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May 04, 2012

A MIXED DERBY BAG

By: JOHN PIESEN


Much of my time these past few weeks has been spent on the Derby Trail, seeking the Derby winner -- and  the Derby boxes. A difficult process to say the least. It's not every year a Smarty Jones falls into your lap.

But mannah from heaven.

Right there in Thursday's editions of USA Today, America's national newspaper, was a bold-faced agate line on page one of the stand-alone sports section:

"Kentucky Derby chart on page seven."

Hey, maybe I'm the only one who saw that line. That means I'd be the only one who would know 48 hours in advance the winner of Derby 138...as well as the final position of all 20 horses and the prices!

Plenty of time to sweep the board in my Derby selections on-line, and at the world-famous John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283), which has nailed four of the last five Derbies, and is tuning up this year with 50 per cent winners the last two weeks, including the $12 Derby Trial winner on that stormy opening night last Saturday..

Alas, I was ill-informed. When I turned to page seven, there was no chart -- merely an agate rundown of the field as drawn the day before.

The disappointment cost me a night-sleep, but I felt much better Friday morning when I picked up the three New York papers, and found that not one selector picks my horse.

A huge edge right there.

After all, the Post (my home for 20 years) quoted Todd Pletcher thusly the other day:

"One reason my horse (Gemologist) doesn't get respect is because the New York press is so weak."

Don't mess with The Toddster.

Most years, a horse like Gemologist would be the favorite for the Derby. After all, he is the only unbeaten member of the field -- 5-for-5, including the Wood Memorial as the favorite, and 2-for-2 at Churchill.

Maybe it's the trainer. For all his success, the Toddster is a mere 1-for-29 in the Derby.

The only worse stat coming into the Derby belongs to D. Wayne, who starts Derby Weekend 0-for-129 in graded stakes.

Yes, trainer Jones deserves kudos for withdrawing Mark Valeski from the Derby so that Lukas, his mentor and long-time buddy, can get his 45th Derby starter. And you have to figure that Mark Valeski is twice the horse that Wayne's horse, Optimizer, is and will be.

As a byproduct of Jones' decision, jockey Rosie misses her opportunity to become the first female to ride a Derby winner. But (and this is a big but) she will get to ride nine of the 10 races at Belmont Park on Saturday, indicating that Rosie 1) is popular, and 2) that her agent knows how to hustle.

Back to the Derby morning line.

The Derby line is a tricky thing. Battaglia lives and breathes the ML, and more times than not, he gets it wrong. Looks like this year is no exception. In fact, I was in total agreement with him when he made Bodemeister the ML favorite, based no doubt on his top fig, and the fact that trainer Baffert, a month from a heart attack, is the star of the show.

But the Vegas books have Union Rags the favorite in the early betting, and Vegas has a knack of getting stuff like this right.

Speaking of Vegas, I'll be chatting Derby on Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. local (5 p.m. Eastern) with host Brian Blessing on Vegas Fox 920. Hopefully I won't forget to wish Vegas gambling icon Lem Banker a happy 85th birthday. Banker plans to celebrate with a my Derby pick-dog Cotto parlay.

I don't know a whole lot about the fight, but I do have utmost confidence in my Derby pick -- chart or no chart. He's got the running style, the connections, and he won't be fazed by a possible wet track. All he needs is the proverbial racing luck.

History tells us that when the Derby half goes in under :46, a certainty this year because of the presence of Trinniberg, the horses who are closest tim down the backside back up through the field, and the closers come on to dominate the final quarter through the long Churchill homestretch.

I'm expecting a similar scenario again this year.

But I'd be so much more certain if I had the chart in front of me.

Some folks view this Derby as though they already have seen the chart.

The Racing From selection box makes Bodemeister a near-unanimous selection, and columnist Andy Beyer makes him a lock. And for that matter, old Andy, who never lacks in confidence throughout his sketchy record in picking Triple Crown winners, is giving out a lock exacta -- Bodemeister and Daddy Nose Best.

Hey, maybe Andy's dead-on -- like he was with the Swale--Pine Circle exacta in the '84 Belmont. After all, Bodemeister'108 Beyer fig coincidentally dwarfs his Derby opposition, and Daddy;s 100 is the second best fig.

Life should only be that easy.

Hey, Bodemeister could be the second coming of Big Brown. His performance in the Arkansas Derby was eerily reminiscent of Brownie's '08 Florida Derby, and no doubt was the most impressive Derby prep of the season.

What's more, the Arkansas Derby has been the single most significant Derby prep race of the new century, going back to Smarty Jones in '04. And, if Bodey emulates Smarty in the Kentucky Derby, the Oaklawn folks will need another bank-run to pay off the players.

Indeed, there will be a lot of folks who will join Beyer, the DRF selection box, and the good people of Hot Springs, and tap on Bodemeister. And having Hall of Famers Baffert and Smith in his corner doesn't hurt.

And don't think for a moment that jockey Bejarano wanted to bail off maiden-winner Bodey for multiple stakes-winner Secret Circle for the Arkansas Derby.

I'm hearing that Bejarano wanted to ride Bodey in the AD, but was over-ruled by Baffert because he wanted the muscular Bejarano to handle the difficult-to-ride Secret Circle.

So, as it turns out, Bejarano -- who rode five stakes-winners last Saturday at Santa Anita -- loses Bodey to Smith; Secret Circle goes on the DL, and Raffy winds up on a 40-1 shot (El Padrino) in the Derby.

The only thing crazier would be if El Padrino wins the Derby.

The fact is that Bodey ran his nine-furlong Arkansas Derby a full second faster than premier older runners went the same distance an hour earlier that day at Oaklawn

Very impressive.

On the other hand, Bodey was running against himself and in the clear against the worst Arkansas Derby field in memory. Bodey also is picking up eight pounds for a longer and much more difficult race. He won't be in the clear this time.

Then, of course, is the fact that no Derby winner since Apollo in 1882 did not race at 2. and the more important fact that Bodey already has been beaten on the square by a Derby rival (Creative Cause), and CC benefits from a five-pound swing.

The bottom line is I don't believe Bodey is a lock, and I'll do my damdest to beat him.

A friend asked me the other day to give him some Derby horses I could toss. I got stuck at four. That's right. I feel that anyone of 16 could win this Derby. And I've done my best to separate a Final Four from those 16.

And like that certain one-and-done basketball squad from down the road in Lexington, these 3-year-olds are one-and-done at least as far as the Kentucky Derby is concerned.

If I only had a chart...

Thanks for tuning in, you need to check out my picks on-line and/or at the JPHL, and we'll see you back here next Friday for a look back...and a look ahead.

P.S.: Since I occasionally take shots at my media brethren in this space, I do want to send some kudos to colleagues Joe Drape for his magnificent series on horse safety (and lack thereof) in the New York Times, and to Paul Moran, who wrote a brilliant Derby piece this week for ESPN.com...without needing to call a single horse by name from Derby 138.




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