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Jul 06, 2012

A Long Way From Home


I was proven dead-wrong when I suggested in this venue on Belmont Eve that I'll Have Another would be yesterday's news in a matter of days,

Turned out it took weeks - the day it was announced that the Derby/Preakness winner would be boarding a plane for Japan to begin stallion duty.

I'll be the first to admit that I have no expertise in breeding (although I do have five sound kids), nor am I still fighting World War II, but the smell test just got a lot worse.

Knowing that these big-bucks deals aren't made in a day (or in a month). I suspect that this deal was at least in the talking stages a day or two after the Preakness. Follow that up with a full field of 12 horses entered against IHA in the Belmont, and the Detentiongate. and Belmont Park backstretch talk that IHA was not training nearly as well as he did before the Derby and Preakness... so, in hindsight, the scratch and immediate retirement should not have come as that much of a shock.

Then a few days later, the clouds parted, and it was learned that that the horse was heading for the Far East rather than the Bluegrass.

All his loan-shark owner had to do was look at Smarty Jones.

Back in '04, Smarty won the Derby and Preakness -- in much more spectacular style than IHA would do eight years later -- and was considered a sure thing (as was IHA) in the Belmont.

Well all know what happened. Smarty (as IHA, ridden by a jock with middlin' experience in New York) was a victim of circumstances in the Belmont, and managed to get beat at 1-9. The only difference this year was that trainer Zito was a no-show.

Win or lose, Smarty was going to stud (happens all the time), but the Belmont defeat cost his car-dealership owners multi-millions in breeding rights.

As it developed, things haven't gone smoothly for Smarty in his second career. He started standing for $100,000 in the Kentucky bluegrass, and, despite some success, cuurently is standing for $7,500 in his home state of Pennsylvania.

And Smarty has a whole lot better genes than I'll Have Another.

I'm taking nothing away from I'll Have Another here. He's a gorgeous colt who strung together four straight great victories (compared to eight for Smarty). The only obstacle IHA didn't pass this year was the smell test.

As the late Woody Stephens told buddy Charlie Whittingham during his salad days, the buildings get a lot taller when you reach New York.

Woody knew. Since those wondrous Woody days, we have seen California-based 3-year-olds Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Real Quiet, Silver Charm, Charismatic and War Emblem all fail in their Triple Crown bids in Nassau County.

At least they all took their best shot -- unlike I'll Have Another.

Maybe the horse did get hurt as the connections say, and the media was quick to support.

Or maybe not.

Either way, I'll Have Another one again is yesterday's news -- and, this time, presumably for good.

Another Californian trying to make it big in the Apple is Joel Rosario, for years the Big Man on Campus in southern California. Just this week Joel kicked off his New York State of Mind by riding at Belmont.

Rosario has the talent, resume and smarts to succeed in New York. But he would be bucking history. Name me one rider who made the successful transition from California to the Apple.

For what it's worth, the phone has not been ringing off the hook as yet. Joel had two calls on his first day Wednesday, and two on Thursday, and went 0-for-four. He has four calls on Friday's twilight card, and three Saturday, including Teeth of the Dog in a very soft Dwyer. In a previous hit-and-run at Belmont, Rosario deftly squeezed The Dog through an opening at the head of the stretch, and went on to win the Easy Goer Stakes.

Easy Goer of course is known most for spoiling the Triple Crown try of Sunday Silence, trained by Charlie Whittingham, in the Belmont. Indeed, what goes around somes around.

Speaking of Saturday, jockey Dominguez has calls in eight of the 11 Belmont races (all among the first three choices), than wings it to Altoona, Iowa, to ride old friend Hansen in the 250K Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows in Maggi Moss country.

Hopefully, Ramon will have better luck this trip than Johnny V, who made a recent similar trip to Kentucky, only to get beat a nose on the odds-on Wise Dan in the 500K Stephen Foster -- and then went down in the next race, suffering shoulder and kidney injuries which will put him on the shelf to Saratoga -- and hastened Rosario's New York adventure.

Incidentally, Johnny V and Ramon join Castellano and Gutierrez as finalists for ESPY Jockey to be announced on July 11.

Since most of the voters watch only three races a year, I suspect Super Mario will get the award.

Speaking of the media, Mike Watchmaker, my colleague years back at Daily Racing Form, made an interesting point the other day in the Form.

Paraphrasing, Mike pointed out that back in the '60 and '70s, racing was worried that they were not getting a younger crowd. And here we are, 50 years later, and they're still worried about... not getting a younger crowd.

How can this be?

Conversely, the combined on-track attendance yesterday at the metro area's three operating racetracks was 4,000-plus. Years back, you'd see more people than that lined up at the snack bars.

Coincidentally, I remember the days when the racetracks ran come hell or high water. People would flock by train to Bowie in the dead of winter blizzards, never questioning if the show would go on.

Now, they cancel at Belmont, Churchill and Belmont because of the heat.

In the immortal words of Bernie Schwartz, some like it hot, and Delaware would go off without a hitch despite a heat index that would rival the winner of Thursday's third race at Belmont.

In case you missed it, the winner of that particular race was Onetwentyeight, an odds-on 2-year-old firster from Todd Pletcher. (Signs of things to come at Saratoga?)

Until yesterday, the only significance Onetwentyeight had to me is that it is my locker number at the gym. Now, Onetwentyeight will always be remembered as the horse who cost us a perfect 3-for-3 day on the red-hot John Piesen Hot Line (888 512 2283).

The records will show that after Onetwentyeight knocked off my choice Volastic at 3-1, I went on to nail Yari ar $8.90 in the eighth, and the cold $56.50 exacta of Double Berg ($13.60) and Lizzie Bear in the tenth.

This is not news. Since June 15, the JPHL has hit seven double-digit winners. Russ Harris would be proud. I'm hopeful (make that confident) this hot streak extends into Saratoga.

One early note about the Spa. For the first time in memory, none of the top Churchill Downs whippersnappers (this means Lanerie, Bridgemohan, Borel, etc.) will be heading to the Spa. Instead, they will go to little Ellis Park in western Kentucky.

At this rate, Rosie will crash the top five at the Spa.

One more news event at Ellis:

It appears that Ellis will soon be getting a betting gimmick named instant racing.

These are electronic machines (not unlike slots) in which the players get to wager on old races, or at least the stretch runs of old races.

Personally, I'll be surprised if management gets lucky here. A day or two of wall-to-wall losing will send even the most unsophisticated players to the proverbial showers.

If this is the wave of the future in racing, we're all in deep trouble.

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