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Jan 07, 2011


By: John Piesen


The John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283) came out of the gate running on opening day at Gulfstream Park with the selection of Sky Mesa (the $7.60 third choice) in the opening-day Old Hat Stakes. Two of the reasons for my selection of Sky Mesa: trainer Wesley Ward, who has a history of fast starts, and an outside post position, traditionally a major plus going short at the Hallandale track. I've got another exciting day of winning planned today and that's going to build bankroll for my Opening Saturday Longshot, coming up tomorrow. You can get listed for these plays right here online or at the toll-free number above.

Fast forward to Saturday, and the co-featured $100,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes, the six-furlong first step on the long and winding Florida road to the first Saturday of May. And wouldn't you know? Ward, an old buddy from his riding days in New York, has a major player in Gangsterontherun, freshened since a nine-length maiden score in early September at Philadelphia Park, and lands the outside post in a field of six 3-year-olds going six furlongs.

Moreover, the chestnut gelding shows two strong half-mile works, one a bullet, and sheds three pounds to 116 for the stake that honors the memory of one of the greatest runners of all time. Ward likes his chances...publicly. "I think." he tells DRF, "...that the Gangster is going to run better than Sky Mesa.:"The way he's training -- he's absolutely ready."

The linemaker makes the Gangster the second choice to Leave of Absence, a Rick Violette colt fresh from breaking his maiden in his second try at Aqueduct. If the Beyer numbers float your boat, Leave of Absence's 94 in his maiden win is seven points higher than the Gangster's number, and a race-best.

The Calder-based Grande Shores, from the same trainer who gave us 2-year-old filly champion Awesome Feathers, also deserves a look. Throw out a race in shich she lost her rider at the break, and GS has been one-two in five starts.

The co-featured Hal's Hope, a $100,000 test for 4-year-olds and up at a mile, will test the handicapping skills of Johnny Velazquez and his agent, old buddy Angel Cordero Jr. Johnny V had his choice of the two major players in the seven-horse field -- Morning Line for Zick Zito, who had an opening-day double, and Rule from main-man Todd Pletcher.

Between them, these two horses have banked $1.6 million, or 600K more than the other five horses combined. Johnny V chooses to ride Morning Line, who, you'll recall, was beaten last out a dirty nose by bomber Dakota Phone in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, and has been training lights-out at Palm Meadows.

Zito, incidentally, is the trainer of my early Kentucky selection -- a colt named Dialed In. More on this guy in later columns. As for Rule, he's making his first start for the Toddster since a close-up third to Ice Box in the Florida Derby over the track last March. Ice Box, another Zito bomber, then finished second to Super Saver in the Kentucky Derby.

That was Pletcher's first Derby winner. He has the morning-line favorite this year in the unbeaten Eclipse 2-year-old Uncle Mo. A viable longshot in the Hal's Hope is Soaring Empire, who last out was beaten a mere three lengths in the Cigar Mile.

Soaring Empire's trainer is Cam Gambolati of Spend a Buck fame, and his principal owner is a hoops coach and restaurant devotee of some reknown, fellow named Rick Pitino.

Another pair of $100,000 stakes will be run on Sunday at Gulfstream. In the first one, Battle of Hastings will be running at Get Stormy through the lane in the Fort Lauderdale Handicap for 4-year-olds at 1/16 miles on the grass. And in the second race, the multiple stakes-winner Mary's Follies, sold last year by Tale of the Cat's people for big bucks, is the one to beat in the Marshua's River for fillies and mares, also at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

The competition will include C S Silk, Wild Fever, Never Retreat and Kiss Mine.From what I've seen of the grass racing so far in the young meet, I would say speed and stalkers have the advantage.

Meantime at Aqueduct, otherwise known as the Ramon Dominguez Show, the feature will be the Busanda Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at one mile, 70 yards.

Dominguez, a finalist for Eclipse rider, doesn't ride every favorite at Aqueduct. It just seems like it. On Wednesday he rode four chalks, and on Thursday four chalks. Three of the eight won.

On Saturday, RD is prepared to ride six favorites, including Dance Quietly in the Busanda. Dance Quietly, who broke her maiden at 2-5 in her third start at Monmouth, also will be the sentimental favorite since her owner, Edward Evans, passed away last week. The Evans horses will continue to run for his heirs as the Edward Evans Foundation.

Dance Quietly is one of five of the seven in the Busanda field exiting a win. Then there's Bandola, a Delaware Park-based filly who comes off a second to Hot Summer, who will be one to watch in the 3-year-old filly races this winter and spring at Gulfstream.

David Fawkes was tipping Hot Summer last summer at Monmouth as the best filly he's ever trained...and he's trained some good ones.

There is a racing oddity in the Busanda: all seven fillies will have first-time riders. Note that the hot-riding David Cohen, the best Jewish rider since Dave Borden, has the call on shipper Aba Dabbler for Tim Keefe.

Finally, a word about Horse of the Year. The balloting closed last Tuesday, so nothing I could write now possibly could have any impact on the rersults of the voting. Readers of this venue know that I fell strongly that Zenyatta was robbed of Horse of the Year in 2009, and again in 2010. And I fully expect she'll be robbed of HOY again in 2011, mostly because of an East Coast bias by the media and racetrack officials.

I fully expect Blame to get HOY...despite the results of a public poll conducted recently by colleage Steve Davidowitz. The vote went as follows: Zenyatta, 132; Blame, 15.

I've thought for years that the public should have a say in the voting for the Eclipse Awards. Now I'm certain of it. Zenyatta? She gets compared to Secretariat, Ruffian and Seabiscuit. Blame? He gets compared to Haynesfield.

Yes, yes I know Blame beat Zenyatta a nose in the Breeders' Cup. But just remember, Blame got through all the way, while Zenyatta, coming from 20 lengths back, got stopped cold by Quality Road. Otherwise, Zenyatta wins by three, and the Horse of the Year vote would be unanimous.

But, at this point, it doesn't make any difference. Historians in the years ahead will have to ponder why the greatest racemare in history was never horse of the year?


Thanks for checking in. Don't forget to check out the Hot Line, good luck this weekend, and see you back here Monday.

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