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Oct 01, 2010

THRU THE BINOCS

By: JOHN PIESEN


Big Saturday Of Championship Races at Belmont

BELMONT BOMBSHELL WITH JOHN'S PREFERRED PLAYS - SURESHOTS, LONGSHOTS, EXACTAS - CLICK HERE

Five grade ones will be packaged into Super Saturday on Saturday afternoon at Belmont.

The idea of Super Saturday was originally conceived by NYRA marketing maven Alan Gutterman In the '80s, and has flourished over the years. Many folks call the day merely a Breeders' Cup Preview, but I always thought that the day stood by itself.

This year is kind of strange. The horses who would have gone favored in all four races Saturday have gone missing for one reason or other.

No Zenyatta, no Quality Road, no Lookin at Lucky and no Afleet Express in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. No Rachel Alexandra, no Blind Luck in the Beldame; no Pure Clan in the Flower Bowl, and no Majesticperfection, and no Mr. Fantasy in the Vosburgh.

In some cases, injuries/retiremtnts  are to blame. Others just to prefer to race elsewhere on Saturday -- Zenyatta in the Lady's Secret at Hollywood Park, Lookin at Lucky In the Indiana Derby at Hossier Park, Blind Luck in the Cotillion at Philly Park.

Let's face it, you'll be lucky to get 2-5 on any of the four.

A field of eight is shaping up for the Jockey Club Gold Cup, an annual "win and you're in" for the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Blame, who upset Quality Road in the Whitney at Saratoga, will be favored in the Gold Cup, with Rail Trip, making his first start for trainer Dutrow, the likely second choice.

"It would be a nice win," says Samantha Siegel, the co-owner of Rail Trip, "but if he gets narrowly beat by Blame, that wouldn't be too bad either."

The winner (or first two) in the Gold Cup will head for the B.C. Classic to be run on Nov. 6 over the dirt track at Churchill Downs. Five Cup races will be run on the 5th, and the other six on the 6th, capped by the Classic at 6:45 p.m.

The other three of the "Big Four" for the Classic are using different means to get there.

Quality Road will be trained by the Toddster up to the Cup off an 11-week layoff. His last start was a victory in the Woodward at Saratoga.

Lookin at Lucky meantime is using the Indiana Derby on Saturday as his final prep for the Classic, and Zenyatta is using the Lady's Secret at Hollywood Park, also on Saturday, as her final B.C. Prep.

Zenyatta enters the Lady's Secret a perfect 18-for-18. Her connections, and most of America, are hoping she'll go to the breeding shed 20-for-20.

In addition to Blame and Rail Trip, the Gold Cup field is expected to include Travers runnerup Fly Down; Hold Me Back, Mythical Power, Haynesfield, Tranquil Manner, and Dry Martini.

Otherwise, Persistently heads a potential field of five in the Beldame, which is a "win and you're in" for the B.C. Distaff. The other probables are Life at Ten, Unrivaled Belle, Queen Martha and Bonnie Blue Flag.

Forever Together looks like the favorite in the Flower Bowl, a "wn and you're in" race for the B.C. Filly/Mare Turf. Her likely opponents will be Gossip Girl, Keertana, Shared Account, Tarip and Ave.

And the potential field for the Vosburgh, a "win and you're in" for the B.C. Sprint, includes Riley Tucker, Golden Spike, Snapshot, Driven by Success and Wall Street Wonder.

At least the New York races Saturday should be competitive, and offer attractive wagering opportunities. Check Friday's column for a more thorough preview of Super Saturday, and don't forget I'll have all of Saturday's Best Plays from Belmont (including the $500,000 All Stakes Pick-4) here online or by calling 1-888-612-2283.

It's Official

Although the New York Post described the development as "shocking," the announcement Tuesday afternoon that Rachel has been retired from racing comes as no surprise to this columnist, and the readers of this column.

Back on Aug. 30, the day after Rachel was beaten by rank-outsider Persistently in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga, I wrote the following on this web site:

"So where does Rachel go from here?

"My best guess is that she'll be retired in plenty of time to be bred next spring. After all, a 2-for-6 record as a 4-year-old would look a lot worse than 2-for-5."

Truth be told, I started to doubt myself when Rachel posted three straight quality works, capped by a fast half-mile on Monday over the Saratoga training track - presumably a perfect tightener for Saturday's Beldame at Belmont Park.

The Beldame was looking like the perfect spot for Rachel, especially in view of the fact that Blind Luck, the best 3-year-old filly in the land, was going not to the Beldame, but to the Cotillion for her age group at Philadelphia Park.

So the Beldame, scheduled for Rachel's optimum distance of nine furlongs, had to be looking very good to Rachel's connections.

So it did come as something of a surprise when the announcement of Rachel's retirement came down Tuesday. Perhaps she had the sniffles or an in-grown toe nail. We'll never know.

Not even the NYRA press office knows. Their calls to the barn, checking on Rachel's status For the Beldame, were not answered or returned. Are we talking the Pentagon Papers herfe?

And speaking of the Pentagon Papers, Wednesday's editions of the the New York Times ran not a single work (zilch, nada) about Rachel's retirement.

What's the matter fellas? Even ESPN ran a scroll. Another thing we know is that there was no mention of Hal Wiggins in owner Jackson's written announcement,  nor in trainer Asmussen's follow-up press release.

I really thought that either or both would find time to mention trainer Hal Wiggins, the same Hal Wiggins who made Rachel a star, and the same Hal Wiggins who tried in vain to beg owner Morrison and his partners not to sell Rachel. .

We all should pretty well know my feelings about Rachel by this time. Even though I personally watched Wiggins develop Rachel into one of the great fillies of the era (but not the greatest; see  Zenyatta), I had my reservations about RA.

1) Although Rachel was revered for beating males three times (in the Preakness, Haskell and Woodward), of those three, the Woodward, as far as I'm concerned, doesn't count
-- although the press and public went ballistic about her performance.

Truth is Rachel beat a poor lot of older horses in the Woodward, and my thoughts were confirmed later when precisely none of the horses she beat would go on to win another race. And Rachel was getting substantial weight from them in the Woodward.

2) The Woodward actually was a much easier race for Rachel to win than the Travers; just as the Kentucky Oaks was an easier race than the Derby, and the Haskell was an easier race than the Belmont.

And, of course, with Horse of the Year in the bag, there was never any thought to running her in the Breeders' Cup Classic, a race in which she would have had no chance - especially at a mile and a quarter - which even her connections admittedly feared. The synthetic strip made the perfect excuse.

In other words, Rachel's career was managed brilliantly. And, as a result, she was voted Horse of the Year over Zenyatta --  the Horse of the Century.

Please don't misconstrue the above.

Rachel was great filly. One of the greatest. And a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

But there were strings attached.

And, again, I would have hoped to see somewhere, somehow  in their missives, Jackson, who bought the finished project, and Asmussen, who found himself with a finished product, could have found a word or two for Hal Wiggins.

And don't forget, Super Steve, for all the remarkable success he's enjoyed, and the unlimited funds at his disposal, has yet to develop a Triple Crown contender.

So  farewell, Rachel. Boasting a brilliant 13-5-0 record from 19 starts, and earnings of  $3.5 million, Rachel will be bred next spring to stablemate and fellow Horse of the Year Curlin.

Something good should come of that mating.

Something good surely came for the readers who viewed closely last Friday's column on this venue.

It was mentioned in the piece that Ramon Dominguez, the top jock in the land, would Saturday forsake Belmont (and five or six favorites) to ship to Delaware Park to ride an obscure horse named Grand Rapport, the 4-1 ML third choice in the Kent Stakes at Delaware Park, for trainer Contessa and billionaire owner Earle Mack.

Indeed. Grand Rapport circled from last to win going away at $5.80.

On the same day that Rachel's retirement was announced, old friend Real Quiet, the 1998 Derby/Preakness winner from Bob Baffert, tragically died after fracturing his neck in the pasture at his Pennsylvania farm.

Of course, Real Quiet will go down in history as -- of all the Derby/Preakness winners who have fallen short since 1978 of winning the Triple Crown --- the unluckiest. Four in front
turning for home in the Belmont, he was nailed in the final jump by Victory Gallop. It took a 10-minute photo to decide the winner.

Jockey Desormeaux has been accused ad nauseum for blowing the race...but it's a bum rap. How many times over the years has a Triple Crown race been won on the stretch turn?

The '98 Derby was the only Derby in which the first four finishers were ridden by California-based riders, and also will be remembered by DRF readers as the Derby in which I picked the first two finishers in the paper - alas in reverse order!

The exacta paid $291.80.

Thursday will be a day of collecting at Belmont Park with my sureshots, longshots, and an exacta that should pay $100 or more for a $2 bet. Click Here

I'll be back Friday with more on the big weekend races.

 



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