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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

 Hot Springs.

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

 decision."

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

 his name?

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

 at Saratoga.

"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

firepower.

"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."

PIESEN CUES...

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

the board!"

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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