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May 28, 2004

RACING TODAY

By: JOHN PIESEN


What"s so terribly wrong with telling the truth?

The Paulsons announced yesterday that Pat Day will replace Mike Smith on Azeri for the

Met Mile next Monday at Belmont Park. The move was not unexpected since it was obvious

Smith butchered the ride on Azeri a month back at Churchill Downs.

But instead of admitting that was the reason for the switch, Mike Paulson told the media that

the change was made was because Azeri will race on the East Coast this summer, and since Pat

is an East Coast rider, and Mike is a West Coast rider...yada yada. You get the picture.

So it was so long, Mike. Thanks for the memories, and don"t let the door hit you on the way out.

One piece of good news this week was the announcement that Skip Away was elected to the Hall

of Fame on his first time on the ballot. Before Smarty there was Skippy, and the Skipster will go

down on everyone"s Top 20 list of all-time greats. So congratulations to Carolyn Hine, assistant

trainer Pete Johnson, and everyone connected with Skippy. And, hopefully, Sonny got the word

upstairs.

And, by the way, do you remember who rode Skip Away when the gray won the Breeders"

Cup Classic?

A fellow named Mike Smith.

Congratulations also are in order for Shug McGaughey and Kent Desormeaux for their inductions

into the Hall.

Maybe it"s time that Desormeaux gets a pass for his ride on Real Quiet in the "98 Belmont. To this

day, trainer Bob Baffert continues to demonize KD for Real Quiet"s nose loss to Victory Gallop.

Personally, I"ve always felt that Desormeaux gave Real Quiet a perfect ride, and got beat by a

better horse. After all, who would you rank higher? Real Quiet or Victory Gallop?

And, speaking of Smarty, there"s all kinds of happening news.

With the Belmont looking more and more like a walkover, Vegas is offering odds on the margin

of victory. At some venues, you"ll get 6-1 if Smarty wins by more than 10 lengths.

Sounds good to me.

I"m finding out why Smarty paid a mere $10.20, and the exacta came back a paltry $65 in the

Kentucky Derby. Between them, Charles J. Cella, the owner of Oaklawn Park, and the Chapman

family wagered close to $1 million to win on Smarty. And, Michael Tabor, the owner of runnerup

Lion Heart, made a huge hit on the exacta.

Otherwise, Smarty would have paid $12 or $13 to win, and the exacta would have been

triple digits.

Let me add a personal note here.

When Mr. Cella handed that $5 million-plus check over to Pat Chapman at Philly Park nine days

back, Mrs. Chapman promptly endorsed the check, and gave it to Chapman Ford comptroller

Anthony Tigano to deposit. Ol" Tony casually tucked the check into his pocket like it was payment

for the electric bill, and headed to the bank.

I thought at the time that Mr. Tigano looked familiar, and I soon found out why. I got to know

him back in the early "90s when he was working for my daughter Robin at Pacifico Ford in

south Philly.

More personal stuff if you don"t mind.

Stew Elliott was the guest of honor at a Monmouth press lunch yesterday. Prior to the

sitdown, Stew told me that Dave Johnson, who was serving as the emcee at the function, told

Stew that he planned to ask him three questions on the podium.

The questions were:

1) Stew, Can you describe in one word your feelings when Smarty crossed the finish line in

the Kentucky Derby?

2) What is the best thing about the whole Smarty Jones experience?

3) What is the worst thing about the whole Smarty Jones experience?

"Can you give me some help with the answers," Stew asked me.

In order, I advised him to give the following answers:

1) "Exhiliration." (Not "great" as he planned to say).

2) "Recogniotion for the whole Smarty team, from the owners to the trainer, and the barn help."

3) "Nothing."

It was great to hear the audience cheer the answers, and to hear Dave credit Stew for his

answers, notably his answer to question two. And Stew later gave me a "thumbs up."

I did what I could.

Now all that"s left for me to do is call the NYRA racing office early next Wednesday morning, and

officially enter Smarty Jones for the Belmont. It"s great to be a small part of history, and don"t

think for a minute I don"t appreciate it.

By the way, if Smarty comes out of the Belmont OK, he will be pointed for the Haskell at

Monmouth, and later the Pennsylvania Derby at Philly Park.

That means no Travers.

A movement, started by John Henderson of Trenton, is underway to ask Philly Park to to postpone

the Pennsylvania Derby two-to-three weeks in order to allow Smarty the chance to make the

Travers and the Pa. Derby.

It"s not a bad idea, but it is a longshot. It would be difficult to convince Hal Handel, the president of

Philly Park and no fan of the New York racing establishment, to help his rival.

The ironic part of all this is the fact that these races all figure to be walkovers. For goodness sakes, Purge

demonstrated in the Peter Pan that he is the second best 3-year-old in the land, and Purge, of course,

was no match for Smarty in Hot Springs.

It"s always hard to predict what"s going to happen down the road, but I suspect Smarty"s first real test

won"t come until he faces older horses in the Breeders" Cup Classic at Lone Star -- or maybe someplace

else because there are health issues currently in Texas.

Oh, yes. For those keeping score at home, I hit the Peter Pan trifecta cold at my web site

(1-888-612-2283). And that was one day after nailing a $55 maiden (Colonial Inca) at Churchill.

You really needed to know.

See you Friday with more news from the front.



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