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May 15, 2009

Thru the Binoculars

By: John Piesen


THE 2009 PREAKNESS: IT'S ALL ABOUT RACHEL

Win or lose, Rachel Alexandra clearly is the story of the 134th Preakness.

Rachel is the reason, and only reason, why Pimlico Race Course -- despite such minor inconveniences as a recession, a bankruptcy, and a beer ban -- will shatter attendance and handle records, the reason why NBC is expecting record ratings, and the reason why your favorite aunt Martha, who doesn't know a fetlock from a furlong, will be glued to the boob tube late Saturday afternoon into early Saturday evening.

That said; there are some folks who believe that Rachel shouldn't be in the Preakness.

One of those folks is a fellow named Don Lucarelli of Schenectaday, New York.

Now, Schenectady just happens to be one of my favorite cities. The people are warm and friendly, some lovely parks and waterways, and a small airport dot the landscape, it boasts a respected seat of higher learning in Union College, it has some great breakfast joints, and I have spent many warm summer evenings chatting up racing in the Capitol OTB studios on State Street.

So when I picked up a copy of the Schenectady Gazette this morning, turned to the sports pages, and read a Preakness piece by sportswriter Phil Janack, I have to confess that I nearly lost it.

This is where Don Lucarelli comes in.

It seems that Lucarelli, a Schenectady resident, is the principal owner of Take the Points.

Now this has nothing to do with the folks who took the points with the Celtics on Thursday night.

No, we are talking about a 3-year-old colt named Take the Points, who -- despite his connections, trainer Pletcher and jockey Prado -- will be something of a longshot from post 11 in the Preakness.

Maybe Lucarelli is a lone voice in the wind, or maybe he's speaking for thousands of racing people. But I do know that his quotes in the Gazette have to be the most absurd that I have ever read.

(Friends say that I have a tendency to exaggerate too much...but this is no exaggeration).

This is what Lucarelli had to say about Rachel Alexandra:

"I always tell it like it is. I don't believe the filly should be in the Preakness, not because we're in the race, and we have to compete against her. She seems to be in a class of her own. I just feel that the connections did it for themselves instead of looking at the filly.

"I feel they should have given the filly more rest, and picked their spot of when to go against the boys at a different point. There will be a lot of other opportunities.

"All the colts in the Preakness are building stallion values by being in the Triple Crown (with the exception of Mine That Bird, a gelding). They should not be running the filly. That's my personal view."

Yes, Mr. Lucarelli has a right to his personal view, and he has every right to express it, and Janack has every right to print his view.

But who is this guy to tell Jess Jackson where or when to run his horse?

Let's see now. I'm still ticked at Jackson for sending bottles of his best wine to the Eclipse voters last Christmas in a tawdry attempt to win votes for Curlin for Horse of the Year.

And it worked.

And, I'm ticked at Jackson for dumping trainer Hal Wiggins when he spent $10 million to buy Rachel Alexandra.

Hey, what the hell?

I still love Schenectady...

And I love the 13-race Saturday card at Pimlico, especially race 12. My full-card selections, and specifically my Preakness selections are available here online or you can call my John Piesen Hot Line toll free at 1-888-612-2283. [See offer below]

Let's take a look at the Preakness field horse by horse...

From post one, jockey Velazquez has no option but to send Big Drama (#1). If Big Drama, the only Florida-bred in the field, gets loose, or gets a pocket trip behind Rachel, he'll be tough. The media is missing one of the more compelling story lines of this Preakness: Angel Cordero Jr. won the most controversial Preakness in history in 1980 on Codex, and is now Johnny V's agent as well as mentor. But can Big Drama win the Preakness with a mere seven-furlong race on his 3-year-old resume?

Is Mine That Bird (#2) a one-race wonder, or is he the best thing since the 10-cent superfecta? Just don't expect Mike Smith, already a Hall of Famer, and a potential TV icon, to be repeating Calvin Borel's rail-skimming tactics.

Prediction: MTB bird will be the post-time second choice to Rachel, not the third choice.

How much credence can we give for the fact that jockey Coa chooses Musket Man (#3) over Big Drama? Obviously, looking back, he made the right choice in the Derby. MM should have been moved up to second via DQ in the Derby, but the stewards paid no attention to the battle for second, and Coa couldn't be bothered to claim.

Sly ol' D. Wayne tells the media that Luv Guv (#4) is using the Preakness as a prep for the Belmont, but don't be surprised if the Guv outruns his 50-1 morning line.

What to do with Friesan Fire (#5)?

FF had an awful trip. and got cut up pretty bad when checking in 18th as the favorite in Louisville. But he showed his old flash in that :58 work for trainer Jones the other day. And FF wouldn't be the first horse to go from Derby bum to Preakness hero. See Snow Chief, Louis Quatorze and Hansel.

Terrain (#6) was my pick in both the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the Blue Grass, and in both cases had nightmare trips closing for fourth. Trainer Stall skipped the Derby, and picks up jockey Rose, who rode the greatest race in Preakness history on Afleet Alex in 2005.

The Oaklawn Park folks see the Preakness as a match between Arkansas Derby winner Papa Clem (#7), and Fantasy Stakes winner Rachel Alexandra...although both races somehow are not Grade Ones. Maybe the OP gamers are on to something. Didn't Team Stute win the '86 Preakness with Snow Chief?

General Quarters (#8) is one of many horses who got wiped out in the Derby. Jockey Leparoux prefers this guy to Terrain. Wonder if Cal Ripken, a GQ guy himself, got the memo that GQ is the eight.

Horses coming off synthetic tracks finished 1-2-3-5 at Louisville so you've got to respect Pioneerof the Nile (#9). He was the winner if Mine That Bird didn't win the Grey Stakes last year at Woodbine,  and he has lethal connections -- Baffert and Gomez.

Flying Private (#10) got beat 43 lengths in the Derby. D. Wayne blamed the post position (19) so here he is...and with a new rider (Garcia). Looks the one to beat in the last-place pool.

Let's see here. Take the Points (#11) has been no worse than fourth in his six starts, and gets Prado and blinkers. Don't tell owner Lucarelli not to run him.

What a difference a year makes for jockey Desormeax. Last year, KD won the Preakness with the odds-on Big Brown. This time he's 50-1 and up on Tone It Down (#12), who shares the same daddy with Rachel .

Rachel Alexandra (#13) may or may not be the best filly since Ruffian, but clearly she hasn't faced this kind of competition. Taking 7-5 from post 13 with a target on her back may or may not be way to go. Jockey Borel is the first rider in history to take off the Derby winner, but he and agent Hissam don't chase that many empty wagons...and the filly is getting five pounds from her dozen male rivals.

Good luck Saturday...and see you back here Monday for a post-mortem.


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