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Jul 30, 2010




The newsiest day of the young Saratoga meet clearly was Thursday – a banner day for the “Binocs” column that I originated back in the early ‘80s at the New York Post, and continues to the present day on this venue.

The day started with the first jump-up race of the meet, and the primary player was Long Jon Sheppard – even without the green jacket. Three of the eight jumpers in the race came from the Sheppard barn --- and they finished 1-3-4, with Sermon of Love scoring as the biggest price of the three at $25.

And so while Long Jon and friends were celebrating in the winner’s circle, most of the announced crowd of 29,697 were tearing up tickets on stablemates Italian Wedding at 9-2 and Nationbuilder at 3-1.

The moral: This game is tough enough without trying to outguess the trainer, much less a Hall of Fame trainer.

We said announced crowd of 29,697, the operative word being announced. Judging by the betting numbers, it was obvious the crowd in fact was less than half of the announced number. The so-called spinners (T-shorts giveaways on this occasion) really have a way of building up those final attendance figures.

Starting with race two, five straight favorites delivered, all by at least two lengths. And when Great Gracie Dane won the ninth at $6.10, that meant six of the nine flat races went to the chalk.

What was that about the graveyard of favorites?

Who can say if this chalkfest will continue? Obviously, you can’t judge patterns by one day. But if favorites continue to thrive over the weekend, I’d have to say we are looking at a trend.

There may be chalk at Saratoga, but John Piesen still finds a way to thread the needle and find the value. His winners are paying an average price of $16.70! Click here to learn how you can get with him today and beyond!

For the 10th time since 1994, trainer Mott won a race on his birthday. But unlike other years, no one cashed out. His winner (Devil by Design) paid a mere $4.30.

And, just two racing days after jockey Castellano nailed a consecutive five-bagger, a first in Saratoga history, he rode three more winners on Thursday to open some daylight in the jockey standings.

You’ll recall that last Friday on these pages JC was our longshot pick to win the Spa riding title.

But before he can, his business has to pick up. He’s named on only five on Friday, and all are double-digits.

On Saturday, Castellano is named on only three – all longshots – in the first six races, but his action picks up with race eight, the first leg of the weekly $500,000 Late Pick Four.

JC is loaded in three of the Pick Four races, namely The Noz in race eight, Afleet Express in race 10 (the Jim Dandy), and British Banker in race 11.

Let’s take a look…


John Piesen Racing (888 612 2283) released The Noz as a first-time starter in the 10th-race finale on July 10 at Belmont Park. Sent off at 8-1, The Noz blew the break from the one-hole in the six-furlong grass race, then came running fastest and widest for fourth, beaten a combined one length.

I made a note at the time to give the gelding another chance, and here we are – except he is the second program choice in the field of 10 New York-bred maidens going 1 1/16 miles.

The favorite is Chingachgook, an Empire Maker colt who has burned a ton of cash in his five losses, four of which were with Dominguez aboard. He gets Leparoux this time, and draws the one-hole, the best place to be going two-turns on the green.

Chad Brown, who won with four of his first eight starters at the meet, rolls out a Thunder Gulch firster named Atitlan. Let the board be your guide.

Like The Noz, Roaring Conquest had an awful beginning to his first start, and may factor under jockey Hill, who won’t be longing breaking his Spa maiden.


How often do we get two Grade One races in the Pick Four?

Well, this is one of the four or five times we do.

This is the 72nd running of the Diana, a Grade One for fillies and mares, 3 and up, at nine furlongs on the grass.

Forever Together, a stretch-running 6-year-old gray from Long Jon, will be trying to win the Diana for a third straight time, and she will be favored under Leparoux from post four in a well-matched field of seven.

But FT, who is closing in on $3 million in earnings, has lost all five of her races since the ’09 Diana, and she can afford no mistakes against a tough field that includes Proviso, Phola and My Princess Jess, who finished 1-2-3 two months back in the Just A Game (Grade One) on Belmont Stakes day on Long Island.

Mike Smith makes the cross-country trip from Del Mar to ride Proviso, who is looking to make it three straight Grade Ones for the Sheiks and trainer Mott.

How ‘bout some irony?

One of the more popular proposals to honor the late Bobby Frankel was to re-name this stake for him --- and Bob was the original trainer of Proviso when she came from Europe. In fact, in her first start in this country, she won the Spinster (via DQ).

And how often is a meeting’s top rider (Castellano) shut out in a Grade One?


That’s not the case here.

Afleet Alex, a winner of his last two races under Castellano, will be a major play from post In a field of nine in the $500,000 Jim Dandy for 3-year-olds, the key nine-furlong prep for the 10-furlong Travers to be run on Aug. 28.

A year back, Ed Evans, the owner of Quality Road, sacked trainer Jimmy Jerkens, and replaced him with Todd Pletcher.

Here’s a chance for Jerkens to exact some revenge. He is the trainer of Afleet Alex, and a main rival in the Jim Dandy is A Little Warm, owned by Evans.

None of the 20 horses who ran in the Kentucky Derby are in the Jim Dandy, and only two of the eight even ran in a Triple Crown race. Aikenite (Pletcher) was 10th in the Preakness; Fly Down (Zito) was a fast-closing second in the Belmont.

While Jackson Bend remains on the bench, Zito will run four in the two big races for 3-year-olds this weekend – Fly Down and Miner’s Reserve in the Jim Dandy, Ice Box and Our Dark Knight in the $1 million Haskell on Sunday at Monmouth Park.

You would think that, with all this ammunition, Saint Nick will win a big 3-year-old race in the second half of the year.

He won’t have to wait long if Fly Down runs back to his close-up second to the sidelined Drosselmeyer in the Belmont

Considering Fly Down has run three big ones against First Dude, a Jim Dandy victory by Fly Down certainly would flatter First Dude.

There is a ton of speed in the Jim Dandy, and the expected fast pace can only help Fly Down, who probably will never see the rail from the nine-hole.


Off two sharp placings on the Belmont green, British Banker, from the red-hot Chad Brown barn, is a must-use in the final leg, a quarter-claimer for 3 and up at 1 1/16 miles on the weeds.

The competition includes Chromosphere (Dominguez); Dr. Alex (Gomez), and Brad’s My Hero (Garcia).

Dr. Alex is 2-for-2 at Evangeline Downs; 0-for-9 elsewhere.

Off an allowance blowout at Oaklawn, Wow Wow Wow was put on the Derby trail by trainer Lukas and owner Whitney, but the colt proved a major disappointment. Maybe the switch to grass will help.

Thanks for tuning in. Good luck this weekend, don’t forget to check out John Piesen Racing, and we’ll see you back here Tuesday.

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