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Apr 02, 2004



You need to be at Oaklawn Park on Saturday. Or at least at your favorite simulcasting venue.

Because you won't find the Apple Blossom Handicap on TV, unless you have TVG.

Azeri has won this race the last two years, and she'll try for a threepeat on Saturday. Every

horseman I talk to says she has no chance because she's coming back from a bowed tendon, and

rarely does the cheapest claimer -- much less a former Horse of the Year -- make it back.

But last weekend, Azeri worked five-eighths in a bullet :58 for the Apple Blossom, and tomorrow

she will board a plane at LAX with three other Apple Blossom mares -- Wild Spirit, Island Fashion

and Star Parade -- for the flight to Hot Springs Airport, and the short van ride to Oaklawn. That's the

Big Four for the Apple Blossom...and it will be a classic.

I'm thinking of Azeri, who changed trainers from the lovely Laura to Deliteful Wayne this year, as a

bet-against. But I'll know more tomorrow. After all, I will be there. That's right, of all the places I could

be tomorrow, I will be Hot Springs Airport to meet and great my man Wayne as he leads Azeri off

that ugly plane.

What I love most about this race is the Lukas/Frankel angle.

First some history. Some 15 years ago I was chatting with Frankel in a hotel lobby at the Breeders'

Cup, when Wayne walked past on his way to the check-in counter. They did not exchange a nod,

much less a smile, or a few words.

That led me to say to Frankel, my old Brooklyn gumbah, what's up?

Frankel told me that Lukas stole a grass horse named Steinlen from him, and he (Bobby) wasn't happy

about it. A few days later, Steinlen won the Breeders' Cup mile for Wayne, making Bob less happy.

I guess that Bob and Wayne still don't care very much for each other because this is what they told

me in the last few days.

I asked Frankel about Azeri's :58 work.

Bob replied: "the man (Lukas) is desperate. He's 0 for Santa Anita. He'll do anything to win a race."

Then I asked Wayne if he felt that Frankel is the one to beat in the Apple Blossom.

Wayne's reply: "Who has Frankel got?"

The answer is -- as if Wayne didn't know -- is Wild Spirit, and she's a stone runner, who, like Azeri,

has been off.

I asked Frankel about the Blossom weights, and he told me that he's fine with getting four pounds

from Azeri, but that he's ripped about having to give Island Fashion weight, albeit only one pound.

"She was just second in the Santa Anita Handicap. I've been out six months. And I'm giving her a

pound! Not fair, John. Not fair."

Oh, we should all have it as rough as Bobby Frankel.

Hey, this is the same Bobby Frankel who was hustling the New York tracks back in the '60s with

his best friend, Buddy Jacobson. I'll have to say that Frankel turned out a lot better than poor Buddy.

That said, you all have to wait to Friday for my Apple Blossom pick. And my Oaklawn Handicap pick.

And my Santa Anita Derby pick.

A reason to live.

As for Smarty Jones, he's doing fine, and he could care less that they are coming out of the woodwork

to run against him in the Arkansas Derby. The field has swelled to 10, and it will probably be 12-to-14

at post time a week from Saturday.

The Hot Springs paper meanwhile ran the latest AP Top Ten poll today, and it's a classic. Smarty, of

course, is nowhere. Eurosilver, who is on the shelf, is ranked third. And Birdstone, who is ranked

eighth, had an excuse -- the piece said -- in his last start at Keeneland! Psst, the race was at Turfway

Park. But who's perfect.

There actually are a couple of guys who rank Smarty third and fifth in the polls. They are close because

Smarty Jones right now is the best 3-year-old in America. Case closed.

Hey, Bob Baffert agrees. He e-mailed a buddy Sunday, and said: "Until he loses, Smarty Jones should

be No. 1 in every poll."

All of this brings us to Wednesday's action. There are six-figure Pick Six carryovers at Santa Anita

and Oaklawn, so, without further ado, here are my one-two pix in those 12 races.



Race 3:
#1 Jordyn Macoma (blinks on; nails the speed)
#6 Call a Judge (showed speed to deep stretch in debut)

Race 4:
#1 Coconut Girl (third in stake; Espinoza sticks)
#3 Puxa Saco (worked 1:11 for return)

Race 5:
#2 Star Tel (had major excuse in last; should grass)
#5 Cosmic Glitter (broke maiden on this grass course)

Race 6:
#6 Jen's Spell (blew the break in return; another chance)
#8 Butter Me Up Tiny (excuses both starts for Baffert)

Race 7:
#7 Mer de Corail (Grade 1 mare is the day's best bet)
#6 Esmay (always figures, rarely wins)

Race 8:
#10 Tangmalangaloo (just missed this company in debut)
#3 Swiss Tamerlane (steps up off strong second in debut)



Race 3:
#2 Latest Edition (wide closing for third; mckee today)
#6 Azer (major jockey switch to Pettinger)

Race 4:
#2 Fan the Flame (was originally owned by Sonny Hine)
#1 Strike Reality (better than ever at the age of nine)

Race 5:
#8 First At Last (as aptly-named horse as you can find)
#11 Fever Fire (the speed from the outside; live bug)

Race 6:
#8 Older Whiskey (jockey McKee sitting on a big day)
#1 Donny (saves ground; will be flying late)

Race 7:
#10 Countryfide (tops this all the way with Marquez)
#2 Rocket Power (one for life, but takes catching)

Race 8:
#3 Silver Sancat (nailed on the line as the chalk)
#7 Golden Diva (returns for hot trainer Asmussen)

Hey, that's it. There will be more winners in this space on Friday. You can look it up.

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