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Oct 21, 2011

PICTURE PERFECT?

By: by John Piesen


At times, we all have been wrong calling photos, but I've never seen a case quite like the fifth race at Keeneland last Sunday.

Fort Harrod, the favorite, looked home free when he opened a two-length lead at the eighth pole of the mile and a half-grass race. But Carnival Ride, running like there was a rocket attached to his tail, rallied three-wide from fourth place in the final furlong, and appeared
to catch Fort Harrod on the line.

A least that's how it appeared to the track announcer, the connections of both horses (Fort Harrod's people offered across-the-board congrats to Carnival Ride's people while waiting for the numbers to go up, and the public..

But hold just a minute.

Up went the numbers...and the winner was Fort Harrod -- as the boos reigned down from the stands, at at OTB venues across the land.

"Can't wait to see the photo," was the universal reaction.

Only there was no photo.

When was the last time a racetrack, especially a quality track, failed to produce a photo.

After hearing the story from a variety of people, I made it a point to watch the re-play on Wednesday.

In my mind, there was no doubt that Carnival Ride got up. But maybe my eyes were deceiving me. After all, it wouldn't be the first time I was wrong on a photo.

So I patiently waited for the photo...waited through the winner's circle ceremonies and the prices. And then the photo was flashed. For at most half a second. Up and out. No way anyone could make a judgment.

The bottom line?

There is no bottom line.

As is.

No way am I accusing Keeneland of hanky-panky. But the racing public deserves some answers. Unfortunately, in this day and age, there is scarce racing media to help in finding those answers.

In two weeks, an hour west of Keeneland, they will renew the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs.

Just last year, at Churchill, they permitted a horse (Life At Ten) to compete in the Ladies' Classic moments after her rider informed ESPN personnel and a national TV audience that the filly was unfit to run.

The stench from that incident is still there, and the Breeders' Cup people just this week published a laundry list of rules to prevent a repeat - up to and including equipping certain key track personnel with uniforms.

So just imagine if they got a winner wrong in a Breeders' Cup race!

Speaking of the Breeders' Cup, I see that the Daily Racing Form oddsmaker plans to make Uncle Mo the BC Classic favorite, at 7-2, with Havre De Grace the second choice, at 5-1, with Flat Out, Game On Dude, Tizway, Stay Thirsty at 8-1 and higher.

Obviously, no Frankel.

Unfortunately, the unbeaten Euro 3-year-old, regarded as the Horse of the World, is not making the trip.

As a result, there will be much discussion about the Classic wagering in the next two weeks, but I, for one, can not see the public making Uncle Mo, off two sprints, the favorite going a mile and a quarter.

Of course, I'll be the first to admit there are distance concerns about most of the heavy hitters in the race.



An exception is Game On Dude, one of nine Breeders' Cup hopefuls from the Bob Baffert barn.

Nine would be the most horses Baffert has run in a Breeders' Cup. With seven winners -- from a total of 57 BC runners -- Bullet Bob stands fourth to D. Wayne Lukas, who will be horseless this year.

But Baffert will have to pick up the pace. He was shut out in '09 and '10.

In addition to Game On Dude, who will be one of the Classic speeds under Chantal Sutherland, Baffert plans to run Euroears and The Factor in the Sprint; Irish Gypsy in the Filly/Mare Sprint; Irrefutable in the Dirt Mile; Drill in the Juvenile; Secret Circle in the Juvenile Sprint; Candrea in the Juvenile Fillies, and Plum Pretty, the likely favorite for the Ladies' Classic.

Baffert's previous high was eight runners in '99 at Gulfstream Park, and he settled for two seconds.

Game On Dude will be a price although he is the only United States-based horse this year to win multiple Grade Ones -- the Santa Anita Handicap and the Goodwood, both at Santa Anita.

As for Baffert, all he's done this year is win 26 graded stakes, nine of them Grade Ones.

Like Baffert, Steve Asmussen also has nine prospects for the Breeders' Cup, starting with My Miss Aurelia, who likely will go favored in the Juvenile Fillies off her recent blowout score in the Frizette at Belmont Park.

Super Steve also has lined up Tapizar for the Dirt Mile; Seeker for the Juvenile Sprint; Wilburn, who recently flew Rachel Alexandra's colors to victory in the Indiana Derby, for the Dirt Mile; Sabercat for the Juvenile; She Digs Me for the Juvenile Sprint; Regally Ready for the Mile Turf; Daddy Nose for the Juvenile Turf.

The ninth would be Haynesfield, depending on his performance Saturday in the $250,000 Empire Classic on New York Showcase Day at Belmont. If the chestnut runs his "A" race, Asmussen would consider the Classic.

Eight (or nine) would be a Breeders' Cup high for Asmussen, for whom the Cup was not on his radar BC (before Curlin).

Mike Repole, who will run Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty in the BC Classic, also stays in action on a daily basis in New York.

On Saturday for example, he will run a coupled entry of Driven by Success and Be Bullish in the Hudson Stakes, one of seven New York-bred stakes on New York Showcase Day, the last major race day at Belmont, which wraps up intwo weeks.

The last time Repole ran those two horses, they finished fourth and fifth coupled at 1-5 in a five-horse field, an embarrassing as well as costly situation, especially for the bridge-jumpers.

"The track played against speed that day," Repole says by way of explanation..

Indeed, that was one of the few days there has been a closers' bias at Belmont. Most days speed kills at the Big B, and we should continue to see that trend as the meet winds down. And surely said trend will continue this winter at the Aquedect Racetrack and Casino meet.

Then there's the "bet against the one horse going short."

The latest victim was Expecting Cash in Wednesday's eighth-race feature.

Sent off as the 8-5 favorite in a field of seven going six furlongs, Expecting Cash broke a half-step slow, and thus was reined back to last by jockey Nakatani. He settled for fifth with a late rally, beaten less than three lengths as a day and a half the best.

Needless to say, this is a horse worth playing next time...as long as he doesn't draw the one-hole.

On the same program, jockey Castellano, who has become the latest Flavor of the Month in New York, rode five favorites, and, of the five, only one (Lead Me On) won.

For whatever reason, they always tend to overbet one jock in New York, and, until further notice, this time it's Castellano.



Obviously, Baffert and Asmussen will demand much attention when it comes to your Breeders' Cup handicapping. As is the custom, my Cup selections will be found on-line and on the John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283). I'm so confident in a strong showing that I'm making a guarantee--you will win 10 of the 15 record 15 Cup races-- six on Nov. 4, capped by the Ladies, and nine on the Fifth, capped by the Classic--or you get my daily Belmont selections FREE the rest of November.

For those keeping score at home, this will be the 28th renewal of the Breeders' Cup.

The years do have a way of flying by, don't they?

As for this weekend, the marquee race will be the $250,000 Raven Run for 3-year-old fillies on Saturday (race nine) at Keeneland. Old friend Hot Summer is the choice here from post three, a good spot for her because she likes to come running on the rail.

Hope you caught the Charismatic documentary on ESPN on Tuesday evening. If not, I would assume this terrific docu will be repeated.

Although the '99 Derby and Preakness winner was the star of the piece, the real focus was on his jockey, the late Chris Antley. Hard to believe this talented rider has been gone 10 years; harder stll to believe we still have no answers in the mystery of his tragic death.

There is currently a photo tribute of Antley by crack photographer Barbara Livingston up on equidaily.com. It's a must-see for any racing fan.

We lost an Antley contemporary this week when Larry Saumell passed in Maryland in his sleep at the age of 54.

Saumell was never a top tier rider like Antley, but competed well enough to ride 2,000-plus winners, mostly on the tough mid-Atlantic circuit, did a fine job as a guild rep after his retirement, and was an all-around good guy.

And good luck to Allen Gutterman, the premiere marketing man in the sport. Gutterman was summarily dismissed last week by Frank Stronach after six productive years as the Santa Anita marketing maven.

Thanks for checking in. Good luck this weekend, keep the Hot Line in mind, and we'll see you back here next Thursday as the Breeders' Cup countdown winds down.




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