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Jan 28, 2011

THRU THE BINOCULARS

By: JOHN PIESEN


TIZ THE SEASON

It's three months and change to the Kentucky Derby, which means it's time to get started on my personal Road to the Triple Crown.

Followers of this venue and/or the John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283 or here online) are aware that I've had tremendous success with my Derby picks, starting in the '80s when I nailed eight Derby winners in 11 years. The success continued up to last May when I hit the triple-digit exacta box topped by Super Saver, jockey Borel's third Derby winner in four years.

Super Saver (remember him?) proved to be a one-shot wonder, but Calvin is still going strong at Oaklawn Park, and trainers are falling over themselves trying to get him on their Derby horses.

Speaking of trainers, old buddy Nick Zito will be gunning for his third Derby winner with a lightly-raced colt named Dialed In, who won his lone start at Churchill Downs as a 2-year-old, circling the field from last after getting left at the gate.

Dialed In was shipped to south Florida after that race to prepare for the Kentucky Derby. He was scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut in a Gulfstream "one-other than" last Friday. But when the track came up wet, Zito decided to scratch, and run him instead in the Holy Bull Stakes this Sunday at Gulfstream.

Since Nick is never known to rush things, I don't expect Dialed In to be at full strength for the Holy Bull, so I advise to bet accordingly.

The race does come up softer than expected because Boys at Toscanova, who would have been odds-on, is skipping the race. That leaves Gourmet Dinner, the Delta Jackpot winner; Mucho Macho Man, runnerup in the Nashua and Remsen, and Black N Beauty, an impressive Gulfstream allowance winner, as the ones Dialed In has to beat.

Personally, I just want to see Dialed In finish well, and hit the board.

It's been a long time between drinks for Zito (18 years), but the Derby is the race that Nick points for all year. He was second last year, capping our exacta. We'll see Sunday what he's got with Dialed In.

Zito has nothing in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic on Saturday at ther Gulf...and neither do other celebrity trainers Pletcher, Asmussen or Baffert. Can't remember the last time a half-mill pot failed to attract a member of the Big Three.

The other noteworthy factor is that, althought the Sunshine Millions is hawked as a contest between Florida-breds and Kentucky-breds, all 10 horses in the SM Classic are Florida-breds.

The race also lacks the presence of Dominguez and Gomez, who ran one-two in the voting for 2010 Eclipse Jockey. Moreover, Paco Lopez, en route to his second straight Gulf title, will be watching on TV in the jocks' room.

Dominguez was the regular rider of SMC favorite First Dude all last year, but, Eclipse or not, he has been replaced by jockey Desmormeaux, who, maybe not so coincidentally, has won a slew of grade ones with Romans-trained stablemate Paddy O'Prado.

First Dude has the good fortune to draw the one-hole for the nine-furlong Classic, and no doubt, at the weights, will take some catching in a race that otherwise lacks early speed over a speed-favoring track.

At 120 pounds, First Dude will actually be getting two pounds from most of his rivals, notably Duke of Mischief, the '09 Arkansas Derby winner, and Dry Martini, the multiple New York stakes-winner who will be closing fastest and widest under jockey Castellano.

An outsider in the Classic will be Black Hills.

This horse is not to be confused with the Black Hills, who had the misfortune to break down on the far turn of the 1959 Belmont Stakes. The immortal Eddie Arcaro, his rider, fell face first, unconscious, into the mud, and likely would have drowned on the spot died if a rescue worker hadn't got there in time.

Sword Dancer won that Belmont, and went on to win Horse of the Year.

Maybe it shouldn't, but it does bother me that The Jockey Club, which is in charge of names, permits the use of Black Hills again. Racing historians, and much of the racing public, will never forget the original Black Hills.

While on the subject of the Holy Bull, it was so sad to see that Billy Croll, the son and assistant to Jimmy Croll, who trained Holy Bull among other superstars, passed away the other day. Sorry also to see that Faustno Ramos, like the Crolls, a regular on the Jersey-Florida circuit, also passed away last week. Billy Croll and Faustino, true gentlemen and talented trainers, both were in their 60s.

As if we didn't already know, we see, with the death of Billy Croll, how really small the racing world is.

For the last quarter-century, the barns of Team Croll and Team Sacco have been located directly across a horse path from one another at Monmouth Park.

I'm particualrly excited about the Sunshine Millions coming up on Saturday, with three stakes apiece at both Gulfstream and Santa Anita, plus substantial betting opportunities on the undercard. I did very well at last year's Millions, getting 5 of the 6 stakes race winners (3 straight up), 5 exactas (2 cold) and 2 trifectas. All told, it was $9,522 based on $20 bets. And I'll be ready to win again this year. Click here to learn how you can be in on it.

Returning to Team Sacco, as the fates would have it, Gregg Sacco is just now reaching the heights of his procession, and,on Saturday, has the chance to pull off a Sunshine Millions double with a pair of Florida-breds owned by main man John Brunetti's Red Oak Stable.

Those famous red and white silks will be flown by Feel That Fire in the $200,000 Filly and Mare Sprint, and by Unbridled Essemce in the $300,000 Filly and Mare Turf.

Feel That Fire's name should be familiar to followers of the JP Hot Line.

Back on Jan. 7, the Hot Line released Feel That Fire, who went on to wire her allowance field at $9.60. The HL also nailed the exacta and trifecta cold in that race.

Feel That Fire, two-for-three lifetime, will be making her stakes debut in the Millions, but she's got a perfect outside post in the field of 11 going three-quarters, and a hot rider in Trujillo.

"This filly has a world of talent," says Sacco. "I usually don't have them cranked up all the way in their first starts back, so I hope she would continue to improve. She's training super, and is right on target for Saturday."

Amen Hallelujah and Jessica Is Back, both multiple stakes-winners, have a huge experience edge on Feel That Fire, and both will be at home over their preverred speed-favoring strip.

An outsider to watch is the lightly-raced Belle of the Hall from West Point Thoroughbreds, which traditionally light up the board on Gulfstream weekends.

Your best friend in this race well may be the exacta box and trifecta box.

Unbridled Essence, Sacco's other Sunshine Millions goodie, won the Matchmaker Stakes last July at 44-1, but hasn't raced since early September when she went unplaced in the Revidere over the same track.

"Coming off that kind of a layoff is always a question markj," says Sacco. "She's had some foot issues, but seems to be over them now, and is training as well as I could hope for."

Maybe Unbridled Essence can get as lucky as she got in the Matchmaker when the favoirite was eliminated at the break.

She certainly has the right jock (Paco Lopez), and right post (three in a field of 14).

Again, these two filly/mare races are wide-open, as are all six Millions races.

As a final note, Soldat, the 11-length winner of that Jan. 7 allowance, will await the Fountain of Youth, but Printing Press, the runnerup in that race, may be a factor for trainer Terri Pompay in the Holy Bull.

Gulfstream incidentlally came up with a new gimmick -- a $5.5 million bonus to the connections of a horse who wins the Holy Bull, Florida Derby and Preakness, all of which happen to be run at Stronach tracks.

Shades of Smarty Jones, who got a $10 million bonus in 2004 for sweeping, the Arkansas Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Thanks for tuning in. Don't forget to join me for The Sunshine Millions on Saturday.




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