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Jul 29, 2004

RACING TODAY

By: JOHN PIESEN


Linda Ronstadt made big news last week in Las Vegas. The big news this week is

Wednesday"s grand opening at Saratoga. I mean thoroughbred racing at Saratoga. Not

the 1,300 slot machines going full-blast across Nelson Avenue at Saratoga Harness.

What, you are asking, is the connection between Linda Ronstadt and Saratoga?

You need to go back to 1978 to find out.

Steve Cauthen, at the ripe old age of 17, was Da Man. He had just won the Triple Crown

on Affirmed (in case you missed it - no one"s done it since), and was riding at Saratoga.

Linda Ronstadt, young (28), gorgeous and talented, was Da Girl. She was knocking out gold

record after gold record, and was at Saratoga to perform for a sellout crowd at the

Performing Arts Center.

On the first Friday of the race meeting, Cauthen scored front-row tickets for the Ronstadt

concert. He was joined by Albert and Larry Barrera, racetracker sons of Affirmed"s

trainer, Laz Barrera, and various gal pals.

Following the concert, Cauthen and the Barreras went backstage to meet Ronstadt, and

invited her to drive over to see Affirmed at the barn. Which they did. At midnight.

The next morning, I made my usual stop at the jocks" room, and found Cauthen sitting

comatose at his locker, his face buried in his hands.

"You look like you lost your best friend, Steve," I said with the wisdom of my years.

"Worse, John," Cauthen replied.

"I"m in love..."

"Who"s the lucky girl?"

"Linda Ronstadt."

I commended Cauthen for his good taste, but I pointed out he would have to overcome

a rather large age gap.

"What do I do?," he asked me.

"I don"t have much experience in courting rock stars," I said,
"but I guess you need to get her phone number. I have some contacts at SPAC. I"ll see

what I can do."

I got Cauthen the number, but he never followed up. A week later, he broke some bones

in a spill, and missed most of the meet. Needing a rider for Affirmed in the Travers, Laz

Barrera tabbed old friend Laffit Pincay Jr.

As it developed, Pincay rode what he called "the worst ride of my life" and Affirmed was

DQd from first for fouling Alydar at the half-mile.

Meanwhile, Cauthen and Ronstadt went their separate ways. Ronstadt kept knocking "em dead

in the States, while Cauthen went to California with the Barreras, rode 103 straight losers, and

finally departed for England, where the weights are more lenient, and he became the biggest

star in Great Britain since the Beatles.

That "78 Saratoga meet was also a memorable one for this writer, who was then toiling for

the New York Post.

Late one afternoon I called my office to file a race lead, and no one picked up. It was clear

why. The Newspaper Guild had struck all the New York papers. As a result, I found myself

out of work, and basically broke. No fat check coming in. No expenses.

Saratoga is not a good place to be when short of green. More so now. I understand that

Grade 3 joints on South Broadway are charging $469 a night. At least you get a good view

of Dunkin Donuts and Saratoga Diner.

But back to "78. Fortunately, I was hired by The New York Press, the best of the "strike"

papers, so I stayed on at Saratoga, and covered the meet for the Press.

I said "thank you" with one of the best scoops of my career.

In the above-mentioned Travers, Pincay (on Affirmed) was hammered by Angel Cordero

(riding the no-chance Shake Shake Shake) going to the first turn. That"s why an angry

Pincay responded by trying to drop Cordero"s buddy Jorge Velasquez (on arch-rival Alydar).

It turned out I was the only media type to make the Cordero connection, and wrote

the "conspiracy" story for the Press, which ran it on Page One.

Cordero somehow found a copy of the piece, and didn"t talk to me for six months. Or

six years. I don"t remember.

Now, back to the present...

I was not at all surprised with the announcement yesterday that Smarty Jones will

miss the Pennsylvania Derby.

When Smarty was declared from the Haskell, I knew there had to be a problem. And

then jockey Elliott was scheduled to go down to Philadelphia Park to work Smarty.

The work was scrapped. Then trainer Servis said he planned to work Smarty yesterday

or today.

On Sunday at Monmouth, I asked Joe Rosen, Elliott"s new agent, what day Stew was

going to work Smarty. Rosen told me that Stew won"t work him, and, after a significant

pause, he said "(exercise rider) Bobby Diaz would work him."

Obviously, Rosen did not want to pursue the subject. Servis doesn"t use exercise riders

to breeze Smarty. Joe just didn"t want to spill the beans.

So the beans were spilled yesterday. Stable foreman Foster said that Smarty indeed will

miss the Pa. Derby with a foot bruise (in addition to a fever and an elevated

white-cell count).

What did surprise me was that the media blew off the story. In the space of seven weeks, Smarty

went from the biggest sports story of the year to a non-issue. The story was buried in most

papers, and overlooked entirely by the electronic media.

My only hope at this point is that we do get to see Smarty under silks again. His people are

saying that the horse is fine, nothing serious, and that he will run in the Pegasus or Super

Derby, and in the Breeders" Cup Classic.

If I had a buck for every time a trainer or owner has told me his horse is fine, and the horse

never ran again, I"d be set for life.

The best scenario would be for Smarty to run in the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs, and

train at nearby Oaklawn Park for the Classic. The Oaklawn racetrack is not open in

October, but I"m fairly certain that Oaklawn management would be happy to open the track

to accommodate Smarty.

Finally, another story came down yesterday that came as no surprise.

With Alex Solis sidelined with major back and ribs injuries sustained in a Del Mar spill last

weekend, trainer Mandella naturally tapped Jerry Bailey to ride Pleasantly Perfect in the

Pacific Classic and Breeders" Cup Classic.

Does Jerry Bailey get to ride every good horse, or does it just seem that way? Fact is

Bailey"s not even the best rider in New York these days. He"s not even one-two. See Prado and

Velazquez.

And for every great Bailey ride, there"s a stinker. See Sweet Return in last Sunday"s Eddie

Read at Del Mar.



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