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Nov 25, 2009

THRU THE BINOCULARS

By: John Piesen


A Blast from the Past

No doubt many of us remember Hialeah Park from its glory days when the Miami facility was second to one, and attracted the best racehorses in North America. From a personal viewpoint, I had the privilege of covering Hialeah for Daily Racing Form in the early '90s, and, although the facility at that time was a shell of itself, it was a memory I will always treasure.

For a variety of reasons, John J. Brunetti, the second-generation Hialeah president, shut down Hialeah in 2001, presumably for keeps. During the ensuing years, the plant detoriated badly, leaving little or no likelihood of a renaissance.

But Brunetti, with an eye on bringing casino gambling on-board, kept plugging, and, on Saturday, Hialeah will kick off a 30-day quarter-horse meet with hopes of bringing back the thoroughbreds by 2011.

To honor the occasion, Brunetti is hosting a lavish cocktail party Friday evening on the grounds, but my invitation one can assume was lost in the mail.

The restoration of this one-time queen of North American racetracks (at a cost of $15 million) remains a long shot, considering: 1) the sagging economy; 2) opposition from Gulfstream Park and Calder, which have their own problems, and 3) the lack of cooperation from the south Florida political community.

"We're surging forward," says Brunetti, who has continued in the game as the owner of Red Oak Stable, "and we have created more than 700 construction jobs. It hasn't been easy.

"We still have opposition from Gulfstream and Calder, and I suspect we will always have that opposition. But I'm here to save Hialeah, not destroy it. That's why we're here -- to bring back racing, to bring back Hialeah."

That said, we'll be rooting for the racetrack that, in years long past, gave us so many great champions -- notably Kelso, Seattle Slew, Spectacular Bid, Alydar and Buckpasser...as well as the memorable Chicken Flamingo.

The chicken flamingo?

The centerpiece of the old Hialeah was always the Flamingo Stakes for 3-year-olds. In 1966, a field of nine was entered for the Flamingo on March 3, headed by Buckpasser, a Tom Fool colt owned by the Phipps Family, and trained by Ed Neloy.

Buckpasser brought a 10-2-0 record from 13 starts into the Flamingo, and figured to be no better than 1-5 under Bill Shoemaker.

Track president Gene Mori, fearing the possibility of a costly minus pool, made the unpopular decision to bar wagering (thus the Chicken Flamingo). As it turned out, Buckpasser was life and death to get up by a nose over Abe's Hope in the betless race...and then proceeded to win his next 12 starts, and finish his career 25-for-31.

As for handicapping quarter-horses, I honestly don't know much about it other than using the in-form speed from the outside.

In addition to the grand re-opening of Hialeah (and the cocktail party), there will be a lot more going on this weekend -- notably 11 graded stakes at Aqueduct, Churchill Downs and Hollywood Park.

And, of course, we will have selections here on-line and on the John Piesen Hot Line at 888 612 2283.

The list follows:

AQUEDUCT

FOUR DAYS
15 RACES
THREE TRACKS!
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Thursday:
Fall Highweight (Grade 3)
Friday:
Top Flight (Grade 2)
Saturday:
Cigar Mile (Grade 1)
Gazelle (Grade 1)
Remsen (Grade 2)
Demoiselle (Grade 2)

CHURCHILL DOWNS
Thursday:
Falls City (Grade 2)
Friday:
Clark (Grade 2)
River City (Grade 3)
Saturday:
Kentucky Jockey Club (Grade 2)
Golden Rod (Grade 2)

HOLLYWOOD PARK
Friday:
Citation (Grade 1)
Saturday:
Matriarch (Grade 1)
Generous (Grade 3)
Sunday:
Hollywood Derby (Grade 1)
Miesque (Grade 3)

Speaking of Aqueduct, I spoke this morning to Ruben Munoz, the agent for apprentice Ricardo Santana Jr., who went down during the running of the fifth race Sunday afternoon at the Big A.

Out Nice Them, with Rosey Napravnik up, crossed sharply over in front of Ship of Fools, Santana up, causing Ship of Fools to clip heels, and pitch Santana to the ground.

Complaining of back pain, Santana was rushed by ambulance to North Shore General Hospital for treatment.

Munoz said that Santana was released from the hospital on Monday morning, but is still experiencing back pains, and will see a back specialist recommended by Angel Cordero Jr.

"We're just hoping for the best for Ricardo," Munoz said. "He was the leading apprentice at Delaware Park, and was just starting to make an impact in New York and New Jersey. In fact, he was to ride four Monday afternoon at The Meadowlands, including the favorite for Gary Contessa (Gypsy Camp) in the eighth race."

Here's wishing a rapid recovery for this talented young rider.

CHURCHILL DOWNS DOINGS...

We are looking a rare Tuesday card at the home of the Kentucky Derby. And, to spice up the action, there will be a 42K carryover in the Pick Six, starting with race five.

Borel, Leparoux and Albarado, locked in a three-way battle for the Churchill riding title, all have major players in the sequence.


PICK-6 POWER AT CHURCHILL DOWNS

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If you don't have this information, let me be your handicapper on Tuesday at Churchill Downs. After over thirty years in racing, with both the DRF (where I still hold the record of a 207-day winning streak, at Monmouth Park) and the New York Post, I have contacts inside the shedrow, with trainers, jockey agents and anyone in position to know the inside scoop. Add to that, I've got the sharpest numbers in the business.

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Let's take a look:

Race Five

The players catch a bit of a break because they can watch the board, a good thing inasmuch as nine of the 12 in the body of the 5 1/2-furlong maiden-claimer for 2-year-olds are first-time starters.

Two of the firsters are Lady of the Manor, who last month worked five furlongs in a bullet 1:00 at Keeneland for trainer McPeek, and Invitation, a filly by Vindication, who was the sire of a winning John Servis firster on Sunday at Philadelphia Park.

Invitation's owner is Peter Blum, who gave Bob Frankel his first Grade 1 winner in California: Life Cycle in the 1973 Hollywood Invitational at Hollywood Park.

Quicken Tempo blew the break from the one-hole in his Keeneland bow.

Race Six

The three major players in this 1 /16-mile race for $15,000 claimers are piloted by the Big Three: Countus in Mon (Leparoux); Jo Bananas (Albarado), and Emerald Gal (Borel).

Countus in Mon is trained by Dave Kassen, whose riding career was marked by a second-place finish on Needles and Pins in the 1970 Belmont Stakes.

Jo Bananas exits a two-turn maiden score at Keeneland from the 12-hole.

Race Seven

Princeville Condo, one of five in this nine-furlong grass allowance, has not finished worse than third (4-3-1) from eight starts, and will be closing fastest under Torrez, who played the part of Braulio Baeza in the Ruffian TV film.

Mr Maccool has lost nine straight since winning the '08 United Nations at Monmouth Park for trainer Fawkes. Why Tonto faded to fourth for Pletcher off the six-month layup, and goes from Baird to Albarado.

Guadalcanal, no relation to the horse of the same name who beat Kelso in the '60s, last time chased Cloudy's Knight, who then missed a nose of winning the Breeders' Cup Marathon.

Race Eight

Look for the syndicates to hit the "all" button in this six-furlong heat for nickel claimers.

Dr. Rythym, a 6-year-old son of Derby pace-setter Songandaprayer, will be the speed and the favorite under comeback jock James Lopez.

Fast Draw, from the Lukas barn, is 1-for-16, but the "one" came by four-plus lengths at Saratoga.

Race Nine

Jockeys Borel, Albarado and Leparoux appear to dominate this 1 / 16-mile grass allowance, which passes for the feature.

Borel rides Tears of Jupiter, trained by Cindy Jones, who has won with two of her eight starters since taking over for husband Larry. Let's see if Tears, beaten double-digits in her last four starts for Larry, can move up for Cindy.

Cruisin'nthebridle is first-time Albarado.

Trainer Matz sheds the blinkers from Aaroness (Leparoux).

Race Ten

This six-furlong maiden-special for 3-year-olds looks like a matchup of Helliecat (Borel) vs. Soda Jerk (Albarado).

Cliff Grum paid 240K for Helliecat, winless in four starts, the last two at odds-on.

Soda Jerk missed by a nose two-back at Saratoga.

Good luck. See you back here Friday for a preview of the weekend graded stakes.

Have a happy holiday.



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