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Apr 24, 2009

Thru the Binoculars

By: John Piesen

Piesen Hits Exacta At Aqueduct!
R6: Movie Magic/Driven By Royal $28.20


There are no Derby horses in the $150,000 Withers Mile Saturday afternoon at Aqueduct, but there may be a Preakness horse or two lurking in the extremely talented field of seven 3-year-olds.

PAfter all, was it that long ago when Aloma's Ruler, trained by the late Butch Lenzini, parlayed his wire-to-wire victory into the Withers into a wire-to-wire triumph in the Preakness?

Actually it was 27 years ago, but who's counting?

Of the seven in the '09 Withers, the lone stakes-winner is This Ones for Phil, the winner of the Sunshine Millions Dash and the Swale, the latter albeit by the bogus disqualification of the Preakness-bound Big Drama.

The good news for This Ones for Phil is that he gets the riding services of Ramon Dominguez, the king of the New York riding colony. The bad news is 1) at 123 pounds, he needs to concede from five-to-seven pounds to his six rivals, and 2) he's drawn in Death Valley down in the one-hole.

True that none of Phil's six rivals have won an added-money race, but all have shown ability.

Gone Astray, from the Phipps/McGaughey assembly line of winners, exits a blowout allowance victory over the track, and looks to be the barn's top prospect for the Belmont Stakes and Travers down the road.

It doesn't hurt that Edgar Prado journeys up from Kentucky for the return call.

Seal Team ships from Philadelphia Park where he won twice for the Maggi Moss-Steve Asmussen team, which has been clicking at a 40 per cent rate this year at the Big A.

Supreme Summit ships from Santa Anita where he won both his sprint starts in impressive fashion for owner Lacombe, who campaigned Horse of the Year Favorite Trick a decade back, and trainer O'Neill, who has Square Eddie in the Derby.

This guy clearly is the main speed with the hot-riding Eibar Coa.

Historians will note that Mr. Fantasy went favored in the Gotham Stakes against a nice colt named I Want Revenge. The two of them went eyeball-to-eyeball to the head of the stretch, at which point IWR pulled away...and, the last we looked, will be the program favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

Rich Migliore, who won a prior allowance race on Mr. Fantasy by six lengths, gets the mount back from the West Point folks and trainer McLaughlin for the Withers.

Mr. F. no doubt will take up a stalking position off Supreme Summit, and try to work out a trip. If he succeeds, look for a small army to invade the winner's circle.

Everyday Heroes, from the connections who gave us Afleet Alex in 2005, ships in from Oaklawn Park where he merely went 3-for-3. Trainer Ritchey planned to run the 400K son of Awesome Again against Old Fashioned and Papa Clem in the Arkansas Derby, but a minor health issue forced him to decline.

And, finally there is Just a Coincidence from the connections that recently gave us War Pass and Belmont Stakes winner D'Tara.

Last time out, this 200K son of Forestry made the lead at midstretch of the Wood Memorial, only to yield late to I Want Revenge and the Derby bound West Side Bernie.

As we said, this is a solid field of 3-year-olds...and This Ones for Phil is an especially vulnerable favorite from the one-hole.

For my selections at Aqueduct, and for opening day at Churchill Downs, where Silver City will be a short price in the Derby Trial, you need to consult the world-famous John Piesen Hot Line at 888 612 2283.

Of course if there's an opening day in Kentucky, there has to be a closing day...and that would be Friday afternoon at Keeneland.

As forecast on these pages on Wednesday, the Keeneland Pick Six went unhit Wednesday and Thursday, leaving a 60K carryover into Friday. And since Friday is the final day of the meet, the pot must be paid out.

The sequence starts with Race Five, and concludes with Race 10.

It is worth noting that jockey Leparoux, who is bearing down on Randy Romero's all-time Keeneland record of 31 winners, and Eclipse winner Gomez have live mounts in all six races.

Let's take a look...

Race Five

Officer Rocket (Leparoux) is the only stakes-winner in the field of nine $40,000 claimers going seven-eighths. Two years back, he was second choice -- to Curlin -- in the Arkansas Derby.

Papa (Gomez) was beaten a length for $50,000 over the track last October.

New Believer (Douglas) exits a solid allowance score over the track, and hails from the red-hot Wesley Ward barn.

Race Six

Eight of the 12 in this maiden race for 2-year-old fillies are first-time starters

Midst and Tribecky appears best of those who have started.

Gomez has the return call from Ward on Rising Barometer, who had a rough trip in his well-meant debut.

Firster Truly a Myth (Leparoux) worked :46 and change from the gate for trainer Kenneally.

Tom Bohannon, who, in a previous life, won Preaknesses with Pine Bluff and Prairie Bayou, has Sigh, a troubled fourth in his debut.

Race Seven

Fillies and mares are coming from Florida, New York and West Virginia for this wide-open grass allowance at 1 3/16 miles.

With Flying Colors (Gomez) ascends in class and distance for the Shugster off a game maiden score.

Alabama Grace (Leparoux) exits a maiden score at Tampa for Mike Matz.

Serious Vow has been training well for trainer Gothard for her first start since a third as the stick in an Aqueduct stake 13 months back.

Race Eight

Drum Major was several times stakes-placed last year for Dogwood Stable, which showed a nice 2-year-old Thursday at Aqueduct. The 7-year-old will be a price from the rail in this 1 1/16 allowance for 4-year-olds and up.

Timbucto takes 'em as far as he can.

Rocket Legs won an allowance over the track last spring with Gomez, who has the return call from trainer Pletcher.

Gentleman Chester exits two losing photos on the Fair Grounds grass.

California shipper Cherokee Artist is the class with Dominguez.

Power Game (Leparoux) won a Monmouth stake last summer at 50 cents to the dollar.

Race Nine

If you're still alive in the Pick Six, you need to have some combination of Champs Elysees, from Bethenny's father; Spice Route, Quaiscobra and Always First in the featured $200,000 Elkwood for 4-year-olds and up at 12 furlongs on the grass.

Dominguez takes off New York to stick with the remarkable Better Talk Now, a winner of $4.2 million who is making his first start as a 10-year-old. At 9, six of his seven starts came in Grade Ones.

Prado takes off Spice Route to ride the longer-priced Musketier. The 8-year-old Brass Hat was once second in the Dubai World Cup.

Race Ten

The Big Dunkin, the only Triple Crown nominee in this 1 1/16 mile race for 3-year-old maiden-claimers, is co-owned by Rick Pitino. Thus the name.

Auteur, a 350K yearling, gets a new trainer (Mott) and a new rider (Velazquez), and will be the controlling speed.

Custers Last Stand completes Mott's uncoupled entry.

Shape will be closing under Gomez.

Good luck this weekend...and see you back here Monday for the Derby countdown.

In the meantime, here is our updated Derby Top Ten, keeping in mind that last year my final DTT was:

1) Big Brown;
2) Eight Belles,
3) Denis of Cork:

and that wound up paying $3,445.60 in the trifecta!

1. Friesan Fire Jones Saez

Worked a mile in 1:39 3/5 on Sunday.

Might be overlooked by some by going straight to the Derby from the Louisiana Derby in mid-March without an interim prep race, but he stamped himself as a major force down at the Fair Grounds this winter and should not be ignored.Trained by Larry Jones, who trained the last two runners-up in the Kentucky Derby.
2. Dunkirk Pletcher Prado
Edgar has been there before.
Well-bred and highly talented $3.7 million yearling tasted defeat for the first time behind Quality Road in the Florida Derby. There some reasons to believe he can improve in the Kentucky Derby, but the question is 'will it be enough to turn the tables on Quality Road and also enough to beat the rest of this year's high-quality Derby field? 
3. I Want Revenge Mullins Talamo
The Likely Favorite
He's the horse to beat in the Derby based on his last two races since leaving the artificial track surfaces and traveling east to the dirt surfaces on New York's Aqueduct Racecourse. His run from SoCal also-ran to Kentucky Derby favorite started on March 7 when he shipped to Aqueduct to destroy the field in the G3 Gotham Stakes, where he recorded a Beyer speed figure in the Daily Racing Form of 113 (the best Beyer earned by any horse in the U.S. on the dirt at more than one mile so far in 2009). His Wood Memorial was more than impressive enough to cement the horse's status as Derby favorite when he won the race comfortably after apparently losing all chance at the start when he broke poorly and spotted the field several lengths out of the gate.
4. Quality Road Jerkens Velazquez
The quarter-crack scare seems over.
Will try to become the third Florida Derby winner in the last four years to go on to win the Kentucky Derby. Answered distance questions with his impressive victory over Dunkirk in the Florida Derby, which combined with his flashy win in the Fountain of Youth makes him the east's top contender in the Run for the Roses. Owns good speed, a mountain of talent, and has top rung connections in his corner.
5. Papa Clem Stute Bejarano
Wish I had some of that 47-1
Wiped out the Arkansas Derby field in a prep race that didn't come up as tough as it's been in recent years when won by the likes of Lawyer Ron, Curlin, Afleet Alex, and Smarty Jones. Showed an added off-the-pace dimension when rallying from behind to win comfortably at Oaklawn, but his top challenger in that race, favored Old Fashioned, was presumably hurt during the running of the race leaving little doubt about the eventual outcome
6. Advice Pletcher undecided
How good was his Lexington?
After his impressive showing in the Lexington, is he a just a polytrack horse? With Pletcher you never can be sure. Connections haven't commited to the Derby yet.
7. Pioneerof the Nile
Baffert Gomez
Does Gomez know what he's doing?
Ran the table in the Southern California prep race series with recent wins in the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby for Kentucky Derby-seasoned trainer Bob Baffert, who obviously can get a horse ready for its best effort in the Run for the Roses. Bettors love a horse like this, because all he does is win. Nevertheless, Pioneerof the Nile has yet to post any fast speed figures so far this year, and will be making his career dirt debut in the toughest spot of all, the Kentucky Derby.
8. Chocolate Candy Hollendorfer Smith
Is he this year's Gato del Sol?
If the Kentucky Derby features a hot pace this year, then the horse most likely to benefit at good odds from far off the pace will probably be Chocolate Candy, who looks like a horse who wants to run all day. Settled for second behind Pioneerof the Nile after back-to-back Northern California prep race wins, but was severely compromised by a lack of pace in that race after the late scratches of both front-runners left the race without any early speed. Comes into the Derby both with a ton of experience (9 races, 7 routes, four wins in career) and at the same time well freshened with only one outing since February. Live at a price.
9. General Quarters McCarthy Leparoux
Did Coa make the right choice going to Musket Man?
A versitile colt, winning on the dirt at Tampa, and on polytrack at Keeneland in the Blue Grass.
10. Hold Me Back Mott Desormeaux 24-1 One of three WinStar candidates.
Big question is can he win on the dirt?

The Kentucky Derby is now just a week away, and I'm excited about this year's Run for the Roses.
You may think "March Madness" is tough, but this year's Derby is looking like May Mayhem.

As usual, I'll have it all sorted out by Derby Day, Saturday, May 2nd, and look forward to cashing the exotics and making even more on my Full Card. Take a look at my offer below.

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