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Apr 22, 2011


By: John Piesen

SITTING PRETTY--by John Piesen

If you are by chance holding tickets on the mutuel field in the Derby Futures, you are sitting pretty.

For example, of the 23 "singles" in pool one of the Churchill Downs Future Book, only two are likely to make it to the CD gate on May 7 -- Dialed In (#7) and Mucho Macho Man (#13).

A handful of others are possible to make the Derby, including Uncle Mo (#23) but I wouldn't hold my breath, or advise others to do so.

I used to think that the best jobs in racing belonged in New York to the track photographer, parking attendants and maitre d's. After all, those guys raked in more dough on Travers and Belmont Day alone than most of us hard-working stiffs see in a year.

This still may be so, but the guys who run racing future books have to be right up there with him.

If you got down on The Factor...sorry. If you got down on Uncle Mo, or Pegasus Premier, or Jaycito, or Sway Away, or Rogue Romance, or To Honor and Serve, or Gourmet Dinner, or Brethren, or Elite Alex...sorry

Of all the Triple Crown Trail preps this year, only two (count 'em) two were won by the favorite:

Stay Thirsty (Gotham), and The Factor (Rebel). Otherwise, the races have produced one shocker after another, capped by the last two weekends when Uncle Mo and The Factor spit the bit, and all four races produced double-digit win payoffs.

The winners of those four races -- Toby"s Corner (Wood); Midnight Interlude (Santa Anita Derby); Archarcharch (Arkansas Derby), and Brilliant Speed (Blue Grass) -- have one thing in common: all were members of the field (#24) in the first CD Futures pool. And all have as good a shot as anyone in the most wide-open Derby field since at least 1982 (Gato del Sol).

That said, it's clear that your best option is checking out the author's Derby pix in two weeks--here online  and/or on the red-hot John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283).

History will be in you favor. In my years at the New York Post and Daily Racing Form, I was fortunate to pick Derby winners Pleasant Colony, Gato Del Sol, Alysheba, Ferdinand, Sunday Silence, Unbridled, Strike the Gold, Smarty the Real Quiet/Victory Gallop exacta box, and three exacta/trifecta boxes the last four years: the Street Sense/ Hard Spun/Curlin tri in '07; the Big Brown/ Eight Belles/Dennis of Cork tri in '09, and the Super Saver/Ice Box exacta in ;10, when I had the foresight to box the inside four.

In one stretch, I nailed eight Derby winners in 11 years -- none of whom were favored.

This year presents a new problem.

When I watched Dialed In win his first race last November going last-to-first in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden at Churchill Downs, I yelled from the proverbial rooftops that this was my Derby horse. And I said so many times in my columns on this venue.

Nothing has happened this year to dull my enthusiasm for Dialed In, although I have to admit I wasn't thrilled by his performance in that practice race two-back at Gulfstream. And, even his two stakes wins -- in the Holy Bull and Florida Derby -- were not as visually impressive as last Fall's maiden win.

After that maiden win, Dialed In was 100-1 in the Vegas Derby Futures, and I advised friends and foes alike to get down. Fast forward to the present, and Dialed In will be the morning-line favorite at 3-1 or 7-2, and,most likely, the post-time chalk.

My situation is clear: Do I stay with the girl I brung to the dance, or desert her at the 11th hour for a hot babe over by the punch bowl? I can only equate my problem to the late Eddie Fisher. Do I really give up Debbie Reynolds for Liz Taylor?

You can see my problem.

And if you are one of the thousands who have profited through the years on my Derby selections, it is your problem as well.

My take for months is that I would be throwing out Uncle Mo and The Factor on the basis that neither looked to me a mile-and-a-quarter horse. So it saddens me that The Factor will miss the Derby, and Uncle Mo probably will too.

After all, trainer Pletcher has babied Uncle Mo all year while the media was hailing him as a dead-sure Triple Crown winner...only to see the bubble burst in the Wood, a race from which he exited with a reported bellyache.

Dialed In?

No matter the price, the stretch-running Dialed In (and jockey Leparoux, a Derby maiden) still must navigate through and around 19 horses. Obviously no simple task. As the fates would have it, Dialed In is not the only Mineshaft colt among the Derby contenders.

Fact is that there has been a recent groundswell of support for another son of the 2003 Horse of the Year.

That would be Nehro, who, as recently as mid-February, was a nondescript maiden taking up space in the Steve Asmussen barn at Oaklawn Park, a short chip shot from the Fires barn, and eventual Arkansas Derby winner Arch Arch Arch.

Nehro, a 170K Keeneland purchase by Zayat Stables, finished OK for fourth in his six-furlong debut in mid-December at Fair Grounds, and then shipped to Oaklawn Park, where he checked in 10th, beaten 22 lengths, as the 2-1 second choice going a mile.

Super Steve must have then performed some magic because Nehro came back at the same distance with Michael Baze replacing Aaron Gryder, and rallied five-wide to win by four at 15-1.

That earned Nehro a 12-hour van ride to New Orleans for the Louisiana Derby, and the bay, showing a turn of foot for the first time, shocked the faithful with a closing second to Pants on Fire under Baze at 36-1.

Switching to jockey Nakatani for the Arkansas Derby, Nehro closed widest and fastest at 9-1, only to miss by a neck to Archarcharch. Nehro was two lengths in front seconds after the wire.

Nehro's performance was so impressive that I wouldn't be shocked if sons of Mineshaft go off first and second choice at the Derby. Nehro certainly will be a much shorter price than the horses who beat him in Louisiana and Arkansas.

Meantime, Asmussen will run the likely favorites in both of this Saturday's six-figure stakes for 3-year-olds.

Silver Medallion, who had severe traffic problems as the favorite in the Santa Anita Derby, will be a short price under jockey Castellano in the 200K Lexington at Keeneland, a 1 1/16-mile Grade 2 that begins and ends at the 16th pole.

The Lexington is an "all in" race for Silver Medallion. He has to win to make the earnings cut for the Derby. Second money of 40K would leave him short of Derby dough.

Otherwise, the Lexingston attracted five no-names: Derby Kitten, Prime Cut, Hurricane Lake, Taptowne and Casper's Touch.

At Aqueduct, they will run the 150K Jerome Mile, also a Grade 2, and Astrology, who had been the highest-rated 3-year-old in the Asmussen operation, heads a field of eight from the highly undesirable rail position.

Mike Smith must like him since he's making the round trip from California for the call.

Asmussen also will run the uncoupled Justin Phillip in the Jerome, which used to be run in the Fall, and at Belmont Park.

Win or lose, Astrology will skip the Derby, but we might see him in the Preakness and/or Belmont.

Cat Nation, headed last time by Arkansas Derby third-place finisher Dance City, looks to be the main threat from post two with Johnny V riding for the Toddster.

Gallant Dreams, Isn't He Perfect, Rattlesnake Bridge, Starship Cruiser and Adios Charlie complete the lineup.

This brings us to the final installment of my Derby Top Ten:

  1. Dialed In: From 100-1 in the Futures to the chalk.
  2. Mucho Macho Man: Shows some recent dazzling works.
  3. Toby's Corner Very impressive taking the Wood.
  4. Midnight Interlude Baffert colt becomes the main speed.
  5. Nehro Asmussen colt will be flying late.
  6. Archarcharch Will bring his talents from Arkansas.
  7. Shackleford Was his Florida Derby a mirage?
  8. Animal Kingdom Goes from plastic to the dirt.
  9. Silver Medallion Has to win the Lexington to get in.
  10. Pants on Fire First female jock to win Derby?

Thanks for tuning in.Check out my selections on the JP Hot Line, including Thursday's $1 Million Pick-6 at Gulfstream, and see you back here in 12 days.

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