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Aug 28, 2004

RACING TODAY

By: JOHN PIESEN


Great job by ESPN blowing off the Alabama and Hopeful to give us a Little League baseball game

that went three hours and ended 18-2. When the toddlers finally finished, ESPN sent us to Saratoga

just in time to see Society Selection in the winner's cirle following the Alabama. Took some of the

suspense out of the race.

After a wondrous winner's circle interview with trainer Jerkens, ESPN gave us the taped stretch run

of the Hopeful. The Alabama and Hopeful were two of the best races of the year, and ESPN fed us

crumbs. But we did get to see the Del Mar Oaks from start to finish. Makes you wonder why ESPN

bothered to send a crew and equipment to Saratoga in the first place.

But maybe I shouldn't be too harsh on ESPN. The Little Leaguers did an 0.3, while Saratoga

managed an 0.1.

At least a few of us with access to Fox Sports got to see the two races from start to finish. And so we

got to see Afleet Alex. He was hopelessly beaten at least three or four times, then somehow got his

act together to get up in the last jump. He demonstrated guts in addition to the speed and ability we

knew he had in spades.

Afleet Alex will now go to the Champagne, and if he wins (they'd have to bring back Citation to beat him),

he'll conclude his 2-year-old season 5-for-5 and the Eclipse champion.

Toward the end of the year, Afleet Alex will be shipped to Oaklawn Park by trainer Ritchey, and he

will follow the Smarty Jones Road to the Kentucky Derby -- the Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby.

And, for those scoring at home, this reporter again will be entrusted with the assignment of entering

Afleet Alex for the three Arkansas races, and for the Triple Crown -- where I will try to improve on
my 5-for-6 record with Smarty.

In the meantime, you can get 7-1 on Alex for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (not a good move), and 40-1

in Vegas in the Kentucky Derby Future Book.

The final Pick Four at Saratoga last Saturday was projected to pay $12 what with Midway Road,

Friendly Island, Afleet Alex and Ashado all considered locks at odds-on. The first three did their part,

but Ashado got whacked by Society Selection at 3-5 in the Alabama.

This was a bit of a shock because every public handicapper in the world picked Ashado, including

a New York Daily News gal who bet $400 on Ashado in her bankroll.

Then, on Sunday, Funny Cide got beat again, this time at even money, against moderate opposition

in the Saratoga Cup, proving for the millionth time, there is no such thing as a sure thing, although

every Saratoga favorite seems to win. The percentage of winning favorites currently at the Spa stands

at 42%, although it seems more like 62%.

There were two more races Sunday worthy of mention.

At Monmouth Park, Ghostzapper won the four-horse Iselin by 10 lengths in 1:47 4/5 for nine

furlongs, earning a 128 number from the Beyer boys. With a number like that, who don't they just

put up a plaque for him in the Hall of Fame right now?

And to think, the Iselin used to be one of the great handicap races in the nation...

At Del Mar, Pleasantly Perfect won the Pacific Classic by a length over Perfect Drift, who hasn't

won a race since the Harding Administration. Now, I can't say a harsh word about Pleasantly Perfect

since I gave him out on my phone service at 15-1 last Fall in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

This year, Pleasantly Perfect has won the Dubai World Cup, the Pacific Classic

(after getting beat in a prep), and if he repeats in the Classic, which will be the next and last start

of his career, he no doubt will be voted Horse of the Year.

But he won't get my vote. I'll be voting for Smarty Jones, and hopefully I'll have a lot of company. It

wasn't Smarty's fault that, as it turned out, his owners took the money and ran. He's still the best

horse I saw this year...and in many years.

And isn't it ironic that old buddy Jerry Bailey, who did everything possible to get Smarty beat in the

Belmont, winds up on Pleasantly Perfect in the wake of Alex Solis going down? That no doubt will

be Jerry Bailey sitting with Team Pleasantly Perfect at the Eclipse Awards next winter.

Everywhere I go, I hear people complaining about what happened to Smarty Jones in the

Belmont...none angrier that a New York radio guy named Peter Parella.

Writes Parella...

"America was deprived of its 12th Triple Crown winner by the shameful riding tactics of three riders

(Bailey, Solis, Velazquez). NYRA and/or Gov. Pataki, through the new oversight committee, should

take a long look at this racing sham. Otherwise, we'll have to wait for a New York-bred horse, with

New York connections, and a New York rider to win the Triple Crown. All of us in racing should be

outraged, rise up and make our voices heard.

"It will be the power of the people that forces racing to examine what happened on Belmont Day, and

take the appropriate steps. Lacking this, racing appears doomed."

Now that is one angry horseplayer.

I only hope Peter wasn't one of those 0.1 waiting for that Little League game to end.



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