Dec 10, 2004
Daily Racing Best Bets
By: JOHN PIESEN
I sure hope the reader got down at 200-1 on Rockport Harbor in the
Kentucky Derby Futures. You'll recall that that was the recommendation on
this website back in September.
On the basis of a 4-for-4 record, capped by stakes successes at Aqueduct
in the Nashua and Remsen, Rockport Harbor now is listed as
the 7-1 Derby favorite at Bally's Las Vegas.
Galloping Grocer, beaten a neck by Rockport Harbor in the Remsen, is listed
as the 10-1 second choice. Afleet Alex, who should be voted the
2-year-old champion, is the 12-1 third choice.
The New York-based connections of the New York-bred Galloping Grocer are
undecided whether to send their talented colt to Florida for the winter, or to
keep him in New York.
But there is no indecision concerning Rockport Harbor and Afleet Alex. Both
will winter at Oaklawn Park off Central Avenue in Hot Springs, Ark. In fact,
Alex already is there.
In order to bring myself and the reader up to snuff, I talked to the trainers of
Rocky and Alex this morning. I caught John Servis, the trainer of
Rockport Harbor, at Barn 11 at Philadelphia Park, where he was preparing to
run three horses in the rain this afternoon. I caught Tim Ritchey, the trainer of
Afleet Alex, on Route 95 South in Maryland, the first leg of his 19-hour drive to
Servis and Ritchey, longtime friends and rivals on the mid-Atlantic racing
circuit, were, as usual, informative and accommodating.
This was the first chance I had to talk to Servis since the Remsen, when
Rockport Harbor was cut up badly in the right hind. The mainstream media
discovered Rocky in the Remsen, and up close and personal photos of his wound
were published all over the internet. They were not pretty pictures.
"Yes," Servis said this morning, "the wound was nasty, but it's healing, and Rocky
is going to be alright. In fact, we plan to get him back to the track in three
weeks. We lazered the area, applied anti-biotics, and are letting mother nature
take its course.
"Rocky will be leaving for Hot Springs right after the first, and, once we get
there, we'll play it by ear. We may make the Southwest
(Feb. 19) or wait for the Rebel (March 19). We'll be in no hurry to make a
Rocky will have four Barn 11 buddies on the flight to Hot Springs. They will
be Sidetrack, Overrocks and Pot Shot, all maidens, and Mackenzie Nicole, a
filly who is eligible for one-other than. Indeed, you might want to give all
four some prominence on your horses to watch list.
By comparison, Servis last year vanned 13 horses to Hot Springs, but I guess
you could say that he didn't have much luck. Only two of the 13 got to win
a race at Oaklawn. One was a filly named Pilfer, the other a colt...what was
And speaking of what's his name, I'm wondering just what the reaction from
the general public will be when Ghostzapper is named Horse of the Year
over Smarty Jones. Will there be a backlash from the public, most of whom
never heard of Ghostzapper?
It's a shame that the public doesn't get to vote. If they did, Smarty would
win in a landslide.
As for Afleet Alex, he was vanned -- along with 38 other Ritchey trainees --
last week to Oaklawn, and is comfortably settled into his new quarters in
the Track Robbery barn. Assuming a safe trip down 81 and across 40, Ritchey
will get to Oaklawn tomorrow, and he plans to stay there through April 16,
the date of the Arkansas Derby.
"You can bet that I won't be letting this horse out of my sight," Ritchey said.
Ritchey added that Afleet Alex came out of his troubled second in the
Breeders' Cup Juvenile in good shape, was given some time off, and will
return to training during the holidays at Oaklawn.
Ritchey also said that Jeremy Rose, his go-to rider in Maryland and
Delaware, will ride first call for him at Oaklawn. Gene Short, a Hot Springs
native, will take Rose's book at Oaklawn.
Rose took a lot of heat in the national media for Afleet Alex's losses in the
Champagne and Breeders' Cup, but Ritchey said that Rose will keep the
mount. The agents for several celebrity jockeys, notably Jerry Bailey, tried
to bump Rose off Alex for the Breeders' Cup, but Ritchey remained loyal to
Rose, his protege and friend.
"Jeremy has ridden for me since he was a bugboy," says Ritchey, "and he's
won a lot of races for me."
As for Afleet Alex...
"I'd like to make all three Oaklawn races," Ritchey said, "but that's not a
must. If we make the Southwest, that's fine. If not, that's OK too. But the
Rebel and Arkansas Derby are for sure.
"Smarty Jones showed that the Arkansas route is the best preparation for
the Triple Crown, and I think we'll see more and more good 3-year-olds
come through Hot Springs. And it will be great for Oaklawn if the 2-year-old
champ is stabled there."
At this point, Afleet Alex is the leader in the clubhouse for
champion 2-year-old, but there's still the chance that the winner of next
week's Hollywood Futurity could overtake him.
"That would be a shame," said Ritchey. Afleet Alex is the best 2-year-old.
He deserves the Eclipse."
Alex completed his juvenile campaign with a 4-for-6 record. He won his first
two starts at Delaware by a pole, then shipped twice to Saratoga to take the
Sanford and the Grade 1 Hopeful. He then was an unlucky second to Proud
Accolade in the Champagne at Belmont, and an unluckier recond to English
bomber Wilko in the Breeders' Cup.
"Alex broke a 34-year-old stakes record in the Sanford, and ran faster than
Secretariat," says Ritchey, "and the Hopeful is the premier race for 2-year-olds
"In the Champagne, Alex was the best horse, but (Johnny) Velazquez gave
Jeremy a riding lesson that day. And we all saw what happend in the
Breeders' Cup. He broke bad, got bumped twice going to the first turn, ran
five and six wide the whole way, and got beat three-quarters."
Ritchey pointed out that the Ragozin numbers gave Alex a four
(lower is better) in the Breeders' Cup, while Wilco got a four and a half.
"The second horse getting a lower number than the winner is very
unusual," Ritchey said.
This will be Ritchey's third season at Oaklawn, and he's bringing some
"I have a (turning) 4-year-old named Separato for the big handicap races
there," he said, "and a nice 3-year-old named Golden Rainbow."
There are a couple of points I want to make about those thrilling Sunday
and Monday night games.
On Sunday night, Jacksonville, fourth and three at the Pittcburgh 20 with two
minutes left, kicked the chippy field goal to take a 16-14
lead. The Steelers of course then had plenty of time to drive down to make
the winning field goal.
Now I ask: What would happened if Pittsburgh had been called for offsides on
the Jacksonville field goal? Would the Jags have taken the penalty?
Naturally the announcers would have screamed: "don't take the points off
And the Jacksonville coach probably would have agreed.
As I said, it would have been interesting.
As for Monday night, let's review the situation:
Seattle, leading 32-29, was fourth and inches at the Dallas 30 at the two-minute
warning. Dallas was down to one time out. Seattle makes the yard...and runs
out the clock. The Hawks win, 32-29 (but don't cover).
So you all saw what happened. Off tackle. 30 yards to the end zone. The place
goes nuts. The Seattle bench goes nuts. Jerry Rice goes nuts. John Madden goes nuts.
But, in reality, the only way that Seattle possibly could lose was by getting that
toucdown. And, of course, that's what happened. Dallas gets the ball. Scores
twice. And Seattle is dead in the water, probably for the season.
But the irony is that there isn't a coach alive who wouldn't gladly have taken
that touchdown on fourth and inches at the 30.
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