Sep 09, 2011
A STAR IS BORN
By: JOHN PIESEN
Several points to touch on this week.
We have to start with Havre de Grace, and the wide-throughout trip she ran last Saturday to beat the boys in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga, and thereby stamp herself a main contender for
Horse of the Year.
The only surprise was that -- after being made the 8-5 morning line favorite -- she got away at $6.50!
Followers of this space presumbaly took the price and ran.
After all, in last week's column, I wrote: "From what I've seen live and on TV, Havre de Grace is in RachelAlexandra's class, if not superior, and I believe she'll prove it on Saturday."
This quote was in direct contrast to many experts who picked against her, up to and leaving her off the board.
From here, Havre de Grace will be 1-9 against fillies and mares (not including arch-rival Blind Luck) in the Beldame at Belmont Park, and then move on to the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs. It will be interesting, in fact it will be the main hook of the BC, to
see whether HDG challenges the boys in the Classic, or renews her rivalry with Blind Luck in the Distaff.
Connections Larry Jones and Rick Porter are saying now that they likely will cross-enter in both races, and wait to game day to make a decision. It's a tough call. Either way, I'll be rooting for her, the Cowboy, wife Cindy, and groom Corey.
Even Larry, who, prior to the Woodward, called HDG the best horse he's ever trained, says that eight furlongs (the Woodward) suits her better than the nine furlongs of the BC Classic.
Meantime, Ramon Dominguez, who contributed a flawless ride on HDG in the Woodward, will again be a major player on the racing scene this Saturday.
Instead of riding a bunch of favorites on the opening-day card at Belmont, Dominguez will spend the day at the soggy outpost of Louisiana Downs in Bossier City minutes from the Louisiana-Arkansas border.
The primary reason for RD's trip (and believe me, Bossier City is not an easy place to get to) is to ride Alternation for the red-hot Donnie K. Von Hemel in the $500,000, Grade 2 Super Derby, the last major race for 3-year-olds on the national calendar.
Alternation we know from the Peter Pan back in May at Belmont Park, when he circled the field to get up in the last jump. Like Belmont, Louisiana Downs has long, sweeping turns and a long homestretch that favors closers. I remember covering
back-to-back Super Derbys back in the 90s for Daily Racing Form, and watched Editor's Note and Mecke come from the clouds to win them.
Alternation, from post six in a field of nine, including shippers from New York, California, Illinois and Kentucky, will be second choice to Prayer for Relief, a recent winner of the West Virginia and Iowa Derbys for trainer Bob Baffert. Rafael Bejarano will be in from
the left coast to ride.
As for Dominguez, the Super Derby (race 11) is one of five stakes in which he will ride Saturday...prior to flying from Shreveport to Dallas, changing planes, and flying back to Long Island to ride the Sunday card at Belmont.
His other stakes calls are:
Race 7: #3 Soonerette (Von Hemel)
Race 9: #2 Lonesome Street (Maker)
Race 10: #7 Gung Ho (Maker)
Race 12: #7 She's All In (Von Hemel)
You know Dominguez has to be hungry after settling for third to Johnny V and Castellano at Saratoga, and his record on these one-day Saturday trips is off-the-charts.
Speaking of Baffert, guess who is coming to dinner at the Breeders' Cup Juvenile?
I know it's not news when Bullet Bob wins the Del Mar Futurity, but it was the way he did it Wednesday with a colt named Drill. Plug in the race on bloodhorse.com if you don't believe me.
Sent off as the 4-1 third choice under go-to rider Martin Garcia, Drill broke a step slow, and stormed up into rush-hour traffic along the rail. Midway on the turn, Garcia applied the brakes, and the cause seemed hopeless.
But Garcia angled Drill out six-wide turning for home, and the Lawyer Ron colt blew by California's best 2-year-olds to win going away. And joining Baffert in the winner's circle were the same folks who raced Lookin at Lucky, and now race Coil.
Presumably, Drill will follow Lucky's path to the 2-year-old championship: the Norfolk, and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, for which he will be favored.
Which reminds me...
You will never guess the name of the current BC Classic favorite.
His name is So You Think, an Australian horse trained by Aidan O'Brien, currently held as the 6-1 chalk in Vegas.And here's the irony:
O'Brien, when asked of So You Think's future plans following a blowout win last weekend in Ireland, didn't even mention the Breeders' Cup.
Meantime, the NYRA folks, in their infinite wisdom, plan a grass feature -- the Grade 2, $150,000 Bowling Green Handicap for 3-and-up at 11 furlongs -- for opening day Saturday.
Why bother scheduling for grass when we are looking at week-long rain? And why bother making it a handicap when the seven Bowling Green horses are separated by all of three pounds -- 117 to 114?
We've come a long way since handicap races started in the high '20s, and the likes of Kelso, Forego and Ta Wee packed 30-plus on a regular basis.
So now we've reached a point in our lives where maidens pack 126...and graded stakes- highweights 117.
In this case, the 117-pound highweight is the late-running Grassy, and Garrett Gomez has the call from the outside post. Grassy will have to close into fractions beyond slow.
The BG field is completed by Sanagas at 116 pounds; Sal the Barber and Bold Hawk at 115, and Kindergarten Kid, Colonialism and Center Divider at 114.
Despite giving up several Saturdays, Dominguez is still projected here as the top jock at the Belmont meet, with Maragh and Garcia coming on strong
Pletcher (who else?) will be the top trainer, and Contessa, following his usual slow Saratoga, will be back in action. Mott and McLaughlin also will be live.
In the meantime, there will be a mere two days of live action in New York over nine calendar days, so we'll need a while to get a handle.
Finally, in case you missed it, New Jersey racing is in serious trouble.
It seems that real-estate maven Morris Bailey, who had agreed on a five-year lease of Monmouth Park, is getting cold feet. In fact, he already had his lawyer declare the deal null and void.
And I understand that Hialeah president John Brunetti, who maintains several business interests in the Garden State, and who has long been regarded as a potential buyer of Monmouth Park, is no longer interested.
And Jersey Gov. Christie continues to boost the Atlantic City casinos.
Not a good situation.
Thanks for tuning in, good luck this weekend. Belmont opens up on Saturday and I'm already keying in some excellent dark horses and exotics that will give us some good cashed tickets. Join me and let's make it a winning weekend to kick off the next part of the racing calendar.
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