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Jul 31, 2009

Thru the Binoculars

By: John Piesen

With connections everywhere, Piesen Cashes Big At Del Mar!
R6: Bonafacio/Once Upon A Grace/Manhattan Beach
EX $55.60 TRI $294.00


Although most folks are conceding the Haskell to Rachel Alexandra, I wouldn't be so sure.

Maybe I'm wrong (surely it wouldn't be the first time), but Calvin Borel is going to be thrust into a sticky situation.

Does Borel chase the super-fast Munnings, who will have the tactical advantage over Monmouth Park's notorious speed-favoring track, in Sunday's $1 million Haskell at Monmouth Park, and thereby set the race up for Summer Bird?

Or does Calvin take back, and let Munnings cruise on the lead through moderate fractions? This is John Velazquez and Todd Pletcher we're talking about. Johnny V is a master at stealing races, big and small, and The Toddster wins just about everything they throw at him at Monmouth, including two of the last three Haskells with horses who couldn't warm up Munnings.

One thing in Rachel Alexandra's favor is the weights.

Is it ever?

I won't bore you with lengthy explanations as to how the Haskell weights are derived. It used to be much simpler with the race was a handicap. But all I know is that Summer Bird is packing 122 pounds to Rachel's 117, obviously a huge edge to Rachel.

I'd be willing to bet that Tim Ice, the trainer of Summer Bird, didn't know he was giving a five-spot to Rachel (122-117) until Friday morning, when he dropped by the backstretch cafeteria to pick up the Saturday Form.

Personally, as a nationally-revered handicapper, I have never made a big deal about weights...but trainers worship weights. I've seen Hall of Fame trainers bail out over one pound.

Speaking of one pound, Munnings, at 118, must spot Rachel one pound although he has yet to win a Grade One while Rachel has won three Grade Ones -- in her last three starts, the Kentucky Oaks, Preakness and Mother Goose.

For that matter, the entire Haskell field is giving weight to Rachel. And just when was the last time that the lowweight in a stake was 2-5?

The bottom line?

I may be dead wrong, but, despite her mind-boggling break in the weights, Rachel is a vulnerable 2-5.

That goes double for Mine That Bird in the $750,000 West Virginia Derby Saturday at Mountaineer...only in this case, the 2-5 favorite will be the highweight.

Let's take a look...

When they last met in the Preakness, Mine That Bird finished second (to Rachel), beaten a length at 6-1. Big Drama, who got tied up in the stall on the morning of the race, was fractious going to the gate, bobbled at the break, and got blitzed in a speed duel with Rachel, finished fifth, beaten five lengths, at 10-1.

On that occasion, Mine That Bird and Big Drama both carried scaleweight of 126 pounds. For the Mountaineer race, MTB will pack 122-pound topweight, while Big Drama gets in at 111.

We are talking an 11-pound swing here, although Eibar Coa, Big Drama's rider, will have to sweat some to make the weight.

Unlike the Haskell, there's no strategy involved in the WVD. Coa will send Big Drama to the lead, and Mike Smith will be taking his best shot with MTB from dead-last in the field of six.

If Mine That bird, at the weights, catches Big Drama, God bless him.

But at 2-5?

Again, no thank you.

If you can't make it to Monmouth and/or Mountaineer, or a simulcast facility, you can always catch the races on TV.

Well...yes and no.

The West Virginia Derby will be shown live on one of those hundreds of Fox channels. You better allow enough time find the right one.

As far as the Haskell is concerned, there is no national TV presence. For whatever reason, ESPN (Jerry, Randy and the boys) are not airing the race. Neither is anyone else. And the networks don't even have the NFL as an excuse.

Hey, it just struck me. What in the world are we going to do without Henry Goldberg's selections? Y

ou don't have to be Einstein (the man, not the horse) to know that Henry would have played his mythical bankroll on two exactas: Rachel over Summer Bird, Rachel over Munnings.

Personally, I might be looking elsewhere. Check out the red-hot John Piesen Hot Line at 888 612 2283 for my Haskell/WVD and Saratoga selections.

You know of course that former grid great Sam Huff, who pretty much runs West Virginia racing, is the man responsible for bringing the Derby winner to his home state. That's a first.

An it's also a first that the entire Mountaineer card Saturday is comprised of stakes.

The only negative is that Mountaineer (Sam) won't allow the jockeys to fly the owners' silks. It's a long-standing tradition (and a bad one) at Mountaineer that jockeys do not wear the owners' silks. Instead, they wear all-red for post one, all-white for post two, and on down the line.

This is done so that spectators presumably are able to spot their horses better. Obviously, track officials feel that the fans are too stupid to otherwise identify the horses. So don't look for Mike Smith to be flying MTB's familiar black and while silks. Instead, he'll be a vision in all white.

I hate blind items. But I find it interesting that a prominent turf writer these days is not getting quotes from a prominent trainer of a prominent horse. The reason? Said trainer, unhappy with something said writer wrote, kicked him out of the barn the other day, and vowed never to speak to him again, on or off the record.

Hey, I can relate.

Tim Ritchey hasn't talked to me since 2004 when I wrote that he was looking for a rider to replace Jeremy Rose on Afleet Alex for the Arkansas Derby. In that case, I was dead on, but that was beside the point.

But let's give credit where credit is due: Ritchey is who he is, but the sucker is one helluva horse trainer.

Meantime, unlike the Haskell and West Virginia Derby, the $500,000 Jim Dandy, the third major nine-furlong stake of the weekend for straight 3-year-olds, is wide-open.

I would imagine that Charitable Man, who has been freshened by trainer McLaughlin since his troubled fourth in the Belmont, will be a slight favorite under regular rider Garcia in the Jim Dandy, race 10 Saturday at Saratoga.

But, as we all know, prep races can be tricky. And, in this case, the 500K pot notwithstanding, the Dandy still is regarded by big-money trainers mainly as a Travers prep.

Charitable Man, who broke his maiden first pop by 11 lengths over the track last summer, looks to be the speed of the Jim Dandy, if his connections choose to go that route, and he shows a :59 bullet work over the track.

The first three finishers in the downstate Dwyer -- Kensei, Convocation and Warrior's Reward -- figure to make it interesting for Da Man.

Kensei won that race by a pole as first-time Prado. Convocation had a wide trip for second (and goes back to Desormeaux), and Warrior's Reward had a nightmare trip from the one-hole at odds-on, and did well to close for third.

And don't overlook Saratoga Sinner. He has been working bullets for his first start since winning the Holy Bull Stakes back in January at Gulfstream. And unlike the one-hole at Belmont, the one-hole going two-turns at the Spa is the place to be.

And how many of us can relate to that name?

Wrapping up, this promises to be a great racing weekend. Kick back, enjoy, and maybe get lucky. See you back here on Tuesday.

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