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May 29, 2009

Thru the Binoculars

By: John Piesen


BIG DOINGS AT BELMONT

The eyes of the racing world will be focused on Belmont Park the next two Saturdays, more so of course on the first Saturday of June than the last Saturday of May.

As this is being written, we are still waiting for word from owner Jess Jackson whether Preakness winner Rachel Alexander will ship from Churchill Downs for the Belmont Stakes.

I've talked to several sources in Louisville, and no one knows for sure what Jackson's decision will be. Maybe we'll know Monday as promised, or maybe not until Wednesday morning when entries are taken.

Personally, I'd say it's 70-30 against.

Mine That Bird, the Derby winner and Preakness runner-up, will be on that Wednesday flight from Louisville for sure, and will go favored in the Belmont whether Calvin Borel or Jockey X gets to ride him.

Obviously, if Rachel does go to the Belmont, Borel will ride her, and that will leave Mine That Bird needing a rider. Who will it be? Well, we know who it can't be. Mike Smith is committed to ride at Hollywood Park on Belmont Day, and jockeys Gomez, Prado and Velazquez -- the usual suspects -- are committed to other horses in the Belmont.

I would think that jockeys Albarado and Leparoux would be the most likely candidates, although Leparoux has a call on Pure Clan that day at Churchill.

Todd Pletcher and Kiaran McLaughlin, the trainers of the last two Belmont winners (Rags to Riches and Da' Tara) will try again with old friend Dunkirk and Charitable Man, respectively.

Obviously, both have major shots in a Belmont field that is not that deep. This is why D. Wayne Lukas and Nick Zito both plan to run two: Lukas (Luv Guv and Flying Private); Zito (Miner's Escape and Brave Victory.)

Before you dismiss these four out of hand, consider that their credentials are no worse than two of the last three Belmont winners -- Jazil and Da' Tara. California shippers Chocolate Candy and Mr. Hot Stuff, and deep closer Summer Bird will complete the field that will total 11 or 12.

There are five other graded stakes on the Belmont Day program, first post for which has been moved up to 11:30 a.m, all of which will set the stage for the last leg of the Triple Crown. There is also a $1 million Pick-6 starting in Race 4 and a $1 million Pick-6 starting in Race 8.

Jun 06 Acorn Stakes Belmont Park 1 Mile
Jun 06 Just a Game Stakes Belmont Park 1 Mile
Jun 06 True North Stakes Belmont Park 6 Furlongs
Jun 06 Manhattan Handicap Belmont Park 1 1/4 Miles
Jun 06 Woody Stephens Stakes Belmont Park 7 Furlongs

Gio Ponti and Court Vision are expected to renew their rivalry in the Manhattan Handicap, and they likely will be joined in the starting gate by the venerable Better Talk Now, Cowboy Cal, Grand Couturier, Lauro, Premium Gold, and Interpatation.

At this point, we are looking at short-priced favorites in the two other stakes -- Forever Together in the Just A Game, Justwhistledixie in the Acorn.

Other probables for the Just A Game are Carribean Sunset, Diamondrella, My Princess Jess, Captain's Lover, and Modern Look.

The other Acorn probables are Just Jenda, Be Fair, Dream Play, Funny Moon, and Doremifasollatido.

The Acorn, of course, was the original target for the previous connections of Rachel Alexandra.

As for this Saturday, three stakes will be offered on the 10-race menu, and all are highly competitive.

Let's take a look...

Race Four

Cool Coal Man, fresh from consecutive Grade 3 placings for Zito, will be the one to catch with Johnny V from the rail in the $65,000 Lord of the Nights for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles.

Plan and Pictural, from Big Brown's connections (IEAH-Dutrow), will race coupled, as will Discreet Treasure and Giant Chieftain from the Hough barn.

Hough passed up the Met Mile for this softer spot for Discreet Treasure, who exits a fast-closing second in the opening-day Westchester to Bribon, who went on to win the Met last Monday. DT's only prior Belmont race was a 12-length blowout in his first start last summer.

Fierce Wind has some back class, but takes the worst of the weights.

Race Eight

World-class trainers Mott, Tagg and Clement all will run uncoupled entries in the $65,000 McKayMackenna Stakes for fillies and mares, 3 and up, at 1/16 miles on the grass.

Severe storms flooded Long Island early Friday morning, but, with a dry forecast, we should have firm going by race time.

This is one of those Belmont grass stakes in which they will be crawling the first half-mile.

Stormy Relations, who wired a Belmont grass allowance last June, should have a free lunch on the lead. Although she has been no worse than 6-1 in her last seven starts, she's 15-1 on the program here.

La Hernanda -- first-time Gomez -- hasn't raced since December when she was DQd from first in a Tampa grass allowance. The stewards moved up multiple stakes-winner Ballymore Lady from second.

In his two prior rides on Scolara, jockey Desormeaux is 2-for-2 -- a Keeneland allowance, and a Gulfstream Park stake. Scolara exits three straight troubled trips.

Kristi With a K is 2-for-2 over the Belmont green, including a last-out allowance score. Dominguez has the return call.

Race Nine

At least on paper, the $150,000 Sands Point -- for 3-year-old fillies at nine furlongs on the grass -- looks like a two-horse race between Gozzip Girl, Desormeaux riding for Albertrani, and Magical Affair, Leparoux riding for Matz.

Both fillies exit solid stakes placings in Kentucky. Gozzip Girl was a fast-closing second in the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland after winning her prior two starts at Gulfstream.

Magical Affair, a $1.5 million yearling, had a nightmare trip closing for second in the Edgewood on Oaks Day at Churchill.

Trainer Matz will have a good excuse for not saddling Magical Affair. He'll be giving away daughter Michelle at virtually the same time they will be going to the gate for the Sands Point.

Leparoux likely is giving up three or four winners at Churchill to ride Magical Affair.

The late-running Fast Tigress (first-time Gomez) beat Gozzip Girl three lengths in a Gulfstream allowance.

Sapphire Sky, the best of the New York-bred 3-year-old fillies, tries grass first time with Dominguez.

Meantime, the only Grade One race Saturday will be the Gamely Stakes for fillies and mares, 3 and up, at nine furlongs on the turf at Hollywood Park.

The first five finishers in the Santa Barbara Handicap last month at Santa Anita return for the Gamely to be run as race nine They are, in order, Magical Fantasy, Black Mamba, Toque de Queda, Ainamaa and Foxysox.

Would not be at all surprised if the Bob Frankel-trained Toque de Queda, who had a bad trip as the favorite in the Santa Barbara, makes amends with Espinoza.

The Irish-bred Tuscan Evening is the absolute speed from the one-hole with Bejarano, who gives up Foxysox for the call.

Diamond Diva, second in the Wilshire Handicap at odds-on off a 10-month layoff, is 2-2-0 from four starts over the course.

Visit, the other Frankel runner, exits a troubled fifth as the favorite in the Distaff Turf Mile on the Kentucky Derby undercard. Blanc replaces the New York-based Gomez.

Lemon Chiffon (and jockey Smith) must overcome post 11 in a race that unfairly starts on the turn.

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I will have these three stake races, plus three other personal plays, my two Value Best Bets and my best exacta and trifecta on the card. All for only $15. The weather will be good and the winning will be even better. Get with me and you'll be glad you did.

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PIESEN CUES: If you're looking for a 2-year-old at Saratoga, you need to check out Brother Bird from the Pletcher barn. Dogwood Stable paid $485,000 for Brother Bird, named so because he happens to be a half-brother to Mine That Bird. The colt was purchased on a Monday, and all shares were sold by Friday...No surprise that Friesan Fire, a major disappointment in the Derby and Preakness, has landed on the DL. The multiple stakes-winner was found by Dr. Larry Bramlage to have a stress fracture in his left front, and a chip fracture in his right front. He was to undergo surgery today (Friday)...Look for Turfiste, scratched from an Arlington stake last Saturday, to run well Sunday at Churchill.

Have a good weekend. See you back here Monday.



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