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May 18, 2012


By: By John Piesen:

If you saw the Derby Draw in-person or on TV, you'll recall the moment the connections of Dullahan cheered like crazy when their horse landed the five-hole. I was pleased as well. After all, it was a nice vanilla post for my stretch-running top pick, who would eventually go at 12-1 in the 20-horse field.

For the record, no other draw elicited cheering from the audience.

And for the record, Union Rags, Bodemeister and Went the Day Well were my second, third and fourth picks behind Dullahan. Throw out the winner (and who knows maybe some day the lab will), my faithful followers are a week later still splitting up a six-figure trifecta.

Time will tell us if I'll Have Another is a superior horse to any or all three that finished right behind him in the Derby. But it doesn't matter. He was the best on the first Saturday of May. Trainer O'Neill was seen on TV screaming, "wire!" in the final 100 yards...and he got his wish.

On the other hand, there was Michael Matz, one of the great trainers and true gentlemen of the sport.

Since last summer, Matz spent 24/7 preparing Union Rags for the Derby,...and if you had a dollar for every time UR was projected in the media as the Derby winner, you'd be a very rich man.

Union Rags was the Derby favorite in every future book pool for eight months, and despite his hard-luck defeat in the Florida Derby, he still continued to top every Futures pool, and indeed was the betting favorite until the last flash.

Which someone needs to explain to me.

So there they were standing in the gate for the greatest two-minutes in sports. Take Charge Indy, the longshot Florida Derby winner, with Calvin Borel, looking for his fourth Kentucky Derby winner, in post three; Union Rags, with Jean Leparoux, the king of Churchill Downs for six years, but never close in the Derby, on Union Rags next door in post four...and Dullahan, in post five with the enigmatic, but highly-talented Kent Desormeaux (like Borel, a three-time Derby winner), aboard.

Next time you watch a Derby replay, concentrate on those three horses at the gate. That is where the 138th Kentucky Derby was decided.

Here's what happened:

Despite Borel's efforts to keep him straight, Take Charge Indy made a hard right leaving the gate, at the very least intimidating Union Rags, intimidating Union Rags right out of the race.

A year's worth of preparation - including hours of gate work -- not to mention the hundreds of millions of support from the racing and financial communities, and in literally the blink of an eye, Union Rags was 18 lengths back, and gonzo.

They're off. You lose indeed.

What's more, Union Rags, based an hour from Baltimore, isn't even going to the Preakness.

Now, back to the start of the Derby.

When Take Charge Indy bore out into Union Rags, the collision forced UR right into Dullahan. You can see the two blazed chestnuts colliding one jump out. And so as fate would have it, Dullahan, due to his post, was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Unlike Take Charge Indy and Union Rags, who never found their way to contention, Dullahan did come running at the end, passing 10 horses from the quarter-pole home while forced nine-wide, to finish third, beaten a length and a half. One jump past the wire, he blew by Bodemeister for second, and three or four jumps past the wire, he passed I'll Have Another as though IHA was glued to the track.

The bottom line: the best horse (presumably from the best post) got the worst trip! No luck of the Irish here.

Just wondering what a trifecta of 12-1, 4-1, 30-1 in a 20-horse field would have paid.

Speaking of odds, someone has to explain what happened in that mysterious last flash.

To coin a phrase, I was born at night. But not last night.

That said, I've heard every story out there about past-posting. I'm sure you have as well.

But never in conjunction with the Kentucky Derby.

The size of the mutuel pools make it impossible.

So how did Bodemeister, 6-1 second choice (to Union Rags) while they were loading, close as the 4-1 ($4.20) favorite? Conversely, Union Rags, 9-2 on the last flash, closed at 5-1 ($5.10).

And, of course, somewhere in the mix, Bodemeister was breaking on top and establishing a clear lead, while Union Rags was eliminated at the break.

Hey, I shouldn't complain. My man Gasper Moschera owes me a dinner. I bet him that Bodemeister would go favored. He said Union Rags.

But the bottom line is: where did that money come from? And when? We are talking a
swing of at least $20 million AFTER the horses were loaded. The fact that the money was wrong is not the point. The point is: something is rotten in the state of Kentucky...and/or elsewhere.

I definitively can use some help here.

So next up is the Preakness next Saturday at Pimlico, and it's hard to get a handle on it because trainer Baffert is playing it coy with Bodemeister. Will he or won't he? If Bodey does go, and I suspect he will, he'll be odds-on in a likely field of 14.

Bodey already has received two huge breaks.

The connections of Trinniberg are saying they won't run if Bodey does...and we all know that Bodey would have won the Derby if not for Trinniberg. And The Lumber Guy, a speedrouser like the other two, is entered, and presumably will run in the Peter Pan on Saturday at Belmont Park, rather than in the Preakness.

That, boys and girls, would leave Baffert as the lone speed.

Interesting that trainer Romans will not run Dullahan back in Baltimore, presumably to await the Belmont. Instead Dapper Dale will run Cozzetti, who needs to find a way to make up the 10 lengths he got beat by Bodey in the Arkansas Derby.

Speaking of the Belmont, Mark Valeski certainly will be a major player in the Third Jewel if he knocks off the Peter Pan as the favorite in a field of 12.

The trainer-jock tandem of Larry Jones and Rosie Napravnik, who pulled off the Kentucky Oaks last week on Believe You Can, are looking to strike lightning again with Mark Valeski, who worked a bullet :59 3/5 last Monday.

You ask how did Rosie wind up on Believe You Can.

Fact is that she got a little lucky.

Gabriel Saez, trainer Jones' long-time go-to guy (see Eight Belles and Proud Spell), rode Believe You Can in the filly's first six starts, and went to Fair Grounds last November, prepared to again ride first-call for Jones, up to and including Oaks prospect Believe You Can.

But on the eve of the Fair Grounds meet, Saez dumped long-time agent Munoz. Jones, loyal to Munoz, promptly canned Saez. Enter Rosie. And six months later, Rosie gets her first Grade One on Believe You Can.

The second coming of National Velvet maybe.

Only this time, who needs Liz? Rosie can play herself.

In the meantime, Delaware Park opens Saturday...and for the first time in years, Rosie won't be there. She'll be riding the card at new home Belmont Park, where Rich Dutrow Jr. only won three Thursday.

P.S.: The highlight of the Derby TV coverage came on Oaks day. Jockey Castellano was thrown from his mount in the race prior to the Oaks. Shortly later, an NBC paddock announcer told Tony Dutrow, who was running the favored Grace Hall in the Oaks, that Castellano was OK, and would be able ride to ride Grace Hall. "Thanks for telling me," Dutrow replied, "I didn't have a clue."

Thanks for tuning in. Don't forget to check out the m Monmouth Opening Weekend and Belmont selections, and we'll see you back here next week for a look at the Preakness.

Also you need to check out the June issue of American Turf Monthly for my piece on Monmouth Park.

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