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May 01, 2009

Thru the Binoculars

By: John Piesen


Spending Derby Week in central Jersey fighting a bug, but my spirits were raised Saturday afternoon when Hull, my John Piesen Hot Line selection, won the Derby Trial on opening day at Churchill Downs, and paid $8.80.

Hey, if it was that easy to nail the Derby Trial, why can't I nail the Derby?

After all, it wouldn't be the first time. And, for those keeping score at home, I nailed the last two Derby trifectas -- biggies at that -- on the ol' Hot Line.

Unfortunately, those were not life-changing experiences so I'm back at the grind, drinking a little chicken soup, listening to Begin the Beguine on Channel 889, and trying my best to complete a natural hat track.

In the meantime, I took calls from three racing people for whom I have the most respect and admiration.

The first was from Ray Kerrison, my partner in crime for so many years at The New York Post.

Ray and long-suffering wife Monica had just checked into their Louisville hotel following a 12-hour drive from north Jersey.

And the first thing that Ray did when he got there was to call me to get my Derby take.

"Whodya like, mate?, Ray asked.

"To tell you the truth," I replied, "I don't know. That's why it's good I have a week to figure it out."

The second call came from Jack Kaenel.

The media is making a big fuss over Joe Talamo -- at age 19 -- riding Derby favorite I Want Revenge.

Hell, Cowboy Jack was barely 16 when he won the 1982 Preakness on Aloma's Ruler.

The Cowboy had some good news.

At age 43, he's planning a riding comeback. He's over his substance issues, he's dead fit at 113 pounds, he's got his license back, and, if all goes well, sometime next month, he'll make his comeback at Prairie Meadows Racetrack in Maggi Moss country.

And what makes a good story even better, Jack will be riding with and against his son Kyle.

Needless to say, we wish the Cowboy good luck.

For more information on Jack Kaenel, you can google him. But my favorite Jack Kaenel story won't be there.

To wit...

In the moments after Aloma's Ruler upset the odds-on Linkage in the '82 Preakness, the ABC broadcast team, led by a fellow named Howard Cosell, descended on the Pimlico jocks' room for an interview with young Kaenel.

But they couldn't find him.

It seems that Kaenel had a previous engagement -- with the reigning Miss Preakness.

The third call came from Ruben Munoz.

Ruben, the agent for Gabriel Saez, needed to know my Derby picks.

Like I told Ray Kerrison, I told Ruben that I didn't know.

"Friesan has been No. 1 on my Derby list ever since Old Fashioned went down," I told Ruben, "but I'm nervous about that :57 work. The Racing Form knocked the work, and that happens about as often as John and Susan knocking the Yankees."

"I don't want to discredit the Form," Munoz said, "but the work was great. And he came out of it breathing fire. Larry (trainer Jones) has him right where he wants him."

Which is fine. But Friesan Fire still has to get around the racetrack, and hope that some obscure 20-1 shot doesn't run off the charts to beat him.

Or as ex-superstar trainer Gasper Moschera said recently in the DRF:

"The Derby. It's a tough race."

But not so tough for the folks who offer wagering in the various future books.

Since the futures opened last Fall, we have lost Midshipman, Vineyard HaveN, Square Eddie, The Pamplemouse, Old Fashioned, and, most recently, Quality Road.

That's a lot of future book action going up in proverbial smoke.

And I've probably missed a few names.

With Quality Road and Square Eddie going down this week, Todd Pletcher suddenly finds himself with four Derby starters: Dunkirk, Advice, Join in the Dance, and Take the Points.

That's 20 per cent of the field!

As we all know, the Toddster is snakebit when it comes to the Derby -- oh for 21!

But nothing is forever, and we have to know that Todd will not be a Derby maiden forever.

After all, didn't he win the Belmont Stakes a couple of years back with a filly, Rags To Riches?

Pletcher takes a back seat to no one in his distaste of the press. Wonder where got that from? As an assistant under D. Wayne Lukas.  

So this year, for the first time, Todd is waiting to the 11th hour to bring Dunkirk to town. In fact, Dunkirk will be the last Derby horse on the grounds.

It's never safe to predict how a race will be run, especially a race as unpredictable as the Derby, but the absence of Old Fashioned, The Pamplemousse and Quality Road changes the complexion of the race entirely.

All three are speed horses -- quality speed horses -- so, instead of looking at the fastest half-mile in Derby history, the advantage -- at least theroretically -- switches from the deep closers to those with tactical speed. Get my Kentucky Derby winning package! As mentioned earlier, I hit the trifecta the last two years and plan on doing it again.

Who knows? This could leave the Skeiks loping alone one-two on the lead. After all, the Sheiks have having a good year, recession or not.

Didn't they just buy Fasig-Tipton!

Back to John and Susan for a moment.

I had Yanks-Tigers on the radio last night. Sixth inning. Yanks down, one zip.

"Susan, I have to say that this is by far the best that C.C. has looked as a Yankee," said John.

"I have to agree," said Susan.

No sooner than the words were out of their mouths came...single, double, home run.

Way to go, guys.

An hour later, TNT was signing off from Miami where Atlanta had beaten the Heat by 10 points wire to wire.

The TNT guy said this was a critical game for the Hawks to win because they re-claimed home-court advantage.

Home-court advantage?

Did they not notice that the two NBA homers at that point were beaten by a combined 68 points?

Personally, there could not be enough action to make me sit through 40 games/40 nights.

Get back to you on the Derby later. And don't forget Belmont Park opens on Wednesday. To learn more about all my winning angles, click here.

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