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May 20, 2011


By: By John Piesen:

So much for the old bounce theory.

There was talk in racing circles that I might bounce following a kick-butt performance on the Oaks/Derby full cards two week back at Churchill Downs, capped by hitting the $329.80 exacta box in the Derby, and a $26,000 box score in the final pick four.

But the hot streak continued last weekend. I picked two stakes on-line and on the John Piesen Hot Line (1-888-612-2283), and my choices both won -- albeit by a combined half a nostril.

They were Alternation on Saturday in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park, and C C's Pal on Sunday in the Monmouth Beach Stakes at Monmouth Park. Both returned $9 and change.

So now it's on to Pimlico, and I'll be on-line and on the JP Hot Line with full-card selections on Friday (Black-Eyed Susan Day), and of course on Saturday (Preakness Day).

Without going into detail here, I already know my picks for the two big races, and I'm very confident in them.

In looking back at the Derby, I read countless advance pieces on the race, and nary a mention of Animal Kingdom and Shackleford, who merely went on to finish one-four as two of my four picks. My other picks were Nehro, who finished second, and, alas, Dialed In, who checked in eighth.

For those scoring at home, that was three-quarters of the 48K superfecta, and the single most important element of my 26K pick four box.

Surprise. Surprise.

Fast forward to the present...and Animal Kingdom now is getting conservatively 75 per cent of the media attention for the Preakness, with Shackleford getting his share of attention as well.

As is the case every year, I'm hearing that the Derby winner is the proverbial lock to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in '78.

If only it were so easy.

From my point of view, when they enter the gate in the Preakness, the Derby winner is no more likely to win as the other 13 in the race.

No two races are the same.  No two races are run the same. And, with rare exception, no two races finish the same.

That said, I'm going to try to beat Animal Kingdom this time. But that's not to say I won't be using him in the gimmicks.

I've covered 25 Preaknesses over the years, mostly for the New York  Post and Daily Racing Form.

Four stand out:

1. My first Preakness in 1980.

That was also trainer Lukas' first Preakness. After absentmindedly forgetting to nominate Santa Anita Derby winner Codex to the Kentucky Derby, he entered him in the Preakness, and told me that he was a cinch to knock off Kentucky Derby winner Genuine Risk.

Who knew at that time from D. Wayne Lukas? From all the media and the public knew, he was a high school basketball coach and a quarter-horse  guy.

The race was an all-timer.

Codex, with Angel Cordero up, made the lead turning for home, bumped with Genuine Risk, Jacinto Vasquez up, and went on to win.

Since the Post had no Sunday edition in those days, I rushed right down to the jocks' room, instead of staying upstairs in the press box to write a lead.

As a result, I turned out to be the only media person in the room when Junior was called to the phone by the clerk of scales.

I was standing five feet from Cordero when he took the call was his wife Santa, who was calling Angel to tell him that she and their children were getting  life-threatening calls at home in the wake of the bumping incident with the heroic Genuine Risk.

Cordero begged me to sit on the story, and I promised him I would wait a day to write it -- neglecting to mention that I had no choice since we had no Sunday paper.

Incredibly, no one else got the story...and I broke it on Monday. In fact, it led the Post back page. It took Cordero months to forgive me for writing the story.

2. The year was 1996.

I was spending Preakess Day in the press box assigned to writing leads on the undercard stakes. It was my traditional Preakness Day assignment.

Meantime, the legendary Joe Hirsch was going to write the Preakness lead, as he had done for every Triple Crown race for two decades. There was also four or five other gifted DRF staffers on hand for sidebars, quotes, etc.

At 4 o'clock, I got a call from my editor, Mike Mullaney. The conversation was a brief one.

"John," said Mike, "...Joe is not doing well, and we need someone to write the Preakness lead. And since you have the most experience on deadline, you're the guy."

In other words, I wasn't the best Form guy available, but I was the fastest.

It was nice to be chosen, but I was scared to death. I might as well could have been a cub reporter out-of-college assigned to cover his first city council meeting.

Luckily, the race was a simple one to write. Louis Quatorze and Skip Away ran one-two from bell to wire. No trouble behind them.

I wrote 500 words in five minutes, then walked out onto the roof to catch my breath.

The story was good, not great. But I had dodged a major bullet.

3. The year was 2004.

I was the biggest supporter of Smarty Jones from day one. As the PR writer for Oaklawn Park, I spent most every morning at Smarty's barn, and watched in awe from the roof as he won the Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby.

In all my years covering racing, I had never grown so attached to a horse, and his connections.

In fact, trainer John Servis even asked me to call in Smarty's entry for the Southwest to the racing office. I did so. And I would later get to call in his entry for the Rebel, Arkansas Derby...and Kentucky Derby. All of which of course he won.

The only problem? I didn't get to see any part of that $5 million bonus.

I then got to call in Smarty's entry for the Preakness from my son's dorm room at Bucknell.

Although Smarty was 1-5 for the Preakness, I was very nervous. There was no reason to be. From the solitude of a corner of a private dining room in the clubhouse, I  watched Smarty take control from the inside at the quarter-pole, and win from here to downtown  Hagerstown.

I rushed back to the bar, and watched, my heart pounding,  hundreds (thousands?) form a path to cheer him.

I so wish that the Smarty Party could have ended that day.

4. The year was 2006.

First of all, there was the Friday late-afternoon announcement in the press box:

"Barbaro has arrived at the stakes barn!"

With that, virtually the entire media corps picked up their notepads and raced downstaris to the barn to greet the Kentucky Derby winner, ignoring completely that the field was going to the gate for the Pimlico Special.

As a result, I watched in detached solitude from the press box as an obscure South American shipper named Invasor (a JP Hot Line best bet at 6-1) won going away.

Invasor went on to win a bunch more Grade Ones, and would be voted Horse of the Year.

The next morning, I bailed on Pimlico to drive to Bucknell for my son's graduation party (an easy decision), and watched in horror on TV as Barbaro went down.

Other than Eight Belles, this was the singular worst racing moment ever.

And one I'll never forget.

This brings us to 2011. Hopefully, we'll see a clean race with a happy ending for the folks who purchase my selections. Click Here to join me

Thank you for tuning in, you need to remember to check out the JP picks on-line, and on the Hot Line, and we'll see you back here next week.

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