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Apr 08, 2011


By: John Piesen

Uncle Mo is rolling towards the Derby...
So is John Piesen, who's won 11 of 18 Derby Preps, including last week's Florida Derby.
Click here to join him the rest of the way to Churchill Downs and for the Kentucky Derby itself.

It seems everyone I run into asks the same thing:

"OK, wise guy," ...whoddya like in the Derby?"

In each case, I point out that today is April 7, not May 7.

An awful  lot can happen in the last month. And some of it can be pretty awful. Look no further than last year when Eskendreya was a near-unanimous Derby pick at this time. Even this writer, who virtually never takes the chalk in the Derby, was tempted to put him on top.

We all know what happened. Eskendreya went down a week before the Derby, never to race again.

Fast forward a year, and Uncle Mo will be 1-9 in the Wood Memorial on Saturday at Aqueduct. Mike Repole's unbeaten supercolt is expected to make it 5-for-5 in the Wood, and move on to Louisville as the proverbial sure thing at 3-5.

But a lot can happen in the Derby countdown. There are still two other major Derby preps other than the Wood -- the Santa Anita Derby on Saturday, the Arkansas Derby on April 16 plus some minor ones --and the obvious knowledge that thoroughbreds are fragile animals. That's why the best gig in sports is the futures book operator.

Right now, Uncle Mo is a consensus 3-1 favorite in the future books, and the price will drop to 2-1 if wins the Wood, and does so impressively. The folks at the Wood got themselves a casino sponsor this year, enabling them to boost the purse to a Wood-record one-mill.

Thus with a 200K second-prize, the Wood jumped from an expected five-horse field to a 10-horse field with Uncle Mo breaking in the middle in the five-hole.

Uncle Mo, thanks to Grade 1 blowouts in the Champagne and Breeders' Cup Juvenile, is the only graded stakes-winner in the Wood field. That leaves the other nine ostensibly running for the 200K second money. If Uncle Mo is not up to par, the win ticket will pay a good price. And no matter what, the exacta, trifecta and superfecta factors will be substantial and I will be ready with my 1-2-3-4 order of finish in the Wood Memorial on Saturday. You can click here to get on board. I'll also have the full card.

Just last week, I won my 11th Derby Prep of the season in 18 tries with my selection of Dialed In in the Florida Derby. As we all know, Dialed In rallied from 20 lengths out to get up in the last jump as the $7.80 second choice. With not only the Gotham Stakes, but the Santa Anita Derby and the Illinois Derby all coming up this weekend, Saturday April 9th promises to be the biggest day of the racing season thus far.

The Santa Anita Derby, like the Wood, carries a million-dollar purse, and will be run at nine furlongs. The field of 11 includes Premier Pegasus and Jaycito, the one-two finishers in the San Felipe. The bad news for Jaycito is the outside post; the good news is that he hails from trainer Baffert, whose top 3-year-old, The Factor, awaits the Arkansas Derby.

Trainer Sherriffs and jockey Giacomo, who teamed to win the '05 Kentucky Derby with Giacomo, team up with the lightly-raced Mr. Commons, who brings a two-for-three record into his stakes debut in the Santa Anita Derby.

The Illinois Derby at Hawthorne also will be run at nine furlongs, but for a mere $300,000. The favorite and horse to beat will be Tampa Bay Derby runnerup Watch Me Go,but closers traditionally have a rough time over the speed-favoring suburban Chicago course.

The main contenders in the 12-horse field may be Joe Vann from the Pletcher barn, and Sour, from the people who gave us Blame.

The Illinois Derby will always be remembered for front-end winner War Emblem, who went on to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and for Vision and Verse, a Belmont Stakes runnerup.

Click here to get with me, not just for my selections in all three prep races, but for the full card at all three tracks. It promises to be a great day of moneymaking and I know you'll enjoy it as much as I will.

Readers of this space can testify that I have been touting Dialed In as my Kentucky Derby horse since his last-to-first debut last November at Churchill Downs. And here we are (on April 7) and Dialed In is the second choice in all the Futures,
at a consensus 3-1.

This April 7, incidentally, is the 32nd anniversary of two major events: General Assembly's victory in the Gotham Stakes...and my marriage (sorry girls).
That also was about the same time that I became good friends with Nick
Zito, the trainer of Dialed In. We both were breaking into the racing game, and when the city-wide newspaper strike came down, the New York Post told me, and all its employees, to lose its number.

I was at Saratoga at the time, covering Affirmed, Alydar, Senstitive Prince and Linda Ronstadt...but I couldn't do much without a paycheck and an expense account. Zito took pity on me, and let me use an extra bedroom in the house he
was renting. It worked out fine...except for those 3 a.m. knocks on the door from young ladies who wanted to play ping-pong with Zito. Through the years, Zito and I have had our run-ins. But Zito made it to the National Museum Hall of Fame and international celebrity, and I made it to Harold's Restaurant. So we both have done OK.

But Dialed In has brought us back together. Nick trains him. I pick him on my phone service. It has worked least up to this point. One thing that sure is not working out is the Hall of Fame.

This week, the crack HOF committee announced its final cut for this year's inductees. I won't quarrel with its choices. I'm
not going to knock the storied jocks, trainers and horses who made the cut.

But where was Steve Asmussen? This I can understand somewhat because Steve has a bit of a rap sheet. But Gasper Moschera, Larry Snyder and Smarty Jones are clean...and their names are conspiculously missing from the nominees.

Smarty was racing's biggest rock star since the late '70s, and didn't get a sniff in his first year of eligibility. You might recall that, back in 2004, he would have become the second unbeaten Triple Crown winner in history if not for being targeted by jealous jocks in the Belmont.

Larry Snyder? All he did was dominate the central time zone jockey colony for a quarter-century, and was fourth all-time in wins when he retired from riding. He's never had a blemish on his record, and remains in the game as the lead steward at
Oaklawn Park.

Gasper? He merely doninated New York racing for a decade, revolutionized the claiming game -- and, like Snyder, is unblemished. The man never had a positive. You can look it up.

This is not at all about me. I once was on that committee, but they lost my phone number. It doesn't matter. But I can give the Hall of Fame no credibility without plaques of Moschera, Snyder, and Smarty gracing its walls.

Meanwhile, Calvin Borel, one of those who did make the final cut for the Hall of Fame, and we wish him well, on Wednesday at OP worked Elite Alex three-quarters in 1:11 for the Arkansas Derby.

The work was an instant replay of the work by Afleet Alex, the sire of Elite Alex, a few days before the 2005 Arkansas Derby -- which AA proceeded to win from here to Malverne, and go on win the Preakness, Belmont and 3-year-old championship.

Elite Alex needs a one-two finish in the Arkansas Derby to make the sufficient funds to make the Kentucky Derby. And if it happens, EA well may be the one to carry Borel to his fourth KD in five years.

If not, you can be sure Calvin will not be watching the Derby from the Churchill Downs jocks' room. He'll be on somebody's horse.

Herewith our updated Derby Top Ten:

1. Dialed In  Will embrace the 10th furlong.
2.  Uncle Mo       The Wood won't prove he'll go 10.
3. The Factor    May be the next Spend A Buck.
4. Animal Kingdom Freaked for Irwin in the Spiral.
5. Elite Alex Has to finish 1-2 in the AD.
6. Premier Pegasus  The Santa Anita Derby chalk.
7. Mucho Macho Man Had many excuses in the LD.
8. Brethren    Can make amends in the AD
9. Jaycito    Always beware Bullet Bob
10.Shackleford  Will be a serious pace factor.

Thanks again for tuning in. Enjoy the big sports weekend, don't lose my numbers, and see you back here next Thursday.

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