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Jun 24, 2011

A SATURDAY FOR THE FILLIES

By: by John Piesen


Everywhere you'll turn on Saturday, there will be major races for the girls.

At Belmont Park, they'll run the Mother Goose, a Grade One for 3-year-old fillies, and the New York Handicap, a Grade Two for fillies and mares on the
grass.

At Monmouth Park, they will run the Boiling Springs, a Grade 3 for 3-year-old fillies on the grass, the Lighthouse, an ungraded stake for fillies and mares...and a maiden race for 2-year-old fillies which includes a first-time starter on which we are hearing good things.

And at Hollywood Park, the Hollywood Oaks, a Grade 2 for 3-year-old fillies, is headed by a filly who has the same number of votes as the Preakness winner in the current NTRA thoroughbred poll.

First things first...and that means Belmont.

Back in March at Oaklawn Park, trainer Larry Jones was certain he had the nation's two best fillies in his barn -- the 4-year-old Havre De Grace, who went on to win the Azeri, Apple Blossom and Obeah to assume the top spot in the current thoroughbred poll, and the 3-year-old Joyful Victory, who would reach the top of her division with blowout victories in the Honeybee and Fantasy.

But the bubble burst in the Kentucky Oaks, where Joyful Victory, the 2-1 favorite from the rail in a field of 13, had a troubled trip from start to finish, and settled for fourth to the Bob Baffert-trained Plum Pretty, beaten three lengths.

These two were being pointed for a rematch in the Mother Goose, but Plum Pretty missed a few training days with a temperature, and Baffert decided to keep her home at Hollywood Park. Then (surprise!) Bullet Bob reached for the phone, and entered PP in the Hollywood Oaks.

So, instead of having a great race Saturday, matching the best two 3-year-old fillies in North America, we are looking at two races -- a continent apart -- in which the main concern of the players will be filling the exactas.

Pretty Plum will be the speed and class of the Hollywood Oaks under Martin Garcia at no more than 1-5. But, and this is a big but, she'll be giving four to 10 pounds to her four rivals. A built-in excuse if we've ever seen one.

Joyful Victory has no such weight issues. She'll be weighted at the same 121 pounds as her six rivals, and, as a bonus, she'll be ridden by Ramon Dominguez for the first time this year.

Mike Smith was aboard for Joyful Victory's first three races this year, but trainer Jones (and owner Porter) blamed Smith for JV's Kentucky Oaks loss, and dumped him for Dominguez.

But don't worry about Smith. He'll be at Prairie Meadows on Saturday evening to ride a pair of stakes favorites for Steve Asmussen -- It Happened Again in the Cornhusker Handicap, and Astrology (the Preakness third) in the Iowa Derby.

Unlike Joyful Victory, a multiple stakes-winner, Buster's Ready, her main rival in the Mother Goose, will be looking for her first stakes winner for trainer Todd Pletcher. In her last start, Buster's Ready was a remote second in the Black Eyed Susan to Royal Delta, who later suffered a training mishap, and will skip the Mother Goose.

The Ken McPeek-trained Salty Strike was beaten 15 lengths by Joyful Victory in the Honeybee, but went on to win two straight at Churchill Downs, including a
three-length score in the Dogwood Stakes as a $12.80 best bet on the John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283). M.R. Cruz ships up from Kentucky to ride Salty Strike, the likely third choice.

Those bettors, who have made fortunes playing the "weaker" half of uncoupled Pletcher entries, will be out there with guns blazing to back R Gypsy Gold, who recently broke her maiden at Monmouth in her fifth start. Javier Castellano has the call, replacing Joe Bravo, who is loaded Saturday down the shore.

Meantime, weight is definitely an issue in the New York Stakes, a 1/14-mile test over Belmont's inner turf course.

Godolphin's Hibaayeb, the winner of the 2010 Yellow Ribbon, and, in her last start, the Sheepshead Bay, will be heavily favored under Johnny Velazquez, despite the fact that, as the 123-pound topweight, she'll be conceding seven pounds to her six rivals.

Hibaayeb's task was made considerably easier this week with word that Shared Account, the defending Breeders' Cup Filly and Turf winner, was not entered in the New York by trainer Graham Motion.

"She's just not 100 per cent," says Motion, who is running into a string of bad luck. Animal Kingdom, the Derby-winning star of the stable, is out of training
indefinitely with a small crack of the cannon bone.

Motion is not giving any hints about Animal Kingdom's return to the races, but, letting history be our guide, I won't be surprised if we see a retirement announcement sometime this summer, in plenty of time to market AK's stud career.

Despite the name of the race, the New York Stakes is not for New York-breds. In fact, Hibaayeb is owned by the Sheiks, and Zagora, who might be the
horse to beat, is a German-bred.

Motion will be double-dipping on Saturday, with Hibaayeb in the New York, and Summer Soiree in the Boiling Springs at Monmouth.

Summer Soiree came to prominence at Oaklawn when trained by Jones, but was sold to Team Valor in April, and turned over to Motion. In her first start
for her new connections, she made all the pace in the Kentucky Oaks, but was no match late for Plum Pretty.

Gabriel Saez will be up from Delaware to ride Summer Soiree, who no doubt will take some catching over the speed-favoring Monmouth strip.

The Patrick Biancone-trained Pontenuova, one of Bravo's many live mounts Saturday, will be running at the end of the Boiling Springs, which for years was the
opening-day feature of The Meadowlands fall meet. Now, we are counting the days until The Big M becomes a full-blown casino.

Debonair Darling, a fast-closing second for the Brunetti/Sacco connection in her season bow, is worth a play at a price in the Lighthouse. Chris DeCarlo rides from
the outside post in the field of seven going 1 1/16 miles.

Back on top of this column we mentioned a buzz on a first-time starter Saturday at Monmouth.

The name is Same Old Story, a John Mazza-trained filly who'll break from the outside post under Bravo in a field of eight. Jersey Joe was suitably impressed after working the filly for the first time a week back.

So that's it. The joy of six. Don't be surprised if we see a lot of chalk. But if the big races go to the favorites, there's plenty of others where value is going to be found, both in the win bets and exotics. I'm studying the card thoroughly, checking my figs, verifying information and am zeroing in on some moneymaking plays. You can click here to join me.

Normally, we don't talk much about Prairie Meadows on this venue. But we'll make an exception because the Iowa track will run a stakes-filled program on
Saturday evening, featuring the Cornhusker, the long-time headliner at the extinct Ak-Sar-Ben track, and the Iowa Derby.

The main threat to It Happened Again in the Cornhusker looks to be Awesome Gem, a 9-year-old who has banked $2.5 million for West Point Stable, and who
is fresh from a stakes score in the Lone Star Handicap. Robby Albarado will be up from Churchill for the mount on the Wally Dollase-trained veteran.

The main threats to Astrology in the Iowa Derby will be Caleb's Posse, the Donnie K. Von Hemel stretch-runner who is fresh from a victory in the Ohio Derby at Thistle Down, and the Baffert-trained Prayer for Relief.

Speaking of Churchill, we want to send our best to trainer Jinx Fires, one of eight trainers whose barns were severely damaged during a violent
thunderstorm on Wednesday evening.

Incredibly, there was no loss of life, human or equine, in the storm that ravaged the century-old home of the Kentucky Derby. Thursday's card was cancelled,
but racing will resume on schedule Friday evening.

Fires is still recovering from word that Archarcharch, who in April gave him the first Grade One winner of his 60-year training career in the Arkansas Derby,
had to be retired after being injured in the Kentucky Derby.

And, speaking of Arkansas, we wish good luck to Terry Wallace, who last week retired after 37 fun-filled years on the job as the Oaklawn announcer.

Thanks for tuning in. Good luck this weekend, keep the JP Hot Line in mind and join us for the winning.



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