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Mar 11, 2011


By: John Piesen

John Piesen is watching Saturday's Derby Preps for early hints.
Click here to get with him for the best of the Preps

Last year, Todd Pletcher -- and most of the racing world -- believed that the Toddster had his first Derby in the bag with Eskendreya after that colt won the Wood Memorial from here to Jamaica Boulevard.

So what happens?

Eskendreya goes down a week before the Derby, and Pletcher winds up winning the Derby with his second-stringer, Super Saver.

What a story line this would be if history repeats.

At this point, Uncle Moe is the star of the Pletcher barn, and, unless he fouls up badly between today and the first Saturday of May, he'll be odds-on to become the fourth unbeaten winner of the Derby, in the hoofsteps of Seattle Slew, Smarty Jones and Big Brown.

Uncle Mo, 3-for-3 last year at 2, and the Eclipse Award winner, will be 1-9 on Saturday in the Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream Park, and, if all goes well, he'll complete his Derby preparation at the same price in the Wood Memorial.

That's one side of the story.

The second side is that if something should go wrong with Mo, and Pletcher winds up winning the Derby with Brethren, a half-brother to Super Saver.

And, oh yes. Brethren (3-3 like Uncle Mo) will be 1-9 Saturday in the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs.

Somehow, the Toddster is sitting out the San Felipe at Santa Anita, stop three Saturday on the Derby Trail. The rider of Brethren will be Ramon Dominguez.

Originally, Dominguez committed to trainer Larry Jones to ride two big-time runners at Oaklawn Park on Saturday -- Winslow Homer in the Razorback, Joyful Victory in the Honeybee, a race that Jones has won three straight times.

But RD asked out when Pletcher put him on Brethren at Tampa Bay.

Dominguez winds up riding seven Saturday at Tampa, and all seven will be favored.

Sounds like Aqueduct where RD rides 65 per cent chalk.

For those scoring at home, RD will ride Adirondack Express for Ryan in race four; Media Madness for Motion in race five; Pluck for Motion in race seven; Belle of the Hall for Albertrani in race eight; Zagora for Chad Brown in in race nine; Miss Smarty Pants for McPeek in race 10, and Brethren for Pletcher in race 11.

The highest price on these seven will be maybe 2-1. I'll make the over-under four.

Since Dominguez found himself unavailable, Jones will import Mike Smith from Santa Anita to ride Joyful Victory and Winslow Homer, both of who had sizzling works last weekend, and both of whom will be favored. Normally, Mike comes to OP only to ride Zenyatta.

With all due respect to Mike, I can't see why Saez, the leading percentage rider at Oaklawn, and a future star, does not get to ride JV and WH.

Speaking of Oaklawn, here's one to watch at OP: a 3-year-old named Arienza, an 800K Azeri filly who last week won her debut at 3-5. Trainer Peitz likely will send her right to a stake off that race, and may even challenge the big girls in the Apple Blossom.

Meantime, 10 will go in the San Felipe -- including an uncoupled pair from trainer Baffert -- Jaycito and Awesome Patriot.Maybe the Bullet will get as lucky as he did last week when the stewards somehow left Game On Dude up despite taking out two horses, including the 1-2 Twirling Candy, at the head of the stretch.

Neither this columnist -- nor my clients in The Season Of Piesen, where we target daily best bet action at Gulfstream-- had a dog in the fight, but it was one of the most disgraceful decisions I've ever seen. In fact, the normally-laid back Californians booed lustily for 12 minutes.

The best part was Baffert lobbying the stewards during the deliberations. No other trainer (except maybe Lukas) would have gotten away with it.

Baffert's San Felipe chances look pretty good because Sway Away, who is looking the best of the California 3-year-olds, is skipping the San Felipe to presumably point for the Santa Anita Derby. I hope trainer Bonde knows what he's doing.

That brings me to Dialed In, and his performance in an allowance race last Sunday at Gulfstream.

Dialed In, who continues to be No. 1 on my weekly Derby Top Ten, was 1-9 for most of the betting, and finally drifted to 1-5 at post. Meantime, his 4-year-old barnmate Equestrio was bet down from 20-1 to 3-1, and from $50 to $30 in the DD possibilities.

Equestrio won the five-horse race despite bolting late, with Dialed In closing for second while no threat to the winner.

Afterwards, trainer Zito expressed the usual banalaties about how much he liked Dialed In's performance, and that Equestrio was a nice horse, etc., etc.

No mention by the trainer or what's left of the racing media about how the public -- at least those who bet the odds-on loser -- got hosed. Damn the public!

Racing had it right back in 1940 when trainer Smith, who had Seabiscuit and Kayak II in the Santa Anita Handicap, told the stewards before the race that, if his two horses were one-two through the lane, his riders had orders to make sure Seabiscuit won...which we did.

Fast forward to 2011. Trainer Zito can't be expected to notify the stewards beforehand which of his horses he wanted to win. But at least the two could have been coupled to protect the betting public. Sure, that would be bad for the bottom line. Forget integrity.

And, speaking of superstar trainers, what's going to happen to one Richard Dutrow. After Dutrow was nailed for a 600th drug offense, some major racing officials have declared that Dutrow should be expelled from the game, and even the New York Times ran a piece on its first sports page, attacking the trainer who gave us 2008 Derby/Preakness winner Big Brown.

Fast forward to 20111...and Dutrow has another Triple Crown-bound 3-year-old. His name is Flashpoint, who is headed for the Florida Derby after wiring the Hutcheson by seven lengths with seven-eighths in 1:22.

I'm not taking sides at this point. Certainly, I'm opposed to illegal drugs, and it boggles the mind to read that Dutrow was caught red-handed with hyperdermic-needle equipment in his barn.

But do you really think that Dutrow is the only trainer bending the rules? I'll leave that to your own thoughts. What you do need to know is that I'll be in action daily at Gulfstream as well as having action on Saturday's Derby Preps. Get with me and I'll make it a profitable weekend for us all.

From a handicapping perspective, the most significant development over the last month of the Gulfstream meet will be the imminent return of jockey Paco Lopez.

Lopez, the top jock at Gulf last year, and the leader this year until Feb. 18 when he sustained an elbow injury in the spill that sidelined Eibar Coa with a severe back injury, is due back next Wednesday.

That would mean Lopez will be out exactly one month.

When he went down, Lopez held a commanding lead in the standings with 38 winners from 212 mounts. In his absence, he has dropped to
third behind jockeys Castellano (42) and Velazquez (40).

The Florida-based trainers love Lopez, and Paco has a special affinity for Gulfstream. He is a master judge of pace at the Gulf. When the pace is
slow, he's sure to be on or near the lead. When the pace is fast, he'll rate early, and come on late. The kid is absolutely fearless. And patient to no end.

Assuming he comes back healthy, look for him to dominate the last month of the meet...and then continue to thrive at Monmouth Park.

Otherwise, the best "value" riders at Gulfstream are Alan Garcia, Rajiv and Jose Lezcano.

And you need to include Joe Bravo in the gimmicks. Jersey Joe is enjoying his best Gulf meeting ever, and he shows no signs of slowing down.

Todd Pletcher, as usual, will be leading trainer. With 24 winners from his first 102 starters, he holds a commanding lead over Wes Ward and
Nick Canani in the standings.

Wayne Catalano and Pete Walder are quietly having good meetings, and Ed Broome has caught fire in the last two weeks.

The outside posts are dominating sprint races. Nothing unusual there. And there is no post-position bias going long.

Gulf has always been a speed-favoring track, and this year is no exception.

John Piesen's Derby Top Ten:


Dialed In 

That losing prep race will help down the line.

Uncle Mo 

Can an Indian Charlie get 10 furlongs?


Sway Away 

May be a modern-day Gato Del Sol.



Dutrow colt looks the one to catch.


Stay Thirsty

The Hot Springs route is always effective.



May be better than big brother Super Saver.



Very impressive winning Fountain of Youth.


Mucho Macho Man

The most consistent 3-year-old of the bunch.


Gourmet Dinner

Has the right running style for the Derby.


The Factor

The fastest gun in the west. Barn always tough.

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