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Dec 03, 2004

RACING TODAY

By: JOHN PIESEN


When I saw the blood oozing from Rockport Harbor"s right hind

in the winner"s circle following the Remsen last Saturday at Aqueduct

 by the sea, I was horrified. And I couldn"t help thinking:

Like it or not, now I understand why the Chapmans stopped Smarty Jones

when they did.

Going to the first turn of the Remsen, a 50-1 shot named Pavo, who had

no business being in the race, was permitted by jockey Garcia to run up

 on Rockport Harbor"s heel, and open a ghastly wound the size of a

 silver dollar.

No one, except jockey Elliott, knew at the time that Rockport Harbor was

 injured, and when Rocky hit the finish line, a well-measured neck ahead

of Galloping Grocer, the place erupted in cheers.

But there was no such euphoria in the winner"s circle.

The blood was pouring out of Rocky"s foot, and there was no way to assess

 the damage at the time.

Godforbid. Was this the ballgame for Rocky?

What followed was not pretty.

Trainer Servis uncharacteristically brushed off post-race interviews, including

 TV. John"s wife, Sherry, was in tears as she watched the replay in the

 paddock. And TV hostess Jan Rushton showed me a blood trail on the concrete

 floor of the tunnel leading from the paddock.

By that time, the hundreds of people who had jammed the paddock area

for the Remsen were gone, replaced by about 30 people who gathered to

watch the Cigar field saddle.

As for this writer, I had no time for the Cigar (or to cash my Rocky tickets).

 I rushed to my car, and mad-dashed to the backside to the receiving barn.

This was nervous time.

And it got more nervous when a security guard at the barn asked me

my business.

"Are you a vet?", he asked me.

"No."

"Who are you then?"

"I"m a reporter."

"Well, buddy," he said, "...you"re going to have plenty to report about."

Ouch.

Double ouch.

When I reached Rocky, there was no one around but trainer Servis and

 the groom.


"It"s pretty nasty," John told me.

That much was obvious. The wound was wide open, and there was still

 blood pouring out.

The vet (the real vet) then showed up, examined and treated the wound,

and told John: "It"s not major. He"ll be alright. He"ll just need some time."

Not that I know the first thing about veterinary medicine, but I took it as

 a good sign that Rocky didn"t flinch as the doc treated the open wound.

Later that evening, Rocky was vanned back to Barn 11 at Philly Park, and

yesterday he was started on antibiotics.

"We"re going to have to trim some of that meat away in a few days,"

Servis said. "It"s got a big old flap on it, and the gash is a good two inches

deep. The injury is not at all career-threatening, but it"s going to take a

while (to heal)."

Starting in early January, Rocky will do his healing at Oaklawn Park in

Hot Springs, Ark. Even before the Remsen, Servis told me that it was no

 better than 50-50 that Rocky would skip the Southwest Stakes, scheduled

 for Feb. 19.

Now, in light of the injury, you can pretty much assume that Servis will

wait for the Rebel (March 19) to bring Rocky back. That
means that, if all goes well, Rocky will have only two starts -- the Rebel

 and the Arkansas Derby -- going into the Kentucky Derby.

This also means that Rocky, like Smarty Jones last spring. will be 6-for-6

 going to the Kentucky Derby. What"s more, he, like Smarty, will be favored

 in the Derby...and that something will have to sprout wings to beat him.

As I"ve been saying in this space since September, Rockport Harbor clearly

 is the best 2-year-old on the planet. And he made his case in the Remsen.

 His 1:49 4/5 clocking was the second fastest in the history of the Remsen,

 and a second faster than Smarty"s time in the Arkansas Derby last spring.

 Moreover, he got a 102 Beyer, and he even made DRF writer Mike

Watchmaker"s Top Ten (eighth), two spots behind Proud Accolade.

And, as it turned out, Rocky did it all on three legs.

Pretty amazing stuff.

When I suggested to colleague Steve Haskin of Blood Horse that we may

 have seen the season"s two best 2-year-olds in the Remsen, Steve replied:

 "...there"s no maybe about it."

Galloping Grocer, who probably will wind up being the most accomplished

 New York-bred of all time, will either winter in New York or south Florida.

Meantime, virtually every other top 3-year-old will be quartered at

 Oaklawn Park across from the pizza joints and redneck bars on Central

 Avenue in downtown Hot Springs.

Besides Rockport Harbor, Oaklawn will be home to Afleet Alex, the leader

 in the clubhouse for 2-year-old champion; Greater Good, a
compelling last-to-first winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club last Saturday

 for trainer Holthus and jockey McKee, and Sidetrack, a maiden

(but not for long) from the Servis barn.

I wouldn"t be surprised if Sidetrack winds up representing Team Servis in

the Southwest.

Greater Good? Trainer Holthus says the Rebel will be his first start at 3.

The Oaklawn people have been campaiging for months to get the graded

 stakes committee to upgrade the Rebel from a 3 to a 2. It seems to me

 that the Rebel should be a Grade 1!

POSTSCRIPT: Yes, I know I wrote here last Friday that if Rockport Harbor

 was not the Remsen favorite, I will gladly give up my first-born. Rocky

opened 1-2, and Galloping Grocer 3-1, but after the "smart" money came

in, GG went off at 6-5 and Rocky 13-10. Hopefully, Robin, you"ll forgive me.



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