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Jan 19, 2012




Suggestion: At and about the Saints-49ers kickoff on Saturday afternoon, take a few minutes to check out the action at Gulfstream Park in races eight, nine and 10.

Race Eight:
On Nov. 22, Bob Holthus, whose training career is unparalleled on the Kentucky-Arkansas circuit, passed at 77. Toward the end, he trained one horse for his wife Bonnie.

That horse, a 6-year-old gelding named Carnival Ride, makes his first start here for new trainer Scooter Dickey, the same Scooter Dickey who came with a race of training Flat Out to 2011 horse of the Year.

(Havre de Grace will get HOY on Monday evening at the Eclipse Awards ceremonies in California. The hostess will be Jeannine Edwards, whom as Jeannine Phillips, an assistant trainer for the late Fred Hooper, got her TV break when I spotted her on the Meadowlands backstretch, and gave her a shot on the nightly cable show Racing From the Meadowlands).

Dickey says that Carnival Ride (2-for-22) is looking good for his Florida debut, but this $56,000 grass allowance at 1 1/16 miles is looking very tough, meaning Versalles Road (Wilkes/Borel) and Flamin'Hot (Violette/Maragh). I would think that Carnival Ride will come running at the end, and look for a longer race down the road.

(Wilkes trains and Borel rides a 3-year-old named Timely Tally, whom, at the present time, is my Derby horse. Imagine my surprise the other day when I saw a list of Vegas Derby futures, and there was no Timely Tally on the 200-horse list. It won't take long to find out if I'm wrong, and the rest of the world is right.

Race Nine:
Soaring Empire, who won the 2011 running of the Hal's Hope Stales as one of my best bets,, will be out to repeat in this Saturday's renewal of the $100,000 stake for 4-and-up at a mile.

This will be the first start since late July for Soaring Empire, who is trained by Cam (Spend A Buck) Gambolati, and owned by a partnership that notably includes one Rick Pitino.

Yes, the same Pitino who makes $7 million per annum coaching hoops at the University of Louisville. Pitino is such a media star that, when he announced the other day that he will retire from coaching in 2016, it created a media storm.

Perhaps, starting in 2016, Pitino will find time to watch his horses run. But not this Saturday. While Soaring Empire is defending his Hal's Hope title in the ninth at The Gulf, Rick will be occupied at home with the Cardinals (-15) vs. DePaul.

Soaring Empire (post seven with Leparoux) no doubt will have to beat Jackson Bend, a home-grown millionaire exiting a closing third as the favorite in the Breeders'Cup Sprint at yes, Louisville.

With jockey Nakatani occupied Saturday at Santa Anita (see below), Johnny V gets the call from trainer Zito, who also has the uncoupled Our Dark Knight going with Bravo up.

Normally, the one-hole is Death Valley going one-turn, but Jackson Bend won the Grade One Forego last September at Saratoga from the one

And don't overlook the fact that Sangaree is first-time McLaughlin, merely the hottest trainer in the game.

Race Ten:
Speaking of Flat Out, he makes his season (and grass) debut here for Dickey in the $100,000 Fort Lauderdale at 1 1/16 miles. Flat Out showed a liking for the Gulf green with a minute-bullet on New Year's Day, but obviously Scooter is merely using this as a prep for the 250K Donn Handicap next month.

Dickey and jockey Solis are hopeful of completing a double with Carnival Ride and Flat Out.

The connections of Uptowncharleybrown have been looking to run him on grass for two years, and finally get their chance here. We found out why last Sunday when Charley worked three-quarters on the Gulf green in a bullet 1:11 (around the dogs).

Charley, a major player on the 2010 Triple Crown trail, was sidelined 18 months after being injured in the Belmont Stakes, and has had some bad racing luck for new trainer Coletti in his three starts back. For this spot, he adds blinkers, drops pounds, gets the advantageous one-hole with Maragh...and the morning-line man makes him 15-1!

The ML fave is a Euro shipper named Mutual Trust. The 4-year-old is first-time Mott and first-time Lasix.

Meantime, as Saints-Niners will be winding down, they will run the $150,000 San Fernando Stakes down the coast at Santa Anita. A field of eight 4-year-olds was entered for the 1 1/16-mile race, notably Prayer For Relief, to be ridden by Bajarano for Baffert from the one-hole, and Tapizar, with Nakatini riding for Asmussen from the eight.

Yes, Tapizar is the reason why Nakatani took off Jackson Bend. He got the mount from Super Steve because Gomez, the regular pilot of Tapizar, is on the DL with a foot injury sustained in a fall last week.

Tapizar won the Sham Stakes wire-to-wire last spring over the track at the same distance as the San Bernardino, and the Tapit colt looks to be the main speed again. Down the road may be the oldest cliche in the racing game, but it sure applies here.

One longshot on the card who captures my attention is Rocket Train, the six-horse in race five, a 56K maiden-special for 3-year-olds on the grass.

In his debut at seven furlongs on the main a month back, Rocket Train missed the break from the one-hole, and was eliminated on the spot. The winner of that race was Out of Bounds, this year's Sham Stakes winner.

Rocket Train last weekend worked five-eighths in :59 1/5, he's bred for grass, gets
blinkers, and Talamo rides back for trainer Mitchell, who is due to get going. Moreover, he is 20-1 on the morning line. You might want to use him in the gimmicks with Qatar's Pearl, the legit favorite.

At Aqueduct, the unbeaten Agave Kiss will be a short price in the feature, the $75,000 Ruthless Stakes for 3-year-old fillies going six-furlongs.

But Agave Kiss's two starts, which she won wire-to-wire by a combined 17 lengths, came against New York-breds. This time she meets open company, and there are several hotshots lurking in the field of 10.

It is worth noting that jockey Dominguez takes off contenders Better Lucky and Well Kept to ride Perennial Song, a filly by Songandprayer, who ran the fastest half-mile in Kentucky Derby history for owner Bobby Hurley, the two-time Duke all-American who is now out of the racing game, and labors as assistant coach to brother Danny at Wagner.

Ramon also passes up mounts on major players in the two six-figure stakes at Gulfstream to ride Perennial Song for Tony (31 per cent) Dutrow.

Ramon will ride his usual half-dozen favorites on Saturday, and then it's off to the Eclipse Awards where he hopes to receive the jockey award.

Senior citizens will be checking out Hot Springs, Ark., on Saturday, day two of the Oaklawn meet.

The favorite from post four in the field of five for the featured $50,000 Dixie Belle will be Now I Know, who makes her 3-year-old debut after a five-for-five 2-year-old
campaign, capped by a four-length victory in the 500K Delta Princess Stakes at Delta Downs.

The trainer is Don Von Hemel, age 77, and the rider is Perry Compton, age 59.

Of Compton, the oldest active rider in the game, Von Hemel says: "He's just a kid."

Amie's Dini, a one-time 50K claimer, might be the one to beat with Smilin'Jon Court in the six-furlong fixture for 3-year-old fillies. The Bandini filly, a 3K Keeneland yearling, has the best number in the field, and is well-drawn outside the chalk in the six-hole.

Finally, I want to thank Dick Powell, a veteran Saratoga-based turf writer, who had this to say in his on-line column the other day:

"Back in the glory days of the New York newspapers covering horse racing the way they did, John Piesen, who sat in the seat for the New York Post, had as much clout as anyone. Piesen was the lead handicapper, and gave his impressions of the races in his "through the Binocs" piece."

It was fun doing "binocs" back then for the Post...and it's still fun. Hope you enjoy reading "binocs" on this venue as much as I enjoy writing it.

Thanks for tuning in. Don't forget to check out my picks online, and on the John Piesen Hot Line (1-888-612-2283), and see you back here next Friday as we continue to count down to the Triple Crown.

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