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Mar 12, 2010

Thru the Binoculars

By: John Piesen


What a racing menu we have for Saturday!

Check it out.

In the Eastern time zone, we are looking at the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs, the Gulfstream Park Handicap at Gulfstream Park, and the Cicada Stakes, honoring my favorite racehorse of all time, at Aqueduct.

In the Central time zone, we'll find Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra making her 4-year-old debut in the Fair Grounds Ladies in New Orleans, plus the Rebel and Honeybee at Oaklawn Park.

And in the Pacific time zone, there will be the unbeaten Zenyatta's season bow in the Santa Margarita Handicap, and the San Felipe, both at Santa Anita.

By any account, this will be the most compelling non-Derby or Breeders' Cup racing Saturday of our lifetime.

How compelling?

Here's how...

The Rebel, featuring champion Lookin at Lucky, Dublin and Noble's Promise, clearly is the best race of the season to date in the 3-year-old division, and you'll be lucky to find a graph on it in the Sunday papers.

The reasons of course are Rachel and Zenyatta.

Both superstars return to action as 1-5 shots in races scheduled 10 minutes apart, and the racing world will be holding its collective breath that both mares will go about their business, and emerge unscathed, so that the countdown can continue for the Race of the Ages in the $5 million Apple Blossom Invitational on April 9 at Oaklawn.

There's no question that Zenyatta has the more difficult assignment Saturday. After all, as the 127-pound highweight, she'll be asked to concede double-digit pounds -- as well as a major head start -- to eight rivals, some of whom have decent credentials.

On the other had, Rachel gets into her Fair Grounds race at a feathery 123 pounds, and she'll face only four rivals.

I would think that whichever mare is the more impressive winner on Saturday will go favored in the Apple Blossom. At this point, Rachel is the slight future-book favorite in most Vegas venues, but some houses rate the race as pick 'em.

Looking ahead, that's going to be a sports weekend for the ages -- Rachel vs. Zenyatta, Tiger in the Masters (at least according to the latest scuttlebutt), and the first weekend of major league baseball (go Buccos).

But first Rachel and Zenyatta have to get through Saturday...

Unlike the Rachel and Z races, the trio of major 3-year-old stakes Saturday -- all at 1 1/16 miles -- afford ample wagering opportunities so it's a good thing that the smoking-hot John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283) will be up and running.

Let's take a look, in chronological order...

(Race 11, Tampa Bay Downs, 5:30 p.m. Eastern)

With Calvin Borel in New Orleans for Rachel, Ramon Dominguez gets the call from trainer Pletcher to ride Super Saver, who looks to be the controlling speed from post six in a field of seven for the $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby.

You would think that John Velazquez would be riding Super Saver in this spot, but Johnny V will remain at Gulfstream on Saturday to pilot the favored This Ones for Phil for Rick Dutrow in the Gulfstream Park Handicap.

Odysseus, a 15-length winner of an allowance race over the Tampa track, will be the second choice in the TBD under Maragh. Next in the betting will be Schoolyard Dreams (first-time Rose), and Uptowncharlybrown (Centeno).

Charly gets blinkers and the one-hole. If he wins, we will see the noisiest winner's circle celebration in memory. The Limehouse colt is owned by Fantasy Lane Stable, a consortium of 50 regular Jacks and Jills from the Jersey shore.

Win or lose, Charly, who gets six pounds from Super Saver, is the story of the race.

(Race 10, Oaklawn Park, 6:47 p.m. Eastern)

Can this be true?

Four of the top five horses in my current Derby Top Ten are hooking up in the $300,000 Rebel.

They are: Noble's Promise (#1), Dublin (#2), Uh Oh Bango (#3), and Lookin at Lucky (#5). Eskendereya (#3) is the missing link. He's waiting on the Florida Derby next Saturday.

Of the Big Four in the Rebel, the Lukas-trained Dublin has the advantage of a recent race, and that was over the track -- a closing second to the unbeaten Conveyance in the Southwest.

For that reason, I would expect that Dublin (although he's picked next-to-last at 6-1 in the DRF consensus box) will go favored from the outside post in a field of seven. Nakatani replaces Thompson. The owners' call.

Dublin will break running, sit second behind Royal Express, make the lead at one point, and try to hold off Lookin at Lucky and Noble's Promise, neither of whom figures to be at 100 per cent for this race.

Trainer Baffert will be looking to complete some kind of lucrative hat trick with Lookin at Lucky, the Eclipse champion who will be first-time blinkers, and first-time dirt. Baffert is 2-for-2 at the meet, taking the Southwest with Conveyance, and the Azeri with Freedom Star, both wire-to-wire.

Gomez, an Arkansas native, will have his usual seat aboard LAL, who will break from the two-hole.

Noble's Promise, who finished right behind LAL in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the Cash Call, switches to Albarado, a two-time OP champion, for the Rebel.

Noble's Promise, an over-achieving 10K yearling, has been working lights-out for Arkansas native McPeek. The 119-pound co-topweight with Lucky, NP may never see the rail from the six-hole.

Then there's Uh Oh Bango, who well may be the Mine That Bird of his generation. This will be Bango's first start since his close-up second to Rule in the $750,000 Delta Jackpot on Dec. 4. Rule came back to win the Sam Davis, and the fifth finisher in the DJ came back to win the Allison Futurity.

The small-town owners of Bango have turned down some big-time offers for the little colt, who has the only triple-digit Beyer number (102) in the Rebel field if that's what floats your boat.

(Race 9, Santa Anita, 7:38 p.m. Eastern)

Caracortado, a gelded grandson of Storm Cat, will be favored to make it 6-for-6 from the outside post under regular rider Atkinson in a field of seven for the $150,000 San Felipe, the key prep for the April 3 Santa Anita Derby.

Dave in Dixie and American Lion, who finished two-three behind Caracortado last out in the Robert B. Lewis, will be dangerous under return riders Rosario and Leparoux, respectively.

Then there is Sidney's Candy, fresh from wiring the seven-furlong San Vicente. El Sid again looks very much the one to catch under Talamo.

Interactif, one of The Toddster's armada of 3-year-olds goes to turf-to-dirt, travels 3,000 miles for this race, is first-time Bejarano, and first-time plastic.

Thanks for tuning in. Enjoy Super Saturday, and don't forget to check out my selections here on-line or on the Hot Line. See you back here Tuesday.

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