Jan 21, 2005
By: JOHN PIESEN
Since setting foot in Hot Springs last Friday, I have been besieged by
one burning question: To wit: Is Rockport Harbor as good as they say he is?
The answer is yes.
The last time I saw Rockport Harbor was Nov. 27 at the receiving barn
at Aqueduct. Rocky had just run the second fastest Remsen in history,
but it came at a price - a huge gash (the size of a silver dollar) on the
back of his right ankle.
The wound was treated with antibiotics, and the rest was up to
Mother Nature. Rocky stayed in the barn 42 days, and two weeks back
he was vanned to Oaklawn Park along with three fillies and a stable pony
named Banjo, who craves peppermint mints.
On Saturday morning, I stopped by to see Rocky. I found him in the
same stall in the same barn that Smarty Jones occupied for three months
here last winter. And he was doing just fine thank you. The wound had
healed entirely, and he had grown considerably in the two months since
I last saw him. He looked every part of the Kentucky Derby future book favorite.
"He"s doing great," stable foreman Bill Foster told me. "He"s out on the
track galloping every day, and as soon as John gets here, we"ll map out
a training schedule."
John of course is John Servis, who has had the unbelievably good fortune
to get a Smarty Jones and a Rockport Harbor back to back.
At this time last year, I wrote in this space -- until I was blue in the
face -- that Smarty Jones was the next Seattle Slew. I honestly feel that
Rockport Harbor is the next Secretariat.
Servis, presently hunkered down at his home base of Philadelphia Park,
will be in California next week for the Eclipse Awards. He"ll then drive from
Philly to Hot Springs to take over the supervision of Rocky. Unlike last
year, when Servis commuted weekly between Hot Springs and Philly,
he"ll stay here for the duration of the Oaklawn meet, which ends April
16 with the Arkansas Derby.
For now, Rocky is scheduled to run in the Southwest on Feb. 19, the Rebel
on March 19, and the Arkansas Derby. If those races sound familiar, it"s
because Smarty won all three last year.
Rocky won"t lack for competition in those races. Afleet Alex, the most
accomplished 2-year-old of last year, and Greater Good, a two-time
stakes-winner last year, also are being pointed for those three races.
ESPN already has signed on to cover the Arkansas Derby. I would suggest
they get here early for the Southwest and the Rebel.
Otherwise, there are two major news stories here this week:
1) The last two mornings, the temperature registered 18 degrees.
And it is all the way up to 24 degrees as this is being written. But the
good news is that by kickoff Friday afternoon, it will be 65 degrees
2) I spoke to old friend Bobby Frankel this morning, and Frankel had
some interesting news: Horse of the Year Ghostzapper will make his
season debut in the Oaklawn Handicap at Oaklawn Park, Hot Springs,
Ark., on April 9.
"If they treat me well in the weights, I"ll be there," Bob said. That
said, I suspect that Oaklawn racing secretary Pat Pope indeed will treat
Frankel well in the weights. Pat"s that kind of guy.
Frankel incidentally will be shooting for his third straight Oaklawn
Handicap with Ghostzapper, who next Tuesday will be named Horse
of the Year. Frankel won the 2003 running with Medaglia d"Oro, and
the "04 running with Peace Rules. No trainer in the 50-year history of
the Oaklawn "Cap has won three editions of the race, much less consecutively.
While I had Bob in a good mood, I asked him "what"s gonna happen
with Ghostzapper after Hot Springs?"
"Since you"re my old Brooklyn buddy, I"ll give you the deal,"
he said. "After Hot Springs, Ghostzapper will go to New York for five
races -- the Met Mile, the Suburban, the Whitney, the Woodward, and
the Breeders" Cup."
Four of those five races will be at Belmont, all but the Whitney, which,
the last I looked, will be run on the first Saturday of Saratoga.
For sure, Oaklawn Park had a better year than the Dallas Cowboys, a
matter of significance because Hot Springs is located squarely in the heart of Cowboys" country.
My first year here, I went to a Super Bowl party, and watched Dallas beat
Pittsburgh. I was the only one at the party rooting for the Steelers, which
lost the game, but covered the spread, which made me as happy as the
Since that game, the Steelers have gone 87-56, 5-4 in the playoffs, and
are playing in the AFL championship game Sunday. The Cowboys? They
have gone 65-79, 1-4 in the playoffs, and are on the golf course or better
at the present time.
And just how did Cowboys" coach Parcells respond to the team"s present
problems? Yesterday he fired the kicking coach, a fellow named Steve Hoffman.
It seems Hoffman took the fall because Cowboys" kicker Cundiff blew a key
46-yard field goal in a late-season 12-7 loss to the Eagles.
Speaking of kickers, kudos to the Dallas News for an item in last Saturday"s
In a preview of that day"s Jets-Steelers game, the News ran the
"Everybody wants to call Jets" kicker Doug Brien a clutch performer for his
28-yard chip shot in overtime to beat the Chargers last week. But remember
that Brien missed a 33-yarder, had a 42-yarder bank in off the goal post and
almsot missed an extra point.
"Maybe he (Brien)learned from the game, but there were also plenty of signs that
he could crack at some point."
Finally, just once I would like to see an NFL coach show some guts.
You"ll recall last Sunday the key point in the Pats-Colts game.
With the Pats up, 6-3, the Colts were fourth and a foot at midfield. Here you
have the most high-powered offense in football, headed by a $90 million
QB...and they punted, just as the announcers -- as always -- implored them to do.
"You can"t take a chance," they said.
I, for one, want to know why not?
I turned off the TV at that point...and went out for crawfish.
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