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May 21, 2010


By: John Piesen

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but won't this be the first Saturday since mid-January on which there is no major stakes race carded for 3-year-olds east of the Mississippi?

Fact is the richest race nationally Saturday is the 52nd running of the $150,000 Sheepshead Bay, a Grade Two for fillies and mares at a mile and three furlongs on the Belmont Park grass.

There is one 3-year-old stake on the national menu, the $100,000 Laz Barrera at Hollywood Park, but this is basically a "non-winners of one other-than..."

The Sheepshead Bay, which drew a field of eight, presents yet another occasion in which the bettors are faced with the torturous assignment of deciphering uncoupled entries -- in this case Pari and Ballynoe from Tom Proctor, and Tarrip and The Gaillimh Girl from Chris Clement.

In each case, there is no "strong" half and "weak" half. Any one of the four have a license to win in a wide-open betting affair.

The favorite no doubt will be the South American-bred Bubbly Jane...primarily because she's two-for-two over the Belmont green, winning small stakes at a mile and a quarter by
a head and a nose.

But this will be the 5-year-old mare's first start since November, and there must be easier places for a comeback race. Jockey Maragh has the call from trainer Lobo.

Handicappers I'm sure will note that, when Bubby Jane won the Donor Stakes last summer, she was getting two pounds from Nehantic Cat, who closed for fourth, beaten a length and a quarter.

Nehantic Cat, a 7-year-old New York-bred, is back for the Sheepshead Bay, and this time will be getting two pounds from Bubbly Jane. Top jock Dominguez has the call from trainer Tagg.

Unlike so many New York Saturday stakes features that go as the third or fourth race, the Sheepshead Bay will be run as race nine on the 10-race card, and will be the third of four legs in the guaranteed $300,000 Late Pick Four.

Meantime, they are dropping like proverbial flies from the Belmont Stakes. In the
last 48 hours it was announced that Dublin and Setsuko, both would-be major players, are passing the June 5 running of the third jewel of the Triple Crown.

By withdrawing Dublin from the Belmont, trainer D. Wayne Lukas guarantees that there will not be a single horse to contest all three legs of the 2010 Triple Crown. The
defection also leaves two-time Eclipse rider Gomez open.

Setsuko looked like a Belmont horse to this writer with his closing seconds in the Santa Anita Derby and Sham Stakes, and obviously trainer Mandella agreed. But the
colt's ankles flared up following a pair of recent works at Santa Anita, and he was declared out.

Speaking of Lukas, the Living Legend made news this week when the owners of '09 Derby winner Mine That Bird fired trainer Woolley, and sent the horse to Lukas at Churchill.

Now, it's their horse, and they pay the bills, but once again we see an absolute lack of loyalty in the game.

At least for once the fired horseman fired back.

"I guess I should be grateful," said Woolley, "...for the opportunity to train Mine That Bird and win the Derby. But I guess he would have had to win the Triple Crown for me
to keep him."

The fact that it's Lukas who gets Mine That Bird is something of a surprise. It makes me believe that Pletcher must have turned him down.

No one can predict where Mine That Bird goes from here, but, as a gelding, he theoretically can compete at the highest levels for another three or four years. But whatever, I know for one I won't be rooting for him.

Lost in the Preakness hype last weekend was the shocking passing of Skip Away in his paddock at Hopewell Farm in Kentucky. Skippy, the 1998 Horse of the Year and a Hall of Famer, was 17. The cause of death was a heart attack.

The NBC telecast of the Preakness didn't bother to mention Skippy's death, not even during a showing of the '96 Preakness, when Skippy could be seen clear as life  finishing second.

I also find it offensive that there is no race named for Skip Away in New York, where he won the Jockey Club Gold Cup (twice), and many other major races.

Few horses in the sport can match Skippy's popularity and resume. The big gray, who raced for the late Sonny Hine, and his wife Carolyn, ran in 31 graded stakes, winning 16, and placing in 13 others. Overall, he made 38 starts in 41 months, virtually all in graded-stakes competition.

At the midpoint of his career, Skippy morphed from a dead-closer to a front-runner, and used his new style to reel off nine straight victories, including the Breeders' Cup Classic.

I reached Carolyn Hine by phone in Florida on Thursday morning, and did what I could to console her.

But nothing I or anyone else could say can console her.

"I'm devastated," she said. "I've lost the two most important males in my life... Sonny (who passed at 69) and Skippy."

For most of his racing career, Skip Away was based summers at Monmouth Park, which on Saturday kicks off its 50-day "elite" meeting that will offer $1 million in average daily purses on a mostly three-days-a-week schedule.

Opening-day attracted 148 entries for the 13-race program, which will start at 12:50 p.m. and end about 7 p.m.

For the players, stamina and deep pockets are obvious requirements.

It was thought that the big-money would attract many of the the nation's top whipper-snappers, but of that group only Gomez and Johnny V are taking the bait.

"This is a bold experiment," says nine-time champion Monmouth trainer John Forbes. "The intent is to survive."

We await with great interest the answer.

Thanks for tuning in. Good luck this weekend, don't forget to check out the red-hot John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283), and see you back here on Tuesday.

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