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Aug 21, 2009

Thru the Binoculars

By: John Piesen


That sigh of relief we heard coming from Saratoga Race Course this week was from NYRA management when Rachel Alexandra was not -- repeat not -- entered for Saturday's 129th running of the Alabama.

After all, if Rachel would have been entered in the $600,000 Grade One for 3-year-old fillies at a mile and a quarter, we would have been looking at a Mother Goose redux. You remember the Mother Goose back at Belmont. Rachel was a nickel to the dollar in a three-horse field, and won by 20 lengths.

That's the last thing that NYRA and the betting public wanted to see in the Alabama, the oldest stake on the planet for sophomore fillies.

With Rachel, the 'bama would have been a financial and artistic disaster. Without her, we have a field of eight well-matched fillies, giving the public a wide-open betting race, and the key to an intriguing $500,000 guaranteed Late Pick Four.

And, moreover, Rachel remains a viable candidate for the Travers next Saturday and the Woodward the following Saturday. In either case, Rachel would be taking on the boys, a much more dramatic scenario than the Alabama.

Again, I have no idea why Rachel's connections play these mind games, and I have no idea why they don't take a beating for doing so in the press. Are the members of the media afraid they won't get their Christmas wine this year?

Of course, there is a possibility that Rachel won't race at Saratoga at all.

Would you believe the Pennsylvania Derby on Labor Day at Philadelphia Park?

After all, why race for $500,000 in the Woodward when you can run for $1 million a week later in the Pa. Derby?

"True tradition is at Saratoga," owner Jess Jackson says, "but Philly Park deserves credit for stepping up both in the purse and in creativity. And they have slot revenues.

"NYRA has been very good to us, but I wish the purses were higher."

Quotes like this make me wish that the connections had as much class as their filly.

And, in case you missed it, Jackson turned down an offer out of hand by NYRA to double the purse for the Beldame at Belmont in an attempt to attract a showdown between Rachel and Zenyatta.

"We applaud them for trying...", was his response.

While the world breathlessly awaits the decision on Rachel's next race, the Alabama presents an intriguing matchup of the first four finishers in the Coaching Club American Oaks against two quality Canadian invaders -- Careless Jewel and Milwaukee Appeal.

Funny Moon, who closed widest and fastest to win the CCAO at the same distance, may be a tepid favorite under top jock Garcia in the Alabama, which will go as race 10 on an 11-race program, and -- of course -- will not be nationally televised.

Funny Moon, a $175,000 daughter of Malibu Moon, is a rarity these days for the fact that she continues to train -- for Chris Clement -- at Belmont, rather than at Saratoga, and will ship Friday for the race.

Don't Forget Gil, who closed for second in the Oaks at 17-1; the Bob Baffert-trained Wynning Ride, who was prominent throughout, and settled for third, and the Todd Pletcher-trained Casanova Move, the fourth finisher, obviously all have a license to turn the tables on Funny Moon.

But it's the two Canadian fillies who will attract much of the betting action.

Careless Jewel, a gray daughter of Tapit from the Woodbine-based Josie Carroll, posted a race-high 104 Beyer in wiring the Delaware Oaks last month. The Toddster-trained Malibu Prayer, second that day, came back to run second last week to Just Jenda in the Monmouth Oaks.

Careless Jewel won her last two starts by the identical margin of 7 1/4 lengths, but those races were at 1 1/16 miles. No one has a clue if she can carry her speed a mile and a quarter, especially against fast fillies from Baffert and Lukas (Be Fair).

Readers of this venue know how much I respect Milwaukee Appeal, who drew widest in the Alabama.

With Stew Elliott shipping from Jersey to Woodbine for the mount, the Milwaukee Brew filly won the Woodbine Oaks, then was third -- beaten a neck -- against the boys in the $1 million Queen's Plate, the Kentucky Derby of Canada.

But it was Milwaukee Appeal's next race, in the $500,000 Prince of Wales, also against males, that was truly memorable.

Sent away as the 7-5 favorite, she ran her eyeballs out, and the whole world called her the winner...but after a 12-minute look at the films, the placing judges called the Mark Casse-trained Glint the winner.

"Toughest beat I've ever had," says trainer Scott Fairlie.

Fairlie thanked Elliott for his efforts by canning him, and replacing him with John Velazquez.

With a bankroll of $747,371, Milwaukee Appeal has earned more than double anything else in the Alabama.

The Alabama will go as the third leg in the 500K Late Pick Four.

Let's take a look at the rest of the sequence...

Race Eight

The bettors catch a break because they can see which of the eight first-starters are live in this $55,000 maiden-special for 2-year-olds at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Foremost of the eight may be Gathering Cloud, one of five 2-year-olds sent to Barclay Tagg by Rick Porter (Fox Hill Farm). Porter went to Tagg because Larry Jones, his main man, is counting down to his retirement in October.

Gathering Cloud, a 100K Tapit colt, has been training lights out at Belmont and Saratoga, and gets jockey Castallano for his debut.

Of those who have started, the most dangerous is Discreetly Mine, a Mineshaft colt from Stan Hough who was a beaten favorite in his two starts. The bay gets the rail, keeps Prado, and sheds the blinkers.

Race Nine

Speaking of Prado, he was dumped by trainer Clement off a maiden win by Grassy last month at Belmont, and Dominguez gets the call on the gray in this $53,000 allowance for 3-and-up at 1 1/16 miles on the inner turf.

When was the last time Prado got canned from a winner?

Grassy will have to hustle to overcome the nine-hole over a course that favors inside speed.

Good Prospect, who won the first race of the Spa stand for top trainer Linda Rice, again will be a major player under Garcia. Top trainer. Top jock. And the rail. Hard to fault.

If you're looking for a price, try Xodo, a closer who has done all his racing on the left coast. Calvin Borel, having a very quiet meet, has the call from trainer Ribaudo.

Race 11

Six of the 10 runners in this $49,000 allowance for state-bred fillies at 1 1/16 miles on the turf exit victories, several of them at boxcars.

If you're alive, you need to have Freedom Rings, a nose winner over Thursday winner Cap the Thunder. That was the first start for Freedom Rings since a close-up seventh last October in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Fillies at Santa Anita. This is the last of several live mounts for Johnny V.

Seek On descends for The Chief off a troubled sixth in the New York Stallion Stakes.

At Monmouth Park, look for Solar Flare to run big for Team Jones Saturday in the featured Iselin.

Good luck this weekend. Don't forget to check out the red-hot John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283), and we'll see you back here Tuesday for a look at the Travers.

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