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Jul 22, 2011


By: John Piesen

By John Piesen

Hate to call on a tired old cliche, but the John Piesen Racing Selections are hotter than the weather. Four picks last week on the final Belmont weekend, and four winners, including a $202 trifecta box. And the timing couldn't be better because Saratoga opens its 40-day stand (weather permitting) on Friday.

I've got several solid plays lined up for the opening weekend, including my Opening Day Longshot and $2,500 Saturday Jackpot. I hope that you'll join my weekend of Saratoga winners online or by calling toll-free at 1-888-612-2283

Hey, this weekend is so big that big, had NBC is devoting a live hour (5-6 p.m.) to the Spa on Saturday, featuring the Coaching Club American Oaks, a $250,000 Grade One for 3-year-old fillies at a mile and a furlong.

This 95th renewal of the CCAO (and, no, I have not seen them all), attracted a field of five (standard procedure in this day and age), and, as would be expected, all come from powerhouse trainers. From the rail out, they are:

  • Buster's Ready (Todd Pletcher)
  • Plum Pretty (Bob Baffert)
  • Joyful Victory (Larry Jones)
  • Royal Delta (Bill Mott)
  • It's Tricky (Kieran McLaughlin).

Mott is the hottest trainer in the land, Baffert saddles the speed of the race, Jones only comes to New York when he absolutely needs to, and Pletcher and McLaughlin remain buddies from their Lukas days, where they obviously learned their craft well.

The oddsmaker makes Royal Delta the morning-line favorite at 2-1, but actually any one of the five fillies could go favored, and, more importantly, any one of the five can win it. They are that close in ability. The favorite certainly has the credentials, but she's coming off a foot bruise that caused her to miss six weeks of training.

Will it be Buster's Ready?

Buster's Ready was a closing second to Royal Delta in the Black-Eyed Susan, and then aired in the Mother Goose. Johnny V. rides for main-man Pletcher.

Or will it be Pretty Plum?

Plum Pretty shipped from southern California to Sunland Park to win the Sunland Oaks by a mere 25 lengths, then sneaked in under the radar to upset the Kentucky Oaks.

Next time out, in the Hollywood Oaks, Plum Pretty was odds-on , but jockey Garcia gave up the rail in the stretch, and Zazu blew by from the inside to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Baffert, willing to forgive and forget, put PP on a plane to Saratoga, and here she is as the main speed in the Oaks. You can be sure there will be no EZ pass from Garcia this time...or it would be bye bye Bullet Bob.

Or will it be Joyful Victory?

The Fox Hill Farm folks (owner Rick Porter and trainer Jones), still fuming over Havre De Grace's nose loss to Blind Luck last Saturday in the Delaware Handicap, hope to rebound with Joyful Victory.

After winning the Honeybee and Fantasy at Oaklawn Park, Joyful Victory went to the Kentucky Oaks as the favorite, but finished fourth to Plum Pretty. JV was favored again for the Mother Goose, but was no match for Buster's Ready.

So now Joyful Victory is the rank outsider (6-1) for the Oaks, and as such, offers value under Ramon Dominguez.

Or will it be It's Tricky?

Owned by the Sheiks, It's Tricky, by '03 Horse of the Year Mineshaft, has won four of her five starts, including a thumping of Buster's Ready in an allowance, and, most recently a three-length plus blowout in the Acorn.

In olden days at Belmont, the Acorn, Mother Goose and Oaks were linked as the Triple Tiara.

But why run the Oaks before a sparse crowd at Belmont, when you could it move it to the first Saturday at Saratoga, and a get a full house?

If there was still a Triple Tiara, the story line for the Oaks would be a battle between the Acorn winner (It's Tricky) and Mother Goose winner (Buster's Ready).

A terrific wide-open race on the first Spa Saturday, and live on national TV at that.

Back to the Fox Hill boys for a moment.

The matchup of Havre de Grace and Blind Luck, the top two ranked horses in the NTRA poll, was predicted to be the Race of the Year, and that's exactly what happened. These two great fillies went head-to-head through the lane, and Blind Luck got up by a nose.

I've never seen Larry Jones this angry. Like all trainers, he's had some tough beats, but nothing of this magnitude. When the NTRA poll came out this week, and all those first-place votes switched from Havre de Grace to Blind Luck, his filly dropped to a nose.

Jones' anger was addressed at Delaware racing secretary Pat Pope, who had weighted HDG at 124 pounds for the Del Cap, and Blind Luck 122.

"That was absurd," Jones would say. "Blind Luck had won six grade ones, my filly had won one grade one, and I'm giving her weight because her trainer (Jerry Hollendorfer) said he wouldn't come from California unless he was getting two pounds? I thought about not running...and I shouldn't have."

My view? Handicaps are as obsolete as the $2 window, and the two fillies should have run at levels.

There is the possibility that Blind Luck and Havre de Grace, which has become the best racing rivalry since Affirmed/Alydar, may hook up next in the Personal Ensign on Aug. 28, the day after the Travers, at Saratoga...which would make it the race of the meet.

Here are some other projected Spa matchups to watch:

  • Tizway vs. Sidney's Candy in the Whitney (Aug. 3).
  • Uncle Mo vs. Flashpoint in the King's Bishop (Aug. 27).
  • Big Drama vs. Trappe Shot in the Forego (Sept. 3).

As for the Travers, who knows? One possibility: Coil wins the Haskell, and goes to the Travers as the favorite.

In addition to Blind Luck and Havre de Grace, two other fillies are in the news today...for contrasting reasons.

At Del Mar, which is still rocking from a record opening-day attendance of 48,000 on Wednesday, the talented filly Celtic Princess was entered for Saturday's $300,000 Eddie Read Handicap, a Grade One for 3-year-olds and up at nine furlongs that is the only other major stake on the national Saturday calendar.

Rafael Bejarano will ride Celtic Princess, the likely pacesetter from the outside against eight male rivals. But Celtic Princess for sure will face early pressure  from Smart Bid, who is making the cross-country trip from Delaware for the race. Edgar Prado will be in from New York to ride for Graham Motion, the trainer of Animal Kingdom, the since-retired Kentucky Derby winner.

The deep field also includes Jeranimo (Gomez), and my choice, Caracortado (Talamo).

(Speaking of my choice, in case you missed last week's column, I nailed the Shugster's Air Support at $15.60 -- plus the $60 cold exacta in the Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs).

The other filly in the news today is Awesome Maria, the multiple graded stakes-winning 4-year-old filly from the Toddster. It was announced Thursday that Awesome Maria sustained a condylar fracture, and has been retired. A bad break for the filly and for racing. She was
as good as it gets.

Thanks for tuning in. Make sure you get with me for my Opening Day Longshot on Friday, a race I've won for 3 consecutive Saratoga opening days, and then Saturday's Annual $2,500 Jackpot, the start of what promises to be another summer money run.

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