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May 16, 2010


By: John Piesen


Just before the killer storm struck New York City late Thursday afternoon, trainer Anthony Margotta Jr. created something of a storm himself at Belmont Park when he won the ninth race with Man of Danger at $42.80.

New Yorkers can't be blamed if the name Margotta didn't ring a bell. Out of the game for years because of a myriad of personal and business problems, Margotta got back in the game just this summer at Monmouth Park with a small string and some new owners.

But New York?

It's been a while since Anthony R. Margotta Jr. won a race of any kind in New York. He himself can't remember. But I remember one. It was the 1993 Whitney the first weekend at Saratoga, and Margotta got the money with a horse named Brunswick. Third in the race was Devil His Due, a multiple graded-stakes winner from Hall of Famer Allen Jerkins.

Back in those days, Margotta was training for some heavy-hitters, notably Jay Black of Jay Black and the Americans, the most popular singing group of the era.

Jay Black is still alive and kicking.

As is Tony Margotta.

"It's been a tough go, and there were days I admit I was ready to give up if you know what I mean,"Margotta was saying Friday morning from his Monmouth barn, "but I hung in there, and when I found some fellas ready and able to back me, it was the right time."

Margotta won two races (one a dead-heat for an 85K pot) at the very tough Monmouth summer meet, and when a $25,000 grass claimer going short at Monmouth didn't go for Man of Danger, an 8-year-old gelding with tons of back class whom Margota claimed for $7,500 , Margotta decided to ship him to New York for Thurdsay's ninth, a $20,000 claimer for
3-and-up at six furlongs on the grass.

"I  claimed this horse for the grass,"Margotta said, "so why not try Belmont. I knew he'd be 20-1 or so, but I thought he could get a check."

Indeed, Man of Danger went off at 20-1, the seventh choice in a field of 10, under Jersey rider Castro.

Close to the Vest, the 8-5 favorite under Chavez, made an easy lead, and looked a sure winner at the top of the stretch. But Castro had Man of Danger rolling out in the middle of the track, and was up to nail Close To the Vest by a head in a blazing 1:08 3/5.

There was only one Pick Six winner ($24,208), but Margotta assured me it wasn't him or his owners. Somewhere out there, someone should be writing Margotta a thank you note, at the very least.

"I'll let you know John when the next (Man of Danger) comes,"Margotta assured me.

In the meantime, I don't plan to hold my breath.

Talking about the storm --  a hit-and-run with pouring rain, winds up to 80 miles an hour, and severe thunder and lightning that uprooted hundreds of trees, many of them very
large,  in Queens - it somehow thankfully missed Belmont Park entirely. And Belmont Park sits on the Queens-Nassau County border.

The New York Racing Assn., aware of the oncoming storm, sped up its nine-race program a half-hour, sending the ninth away at 4:42 p.m., about a half-hour earlier than normal.

No doubt some fans traveling east encountered horrific road and weather conditions - but how many could there have been? The announced crowd was 2,348 - the third straight
Belmont racing day that the on-track attendance fell below 4,000.

But not to worry. The Aqueduct Racino is scheduled to be up and running next year, the purses no doubt will skyrocket, all will be right in the New York racing world.

Maybe. Maybe not.

We'll probably know by this time next year.

In the meantime, Frriday's first races is off the grass, but the three later grass races are still on.  

Speaking of New York racing, a feud between members of the New York racing media and the NYRA media office is brewing, and spilling over onto the internet. And, I, for one, has got to love it.

  1. It seems that, back at Saratoga, the NYRA press office failed to note in its daily barn notes three major pieces of news: Hall of Fame jockey Desormeaux cracked his back in a spill, and will be sidelined indefinitely;
  2. Majesticperfection, the top-ranked sprinter in the world, sustained a serious, possibly career-ending leg injury during training hours, and
  3. Derby winner Super Saver worked for the Haskell.

Daily Racing Form wound up breaking all three stories, leaving several other press box regulars in the proverbial dust.

David Grening, my successor as the DRF New York beat man, broke all three stories because - unlike his brethren -- he actually works the backside in the morning, and has the sources.

That's how this writer worked the room when I had to job back in the ' fact, I can't remember a single instance when I got a major news story from the press notes. 

So the fact is, that if this affair wasn't so ridiculous, it would be really funny.

Now I wonder if the active racing media will notice that trainer Tom Proctor has an uncoupled entry in the Saturday feature at Belmont., the $250,000 Garden City Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the inner turf.

The GC is the only Grade One on the national racing calendar this weekend.

Proctor, based mostly in the Central Time Zone, has Queen of the Creek and Snow Top Mountain in the eight-filly field, and both are major players. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they run 1-2 or 1-3.

Too bad we can't read Proctor's mind.

Queen of the Creek, with Leparoux up, exits a front-running victory in a division of the mile Riskaverse Stakes at Saratoga - albeit her race went unnoticed because wonder filly Lisa's Booby Trap was backing up through the field to finish last as the stick, her first loss.

Queen of the Creek was the speed of that race (that's why she was the second choice at 4-1), and no doubt she'll be the speed again (with Leparoux) in the Garden City.

As for Snow Top Mountain, the talented gray has never been worse than second (3-4-0) in seven starts, is three-times stakes-placed, was a fast-closing second in the other division of the Riskaverse, and should benefit from the added distance.

Prado replaces the departed Gomez on Snow Top Mountain.

The deserved favorite in the Garden City is Check the Label, a Stormin Fever filly fresh from three straight graded-stakes triumphs for Graham Motion, and the Lael Stable, which, of course, gave us the ill-fated Barbaro four years back.

Check the Label gets the one-hole, a plus, and Dominguez, who showed signs of life Wednesday with a three-bagger, has the return call.

At this point, you need to know - if you didn't know already-- that one of Ramon's three winners Wednesday was Star Orchid ($11.20), the best bet that day on the John Piesen Hot Line (1-888-612-2283).

Speaking of jockey changes, the three top contenders in the $250,000 PTHA President's Cup at Philadelphia Park (now called Parx Racing), will have new riders.  Fragoso replaces Lezcano on Violon Sacre, the likely favorite in a field of seven 3-year-olds and up going nine furlongs on the green; Ellliott replaces Landry on Rahy's Attorney, and Rosie Napravnik replaces Leparoux on Long Jon's Just As well.

Rosie has dominated Delaware Park this year, and Elliott is having his best year since the Smarty Jones salad days of 2004.

Thanks for tuning in. Don't stray too far from the JP Hot Line, have a great weekend, and see you back here Wednesday.


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