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Feb 26, 2004

RACING TO THE DERBY

By: JOHN PIESEN


How strong is Todd Pletcher?

Glad you asked.

Todd Pletcher is so strong that this week he nominated 27 horses to the Rebel Stakes

and Arkansas Derby, that track"s two marquee races for 3-year-olds.

Most trainers don"t see 27 three-year-olds in a lifetime. Todd Pletcher has 27 in one year, and all

of them stakes-worthy. It"s kind of scary.

Steve Wren, who trains Mr. Jester, the best 3-year-old on the Oaklawn grounds, took one look

at Pletcher"s list, and said: "What are you going to do? He"s got 27. I"ve got one. I just hope I"ve

got the right one."

Wren helped his chances this morning with this hot-off-the-wire news. He has tapped Kent Desormeaux

to ride Mr. Jester in the Rebel, Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby. If one horse wins all three, he

collects a $5 million bonus from Oaklawn president Charles Cella.

Suddenly, Mr. Jester is worth a play in the Futures.

Roman Chapa got Mr. Jester in more trouble than the Titanic in the Risen Star Stakes last Sunday

at Fair Grounds, and Jester wound up getting beat a half-length as a day and a half the best.

Desormeaux is a major upgrade. Kent won the Arkansas Derby once, the Kentucky Derby twice, and

currently is riding 20 per cent winners at Santa Anita.

In the meantime, thanks for those hundreds of cards and e-mails that responded to my column on

Jack Kaenel earlier this week. I did another piece on Kaenel today for oaklawn.com (notes and quotes).

Now, let"s get to our reason for living: Saturday"s action!

BEST TURN STAKES (Aqueduct)

There"s a ton of early inside speed in this stake, setting matters up for an outside closer. Redskin

Warrior, with Migliore up, fits the bill. He"ll make the winning three or four-wide move on the turn,

and blow "em away through the lane.

PIESEN"S PICKS: 1) Redskin Warrior 2) Abbondanza 3) Excellent Band

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ESSEX HANDICAP (Oaklawn)

Craig Perret is 4-for-4 on Crafty Shaw, and Perret will be flying into Arkansas, giving up a full day

at Gulfstream, to ride Crafty Shaw for Oaklawn president Cella. Trainer Peter Vestal told me that

Crafty Shaw was "dead short" for his last race, a race he was lucky to win on Super Sunday, but

that he has him fit for the Essex. I suspect Perret will gun Crafty Shaw to the top and not look back.

PIESEN"S PICKS: 1) Crafty Shaw 2) Docent 3) Missme

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CHOU CROUTE (Fair Grounds)

Chou Croute was a grand multiple stakes-winner from the "70s, and her trainer was Bob Dunham, who

is still going strong in New York, hoping beyond hope he"ll get another Chou Croute in his lifetime.

Several of these mares come out of the same race a month back, and I look for a slightly different

result. Look for Spirited Maiden to go wire to wire for the prospering Amoss/Borel team. Beware

California shipper Tropical Blossom, and the streaking Spectacular Lisa, who must overcome the

outside post.

PIESEN"S PICKS: 1) Spirited Maiden 2) Spectacular Lisa 3) Salty Farma

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This brings us to the Magna Pick Five. Yes, you don"t have to tell me that I"ve had no success

thus far with this new gimmick, but my hormones tell me that this is the day to get going. So here

goes:

LAUREL (Race 9)

Unraced at 2 and 3, Gelli has won her two starts at 4 by daylight for canny old Charles Hadry, and

should make it three straight here. If you must go two-deep, you can use Pat"s Possibility, who

had a horrendous trip in last.

PIESEN"S PICKS: 1) Gelli 2) Pat"s Possibility 3) Suave Squaw
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GULFSTREAM PARK (Race 10)

Reggie Three, an Arkansas and Kentucky Derby nominee. was wiped out at the start as the favorite

in debut for 007. He has since work three-quarters in "12 over a training track, and may be any kind.

Your basic single in the Magna 5.

PIESEN"S PICKS: 1) Reggie for Three 2) Formal Finish 3) Gannett Peak

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GOLDEN GATE (Race 4)

Woven Dream worked three-quarters in "13 for first race since last summer, when she ran two brilliant

races. Her jock is Russell Baze, and her trainer is a 20 per center. The rest are running for

second money.

PIESEN"S PICKS: 1) Woven Dream 2) Langfuhr"s Magic 3) High Liability

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SANTA ANITA (Race 5)

Pepper Shaker has been incredible winning his two "04 starts by a combined 19 lengths with Mike

Smith aboard. He"s the fastest horse in the race, and he has the best post and rider. Life is good.

PIESEN"S PICKS: 1) Pepper Shaker 2) Third Half 3) Early Show

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GULFSTREAM PARK (Race 11)

Rain is forecast for Hallandale Saturday so I have to pick for grass and dirt.

If the Palm Beach stays on grass, I like Commendation. He is a .600 career hitter on the weeds,

and, last time on grass, he had an awful trip when well-meant in the Tropical Park Derby. Velazquez,

sitting on a big day, should find a way.

If the race is switched to the main track, Commendation will be scratched, and Johnny V will jump

on Tales of Glory, a two-time blowout winner in New York last fall. Last time, he chased Mr. Jester

at Delta.

PIESEN"S PICKS: 1) Commendation (grass) 1) Tales of Glory (dirt)



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