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May 27, 2010


By: John Piesen


Piesen Cashes Thursday At Belmont!
R7: Mor Chances WON $7.40
That's 16 winners in 17 days based on 3 best bets per day!


Conventional wisdom says The Belmont Stakes, in view of the absence of the Derby and Preakness winners, is a wide-open race. Unlike the Derby, which had a 6-1 favorite, and the Preakness, which had 2-1 co-favorites, for sure we are looking at an odds-on favorite in Ice Box for the Belmont. Count me among those who believe big payoffs are ahead, whether on the win bet or the exotics. The Belmont has produced just that over the years, and coming off my $152.40 exacta in the Kentucky Derby with Noble's Promise, Ice Box & Super Saver, followed up by another winner with Lookin At Lucky in the Preakness, I'm fully prepared to win my own personal Triple Crown. So following the principles of excellent handicapping, it was time to play devil's advocate. Is there a case for thinking chalk at the top and going for value in the exotics?

Up until Thursday, I figured that Ice Box, exiting terrific performances in the Florida and Kentucky Derbys, would be 4-5 in what is shaping up as an 11-horse field for the Belmont, the 12-furlong third jewel of the Triple Crown to be run next Saturday at Belmont Park.

But then on Thursday morning, Ice Box, with exercise rider Maxine Correa up, blazed a half-mile in a bullet :46 3/5 over the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga.

What's that you say?

It's only a workout.

True enough, but I've been watching horses train on Oklahoma since the '80s, and I can count on one hand faster works than that. What's more, he did it for a trainer, Nick Zito, who rarely if ever works his horses fast.

And, instead of being upset that Ice Box worked so fast. Saint Nick was delighted. He told DRF:

"Ice Box is doing very, very well. Basically, this work was a duplicate of his work before the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. I'm very happy."

Zito was referring to his colt's bullet half of :46 2/5 eight days before the Derby, in which he would make up 22 lengths thru Belt Parkway-like traffic to finish second to Super Saver. Incidentally, that Churchill work was the fastest of 28 workers that morning.

Obviously, fast work or no, 3-5 shots do get beat...and Ice Box still has to get a mile and a half around Big Sandy.

One DRF columnist breaks down the Belmont as follows:

"No matter how much media hype for the Belmont, it does not change the apathy concerning the 2010 renewal. What difference will it make whether Ice Box wins by a nose, or by open lengths?"

An interesting perspective.

But I choose to disagree.

If Ice Box wins by a nose, say over barnmate Fly Down, you can just throw Ice Box in the mix for top 3-year-old. But if he wins by open lengths, he goes right to the top, and becomes the leader in the clubhouse for 3-year-old champion.

That would be quite a jump for a colt, who, as a 2-year-old, was beaten a combined 22 lengths, twice at 9-1, once at 13-1, in maiden-specials at Saratoga and Belmont.

If any trainer can pull this off, it's Nick Zito.

At this point, I have no idea whom my Belmont selections will be on the red-hot John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283).

It's been a long time since the JPHL went with the chalk in a Triple Crown race.

I'd hate to break that tradition...but!

Who knows? At this point, we have no idea if Ice Box can get a mile and a half. Of course, we can say the same for the other prospective 10 horses in the race. This is what makes handicapping the Belmont such a dilemma.

Zito has won Belmonts with bombers Birdstone and Da' Tara (and hit the board with five others). In Nick's two Belmont wins, the beaten favorites were no less than Smarty Jones and Big Brown. Obviously, there is nothing close to that caliber among Ice Box's rivals next Saturday.

That is why Ice Box will be 3-5. Now, he has to go out, and demonstrate the price is right. And no doubt, considering his running style, he'll have to get through or around the entire field from the half-mile home.

Ice Box clearly will be the betting favorite, but the sentimental favorite will be Uptowncharlybrown, who tragically lost his trainer, Alan Seewald, to a heart attack in mid-April, and who now will be making his first start for Kiaran McLaughlin.

You'll recall that Charly had a terrible trip when finishing two lengths behind Super Saver in the contentious Tampa Bay Derby back in mid-March.

While Super Saver went on to win the Kentucky Derby, while Charly settled for a troubled third in the Lexington, costing him any chance to make the Derby cut.

But the irony here is that the Derby was never Alan Seewald's real goal with Charly.

The Belmont Stakes was.

Super Saver won't make the Belmont...but his rider will.

Trainer John Sadler announced Thursday that the Hollywood Park-based Dave in Dixie will be flown cross-country for the Belmont, and that Calvin Borel will be in from Kentucky to ride the Dixie Union colt for the first time.

Calvin has merely won three Derbys and one Preakness in the last four years. If he was to win the Belmont on Dave in Dixie, it will be a miracle...but, as we know, Calvin knows from miracles.

Like several other horses in the Belmont field, Dave in Dixie will be his barn's second or third-stringer. In this case, third. Sadler won the Arkansas Derby with Line of David, and the Santa Anita Derby and San Felipe with Sidney's Candy, both of whom finished up the track in the Kentucky Derby.

Hey, you never know. Last year at this time, who really knew from Summer Bird?

No, I'm not quitting. But I do have two consecutive weeks of terrific racing ahead for all my clients. Let's start it off with my Memorial Day Extravaganza, running from Saturday thru Monday. Click here to learn more. Then the following weekend it's time for the Belmont Stakes and its entire full card! Click here to close out the Triple Crown with more profits!

Speaking of trainers, Todd Pletcher, for one of the rare times, has no dog in the fight in a Triple Crown event, but he'll be 3-5 with Quality Road in the Met Mile on Monday at Belmont.

The Toddster has been pointing Quality Road for the Met for three months, and, no doubt QR will be tough to beat.

In the past few days, three potential foes dropped out of the Met, leaving Convocatio, Kensel, Le Grand Cru, Tizway, Warrior's Reward and You and I to challenge The Toddster.

My personal favorite Met Mile story?

This was back in the mid-'80s, and I was attending a Long Island cookout on the eve of the Met Mile.

Angel Cordero dropped by and asked me who was my Met pick in the Post. I told him Amber Pass.

"Piesen," he said, "as usual you are wrong. I'm going to win the race with Fappiano. It will be easy. I'll sit behind (Amber Pass), and when he bears out on the turn like he always does, I'll blow by him on the rail."

Cordero was so convincing that I called the Post to change my pick to Fappiano, who was 5-1 -- the first and last time I ever did such a thing.

Sure enough. Fappiano won the Met, and in just the way that Junior predicted. That was the race that made Fappiano a star...and a stallion. He went on to sire Unbridled and many other major players.

Jan Nerud was the program trainer of Fappiano, but his father John called the shots. And John Nerud is still going strong today at the age of 97. In fact just two days ago, Green Bananas won the third at Belmont for John Nerud..

An amazing man.

Saturday's Belmont feature, the $150,000 Vagrancy Handicap for fillies and mares, 3 and up, at six and a half furlongs, is all about speed, starting with old friend Tar Heel Mom, the 119-pound topweight.

Alan Garcia gets the call on Tar Heel Mom, replacing Ramon Dominguez, who will be at Philadelphia Park to ride Cat Moves Saturday in the 250K My Juliet Stakes.

Only five pounds separate the seven runners, and two of them -- Hour Glass and Prayer -- form an uncoupled entry from The Toddster.

Rather than shooting over to Monmouth Park, like he did last weekend, Johnny V will stay at home to ride Malibu Prayer.

Finally, kudos to turf writers Dave Grening and Bob Fortus for their awards for their coverage of the '09 Belmont Stakes.

Thanks for tuning in. Don't forget to check out the JP Hot Line this holiday weekend, and we'll see you back here Tuesday for more on the Belmont Stakes.

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