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Feb 25, 2011

THRU THE BINOCULARS

By: John Piesen


A SATURDAY SIX-PACK

By John Piesen:

The Road to the Triple Crown broadens somewhat Saturday with no less than six stakes carded for Kentucky Derby hopefuls. That is and will be the most Derby preps on one day throughout the entire Triple Crown process.

All eyes will be on Gulfstream Park where To Honor and Serve, no less than third in most Derby Top Tens, will make his 3-year-old debut for trainer Mott in the $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at nine furlongs.

The son of Bernardini will be 3-5 under jockey Velazquez in the Fountain of Youth, the major steppingstone to the Florida Derby, and, of course, the Kentucky Derby on May 7.

As it stands now, To Honor and Serve and Uncle Mo, the winter-book favorite for the Kentucky Derby, each will have two Derby preps. Uncle Mo will run on March 12 -- in the Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream, if it fills, or the Tampa Bay Derby. He'll then head to New York for the Wood Memorial on April 3 at Aqueduct.

And, as it stands now, Johnny V. will be aboard for all four of those races -- and, in each case, he'll be less than even money.

But we saw last weekend that a short price doesn't equate to victory on the Triple Crown trail.

At the Fair Groiunds, I took a shot with Machen, who had won his two prior starts (both sprints) by open lengths, and was listed at 6-1 in the track program.

So what happens?

First flash, Machen is even-money, and eventually goes favored at 6-5. He hops in the air at the break, and is eliminated on the spot. He does well to close widest and fastest for fourth to Mucho Macho Man, my second choice.

The drama here is that Eibar Coa, the regular rider of MMM, had gone down in a spill the day before at Gulfstream Park, broke his C-4 vertebrae, and, following several major surgeries, is fighting the fight of his life in a south Florida hospital

Our prayers are with him.

Meantime, jockey Maragh subbed for Coa on MMM, and turned in a flawless ride to get the money.

As expected, Rogue Romance, third to Dialed In and Uncle Mo in our first Derby Top Ten, was a day late, and a dollar short in his first start for trainer McPeek since the BC Juvenile on Nov. 6, and ran OK for third.

Plenty of room for improvement here.

At Oaklawn Park, the Southwest looked wide-open on paper, but the betting public fell in love with J P's Gusto, the California shipper, who had been recently transferred from trainer Hoffmans (Touch Gold) to Joe Petalino, whose claim to fame is that his lovely wife Kelly O'Hara started her career as an intern in the NYRA publicity office.

J Ps Gusto, underlaid at 6-5, had a rough trip like many others in the Southwest, and performed nobly to get second to Archarcharch, the $31 winner, who avoided trouble for trainer Fires and son-in-law Jon Court.

Caleb's Posse, my pick, saved all the ground in mid-pack, but the hole never opened.
Maybe next time -- in the Rebel -- it will.

We won't be seeing Yankee Passion in the Rebel -- or anyplace else for a while.

After a horror trip in the Southwest, YP was diagnosed with a leg fracture, and was promptly removed from the Derby trail by trainer Jones.

At this time, this looks like one of those rare years the Hot Springs Road doesn't produce a serious Derby contender...but there's a long way to go.

The third major Derby prep was the San Vincente on Monday at Santa Anita, and The Factor, a recent Baffert allowance winner named for the Bill O'Reilly cable TV show, went off an overbet 4-5.

The Factor made the lead after a three-horse front-end duel, opened five at the head of
the lane...but was life and death to hold off Sway Away, who was in front two steps past the wire.

The San Vincente was run at seven furlongs. One would think that the result will be considerably different at the Derby distance of 10 furlongs.

Is this a modern-day Gato del Sol?

Meanwhile back at the ranch...

Not that he needed it, but To Honor and Serve earned more points when Mucho Macho Man won the Risen Star. After all, Honor" got most of his reputation by beating MMM by a combined six lengths in the Nashua and Remsen last November at Aqueduct.

In the Fountain of Youth, "Honor" must deal with Soldat, a grass/wet track monster from trainer McLaughlin, and Gourmet Dinner, a winner of four of seven, including the $1 million Delta Jackpot at 20-1, for trainer Sandridge.

Sandridge thanked Madrid for all his good work upon receiving a phone call from Ramon Dominguez' agent.

"I'm available," said the agent.

"See you Saturday," said the trainer.

We've pointed out often in this venue that it pays to follow the New York-based Dominguez.

Three weekends back, RD was at Tampa, and went 3-for-3 on favorites in stakes. Two weeks back, he was at Laurel to win the Barbara Fritchie, and last weekend was in Hot Springs where he settled for second on J P's Gusto, who was probably best.

Looking into the near future, Ramon will commute weekends to Hot Springs to ride the likes of Havre de Grace and Joyful Victory for Porter/Jones in the big-money stakes at Oaklawn.

Gourmet Dinner will be that rare RD shipper that won't go favored. He'll be a distant second or third choice despite packing all that jockey money.

In addition to Gourmet Dinner, who on Wednesday blew out three-eighths in :34 4/5 over the track, has two other calls Saturday at The Gulf - Crossbow in the Hutcheson, and Pomeroys Pistol in the Davona Dale.

(Which reminds me: We're still waiting for word on the Life at Ten disaster in the BC last November.)

As for Crossbow, he'll off a short price in a field of 10 for the $150,000 seven-furlong Hutcheson. If he runs anything like he did winning an allowance over the track, he'll blow 'em away in the Hutch.

The opposition includes Little Drama, the baby sister of Big Drama, whom Coa rode to the 2010 Eclipse sprint award; Manicero; Madman Diaries, Flashpoint, and Leave of Absence.

As for the other four Saturday stakes for 3-year-olds:

The $100,000 Borderland Derby at Sunland Park features a matchup of Special Kid (Eclipse apprentice Santiago Reyes riding for Doud O'Neill), and Fusa Code, Justin Shephard riding for Steve Asmussen.

J J's Lucky Train should get the trip with jockey Ferrer from the outside post in the $75,000 Miracle Wood at Laurel.

Trainer Amoss runs the uncoupled entry of No Lip and Populist Politics in the $60,000 Gentilly Stakes on the Fair Grounds grass.

And Indian Winter, a 50-1 single in the Churchill Downs Derby Futures, ships in from Santa Anita, where he won the San Pedro, to head the $50,000 Turf Paradise Derby at Turf Paradise.

That said, here's Chapter Two of our Derby Top Ten:

HORSE

TRAINER

NEXT RACE

1. Dialed In

Zito

Florida Derby

2. Uncle Mo

Pletcher

Tampa Bay Derby

3. To Honor andServe

Mott

Fountain of Youth

4. Sway Away

Bonde

Santa Anita Derby

5. Rogue Romance

McPeek

Florida Derby

6. Caleb's Posse

Von Hemel

Rebel

7. Mucho Macho Man

Ritvo

Florida Derby

8. Soldat

McLaughlin

Fountain of Youth

9. Machen

Howard

Louisiana Derby

10. Brethren

Dominguez

Florida Derby


Thanks for tuning in. Good luck with weekend. Check out the Season of Piesen for all of this weekend's best Derby Prep and other races, or call the John Piesen Hot Line at 1-888-612-2283, and see you back here next week.



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