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Jul 01, 2011


By: By John Piesen

There is always racing fireworks on the July 4 weekend, and this year is no exception, especially on Saturday at Monmouth Park and Belmont Park. I intend to be on the scene and in action for the holiday weekend. On Saturday I'm going for the $300,000 Late Pick-4 at Belmont, Sunday will be a Triple Play at Belmont, Monmouth and Churchill and Monday will be the full card at Belmont. You can click here to join me. Between the moneymaking opportunities and the great stakes races, this a terrific weekend to be a horse racing bettor and fan.

The $750,000 United Nations Handicap, traditionally one of the most significant grass events on the national racing calendar, tops the Monmouth  program, with the $200,000 Salvator Mile heading the undercard.

Across the Hudson, the Belmont Park card Saturday is topped by the $300,000 Suburban Handicap for older horses, and the $150,000 Dwyer for 3-year-olds.

The good news is that the weatherman promises Grade One conditions for the big day, and the John Piesen Hot Line (1-888-612-2283) will be up and running at both venues. The Hot Line just keeps rolling along.

Last Saturday, the Line went 3-for-3, including Summer Soiree, an eight-length winner at $9.40 of the Boiling Springs Handicap at Monmouth, and the first-time filly Same Old Story, who was hyped on this venue last Thursday.

In case you missed it, Same Old Story threw jockey Bravo at the gate, ran off a bit, Joe reloaded, and the filly won by five. She paid a mere $4, but those who used her in the gimmicks made a score.

We plan to have some more serious firsters down the shore in the near future.

As for this Saturday, the player to watch is a young trainer named J. Larry (the Cowboy) Jones, the same fella who gave us the likes of Hard Spun, Proud Spell, Eight Belles, and this year Havre de Grace, Joyful Victory and Summer Soiree.

In two weeks (July 16) Havre de Grace, ranked No. 1 for the last six weeks in the NTRA thoroughbred poll, will hook Blind Luck (No. 2) in the $750,000 Delaware Handicap at her home base of Delaware Park.

"Bring (Blind Luck) on," Jones told us this morning, "she'll be coming to our place."

While Havre de Grace is enjoying this weekend off at her Delaware barn, four stablemates will be loaded on a horse van Saturday, and trainer Jones will take the wheel for the two-hour ride (traffic permitting) to Oceanport, N.J.

They will be The Hidden Ace, #4 in race three; Canadian Mistress, #5 in race six; Silver Salutations, #10 in race nine, and Friesan Fire, #7 in Race 10, the Salvator.

If the name Friesan Fire strikes a familiar chord, it should. This is the same Friesan Fire, who, back in 2009, went off the Kentucky Derby favorite on the basis of three stakes blowouts at Fair Grounds.

Friesan Fire had the misfortune to get wiped out at the first turn, and an unlikely horse named Mine That Bird went on to fame and glory.

Neither horse has had much luck since.

Soon afterwards, unhappy owner Porter sent Friesan Fire to Steve Asmussen. But FF never ran a lick for Asmussen, and in May the owner sent him back to Jones at Delaware.

"He is reminding me of the old Friesan Fire," Jones said, "he's doing really well. We've placed him aggressively (in the Salvator), but that (1:00 1/5) work Monday shows us he's  ready.

"I would think that Zito's horse (Morning Line) is the one to beat.

And of course there's always Pletcher, who will run Rule from the one-hole over the speed-favoring Monmouth strip."

"I guess Todd just never gets tired of beating me," said Jones

Jones was referring to the last two Saturdays when he ran second to Pletcher with Payton D'Oro (Awesome Maria)  in the Phipps, and with Joyful Victory  (Buster's Ready) in the Mother Goose (both grade ones).

Jones hopes to exact revenge with Joyful Victory in the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga.

"I expect we'll see (Joyful Victory) ridden more aggressively next  time," he said.

Back to this Saturday, Jones (plus wife/assistant Cindy and owner Brereton Jones) are particularly high on Canadian Mistress, who will be a short price in the sixth race, an allowance.

"Since we got this filly going two-turns," Jones said, "she's shown remarkable improvement. And since we have won the last three runnings of the Monmouth Oaks, we can't offer to lay down this year...and this looks like our Monmouth Oaks filly."

"The Hidden Ace is a big, powerful horse who looks like he has some talent.

"Two of his owners who have played in the World Series of Poker, and one of them won it one year, so we gave him a poker name."

"We're just hoping for the best with Silver Salutations. She's had some leg issues, but she's OK now, and she seems to like grass."

Jockey Saez, who was aboard for Summer Soiree's romp last week, will be up from Delaware -- along with agent Munoz -- to ride all four of the Jones horses.

Looking ahead to next winter, Jones said he will split his stock  between Oaklawn Park and Fair Grounds, unlike recent years when he concentrated on Hot  Springs.

"Some horses like Hot Springs, some don't," he said. "It all depends on where they fit.

"And I am healthier than I have been in years so I won't mind the commuting."

Saez continues to be Larry's first-call rider, but The Cowboy has also enjoyed success with a young Puerto Rican rider named Ramon Vasquez.

"The kid has a lot of talent, and as he learns the ropes of North American Racing," says Jones, "he'll just keep getting better and better."

Speaking of jockeys, two-time Eclipse winner Garrett Gomez will jet in from Los Angeles to ride defending champion Chinchon in the United Nations, which will be having its 58th running. The race was run at Atlantic City from its inception in 1953 to 1999,  when it was moved to Monmouth Park.

Chinchon will break from the outside post in a field of 10 for the U.N., which will be run as race 11 on the 12-race program. The winner of the 1 3/16-mile grass race receives an automatic berth in the Breeders' Cup Turf, which will be run on Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs.

Gomez curiously will be the only out-of-town jock in the U.N.

The top three in the Monmouth jockey standings all have live mounts -- Bravo on Stacelita; Paco Lopez on 2010 Breeders' Cup Marathon winner Eldaafer, and Elvis Trujillo on Bold Hawk.

Suspension or no, jockey Maragh is on a stakes roll, and he'll be  aboard the favored Adios Charlie in the Dwyer, a Grade Two at 1 1/16 miles. The good news for Adios Charlie, the winner of the Jerome and second in the Peter Pan, is that he drew the outside post. The bad news is that, as the 121-pound highweight, he will be asked to concede  five pounds to his six rivals.

Don't expect to see and Triple Crown players in the Dwyer. None of the seven runners raced in the Derby, Preakness or Belmont.

The Dwyer is the rare New York stake missing Pletcher, but the Toddster will be represented in the Suburban by Colizeo, who will be one of the outsiders in the field of six in the Grade Two at a mile and a quarter.

Rodman, a late developer, exits the race of his 6-year-old life, a fast-closing second in the Met Mile, and will be favored from the one-hole under jockey Castellano, whose battle with Dominguez for the Belmont title likely may go to the wire.

Figure this out: the Suburban is listed as a handicap...but all six runners will carry 115 pounds.

Scooter Dickey, a second-tier midwestern horseman, is shipping the stretch-running Flat Out for the Suburban, and this guy figures to be at least in the gimmicks.

Meantime, it was announced this week that Derby winner Animal Kingdom is done for the year with a leg fracture.

Those who pay close attention to this column might recall that it was predicted right after the Belmont that Animal Kingdom would never race again.

(Just in case you missed it.)

Condolences to the family of Joseph Cornacchia, who passed away last weekend at age 78. Joe was known equally as well for making a fortune with the boardgame Trivial Pursuit, and co-owning two Derby winners (Strike the Gold and Go For Gin).

The most surprising news of the week is that Hal Handel, the No. 2 man at NYRA the last four years, announced his resignation effective September. The timing is strange; especially considering that casino gambling is near due at Aqueduct.

Thanks for checking in. Good luck this holiday weekend, keep the JPHL in mind, and we'll see you back here next Thursday.

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