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Dec 02, 2011




Gone are the good old days when sharpies thrived on a speed-favoring Aqueduct inner track.

In my days on the beat for the Form and the Post, there would rarely be a day in which I didn't look down from the Aqueduct press box, and observe a parade of front-end winners on the inner.. First out, first home indeed.

From an aesthetic viewpoint, it was a bore. But it was horse heaven for those four months for the clubhouse guys and dolls that were playing the speed, and, even better, boxing the speed.

All you had to see was the ninth race on opening day Wednesday to know those good old days are long gone.

A horse named Prince Dubai, the 7-2 second choice going long, circled the field from dead-last to win going away. Four of the other eight dirt winners on the program also won from behind.

Was this an aberration?

No, not at all.

A check of the inner charts for the last five years shows a consistent pattern, namely horses who are one-two at the first call win roughly 50 per cent of the races, and the rest of the winners are divided equally between stalkers and deep-closers.

In other words, it's no different from any other track. And, like it or not, we're going to have 86 straight racing days over the inner, thru March 31.

On a typical nine-race inner card (all dirt, because grass shortly will be gone), five horses will win from on or just off the lead, two will win from midpack, and the Prince Dubais of the world will win two from far back.

No more easy pickins. You'll have to do your homework as you would do everywhere else...and surely keep the John Piesen Hot Line (1-888-612-2283) on your speed dial.

Moreover, I would expect the quality of racing over the inner will improve dramatically this winter due to racino-fueled income which will bloat the purses. In fact, on New Year's Day, the purses will spike 36 per cent a days.

Since horsemen long ago realized the best strategy is to follow the money, that explains the presence of new trainers Juan Serey, Ken McPeek, Ed Kenneally, Eric Reed, Jason Servis, Pat Farro, and the all-winning Jamie Ness.

Likewise, the jockey winter jockey will be its strongest in years, including the likes of Cornelio Velasquez, David Cohen, Jorge Chavez, Corey Nakatani and Alan Garcia, plus
talented newcomers Junior Alvarado, Ryan Curatolo, and Irad Ortiz Jr., who won three on opening day, inluding Perfect Drive for John Campo Jr.

That said, these fellows will all be chasing the crumbs left by Ramon Dominguez.

Ramon currently is on a brief hiatus (illness/suspension), but he'll be back this weekend, and, as always, will have virtually his choice of mounts, especially with Castellano and Johnny V out of town.

And we'll keep you up to snuff on where RD will be riding on Saturdays. I'm sure he will be making his normal Saturday commutes, and his Saturday numbers out-of-town are off the charts.

As for Cohen, he seems to be getting his act together. After riding just two winners in his first 45 mounts at Aqueduct, as documented here, David rode six winners in his next 45, including several at prices. But we'll still see his inner number go down from previous years, if only because of the superior competition.

Speaking of jockeys, old friend Calvin Borel will be riding this winter at Gulfstream Park, which opens this weekend, rather than at Oaklawn Park, where he has been based the last 20 winters. In fact, this will be Calvin's first full-time season at Gulf.

Borel will be riding first-call for trainer Ian Wilkes, the disciple of Carl Nafzger, for whom Calvin won the '07 Kentucky Derby on Street Sense. CB than won a second Derby in '09 on Mine That Bird, and a third in '10 on Super Saver.

The '12 Derby is five months away, but, at this writing, Borel figures he's landed on the winner.

The name of the horse is Timely Tally, a Wilkes-trained Mr. Greeley colt who closed like -- well, like Prince Dubai -- to finish third in the Kentucky Club Gold Cup last Saturday at Churchill.

Do we have to explain the real reason why Borel is leaving Hot Springs is to baby-sit Timely Tally?

And, just maybe, you can get down on TT in the Kentucky Derby futures in Vegas before he starts making waves this winter in Florida.

You may recall at this time last year, we hyped a Churchill maiden-breaker named Dialed In for the Kentucky Derby. Dialed In was 100-1 at the time in Vegas.

Turned out right horse, wrong Derby.

Dialed In went on to win the Florida Derby...and was the beaten favorite in the Kentucky Derby.

Motor City and Groupy Doll are other live Borel mounts at Gulf:

No doubt Rick Dutrow will send some horses to Florida, but, in the meantime, he continues to make Aqueduct his own personal playground, winning with 50 per cent of his horses the last six weeks.

All this will serving an indefinite stay of a 10-year suspension for a succession of drug violations.

On Saturday, Dutrow will run the favored C Cs Pal in the $65,000 Garland of Roses, the the first stake of the inner meet.

The 121-pound topweight in the field of five fillies and mares, CC no doubt will be odds-on from the one-hole under Alvarado, who had a triple on Wednesday.

West Point's Cinco de Mayo Mio is the one to beat under Cornelio.

Finally, we continue to mourn the passing of Robert Holthus, a soft-spoken giant of a man who dominated Central Time Zone racing for a half-century.He trained a boatload of top horses, including 1988 Metropolitan Mile winner Proper Reality, and, most recently, Lawyer Ron and Pure Clan.

Bob, a record nine-time Oaklawn champion, also gave superstars jockeys Jerry Bailey and Mike Smith their starts. His widow, Bonnie, is a major presence on the midwestern racing and social circuit. They were no doubt the King and Queen of Hot Springs Ark., where I had the pleasure to earn and keep their friendship in my 15 years at Oaklawn Park.

Oaklawn GM Eric Jackson perhaps says it best about Bob Holthus:

"The forest has lost one of its tallest trees."

I dug up a clip from an interview I did with Bob Holthus for the Form back in 2000.

Here's an excerpt:

"In the '50s and '60s," said Holthus, "Hot Springs was Las Vegas. There were seven or eight casinos up and down Central Avenue, all, of course, very much illegal, and they were attracting tourists from all over.

"And, with the casinos, came the brothels, and they were high-class too. Of course, that's what I was told.

"And four major airlines flew daily into those little runways at Hot Springs Airport, and they brought the biggest high-rollers of their day. I saw $100,000 change hands on a single card. We had the best entertainers, the best gangsters. We had the best everything.

"But, in the late '60s, Bobby Kennedy declared war on illegal gambling, and Hot Springs took the biggest hit. The tourists left, the airlines wrote us off, and most of the dealers left to become pit bosses in Las Vegas.

"If they didn't close down Hot Springs, no one would have ever heard of Vegas.

"They'll never bring back the good old days."

And they never did.

Ironically, Bob Holthus, like John Kennedy, died on Nov. 22.

Goodbye, Mister Bob.

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