to knock off Commentator as part of my 3-day Memmorial Weekend Extravaganza (See Below For Details).

Historians will recall that I nailed Corinthian at $21 in the '07 Met Mile.

But the Met Mile that I remember most fondly was the 1981 running.

On the eve of the race, I was attending a horsemen's barbecue on Long Island, and ran into good buddy Angel Cordero Jr. At the time, Cordero was riding top gun in New York, and I was the beat guy/lead handicapper for the New York Post.

The conversation remains fresh in my mind.

Well, almost.

Cordero: "Piesen, who you pick in the paper in the Met?"

Piesen: "I picked Amber Pass."

Cordero: "Piesen, you crazy. I'm going to win it (with Fappiano)."

Piesen: "Please explain."

Cordero: "Amber Pass will be in front turning for home, and I'll be sitting right behind him on the rail. Amber Pass will bear out like he always does, and I will Fappiano will come down the fence to win."

Cordero was so convincing that, for the first and only time in my life, I called the Post, and changed my selection to Fappiano.

And, sure enough, the race went off exactly as Junior predicted.

Amber Pass bore out on the turn, opening the rail for Cordero, and Fappiano got up to win by a head...at a $13 mutuel.

The Met Mile win propelled Fappiano to superstardom as a stallion, and Sonny Hine, the trainer of Amber Pass, to his dying days, considered the '81 Met Mile the worst beat of his career.

As memory serves, the next year ('82) the Met Mile was won the length of the stretch by a 3-year-old named Conquistador Cielo, who, five days later, won the Belmont Stakes by a pole.

That was the first of trainer Woody Stephens' five straight Belmont winners.

Times have changed, and you rarely see 3-year-olds in the Met Mile. In fact, this year the only projected 3-year-old runner is Z Humor.

Too bad. Wouldn't it be something to see Big Brown run in the Met en route to wrapping up the Brown Crown two weeks later in the Belmont?

I'll say times have changed.

The consensus of opinion is that the connections of Big Brown will find an excuse to retire the colt after he wins the Belmont...although trainer Dutrow insisted at a press conference at the barn Wednesday morning that he plans to run Big Brown twice more - in the Travers on Aug. 23 at Saratoga, and in the Breeders' Cup Classic (presumably against Curlin) on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita.

I'm sure that Dutrow indeed would love to run Big Brown in those two races, but, from an economics standpoint, it makes no sense. The owners last week sold the breeding rights in Big Brown for $50 million...so why risk the colt getting maimed in races worth a mere $1 million and $5 million?

That reminds me.

In my column last Monday in this space, I suggested that Big Brown's owners take some of that $50 mill, and donate a portion to research to help avoid another Eight Belles tragedy.

My mistake.

I was reminded that Big Brown's owners have financed construction of an equine hospital across the street from Belmont Park.

Mention of Big Brown's owners (the IEAH Corporation) reminds me that IEAH also Owns a considerable piece of Pure Clan, one of the best 3-year-old fillies in training. I understand that Pure Clan will make her next start in the Regret next month at Churchill Downs, and then head to Hollywood Park.

And jockey Leparoux will get the mount back from jockey Prado.

It looks kind of obvious that Pure Clan's people want no part of Proud Spell, who is being pointed for the Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont Park, and the Alabama at Saratoga.

Mention of Eight Belles reminds me that I received an e-mail this week referring to a Daily Racing Form blog from Feb. 19.

The blog said in part:

"Handicapper John Piesen says Eight Belles is the most naturally talented filly he has seen since Personal Ensign, even better than Rags to Riches, and he is urging Larry Jones to run her in the Kentucky Derby.

"Piesen may be jumping the gun, however when he predicts a horse will be very good. But when he does,, they almost always turn out to be very good. He is always ahead of the curve. I guess it's his job to be."

That last line is key.

I've always believed that anyone can write a puff piece about a horse after he or she wins two or three major races. I've always felt the idea was to preview, not review. Horses like Lawyer Ron, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Curlin and Tale of the Cat come to mind.

And have you noticed the similarities between Curlin and Big Brown?

Both horses won first pop by open lengths, and were promptly sold for $3 million. Trainers Asmussen and Dutrow take all the credit, leaving trainers Pitts and Reynolds never knowing what hit them...although both were handsomely rewarded financially.

Does anyone see a trend here?

Finally, there is a horse named Gualalcanal, named for the World War II battleground, entered in race 11 on Friday afternoon at Churchill Downs. Would be no surprise if the horse wins.

But here is my issue.

Back in the '60s, a horse named Guadalcanal was a major and multiple stakes-winner on the New York circuit. Moreover, he was one of the most popular horses of his era.

The Jockey Club is supposed to have rules prohibiting the repetition of names of prominent racehorses.

The JC sure was asleep in this case.

One final tidbit:

Jockey Desormeaux last week signed up with the William Morris Agency, the most prominent celebrity/PR firm on Madison Avenue.

Nothing wrong with that - except nobody bothered to tell the small PR firm that had been representing Desormeaux in the pre-Big Brown days.



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