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Mar 04, 2005

RACING TODAY

By: John Piesen


One of the good things about writing for jimhurley.com is

 the archives. Check it out, and you'll find my last 30 columns. This

morning I checked out my column from Oct. 2, 2004, and this is

what I found:

"I hope you all were paying attention last winter when I was touting

Smarty Jones non-stop in this space as the Derby winner.

"And hopefully you all profited on my expertise. In case not, you get

a second chance. Write it down.

"Rockport Harbor.

"Last week, Bally's Vegas was offering 200-1 on Rocky for the 2005

Kentucky Derby. The price now is 100-1."

I sure hope you were listening and reading because Rocky is now the

favorite or second choice in most Derby futures, and if you can get 8-1

you're doing good.

I see Rockport Harbor every day down here in beautiful Hot Springs, Ark.,

 and I can tell you the horse is doing great. We all had a scare last week

 when he suffered a bruised foot, but the foot healed in 48 hours, and he's

 better than ever.

I hosted a seminar at a local redneck saloon last Saturday, and invited

trainer Servis over as my guest. John fielded some good questions from the

 audience about Smarty and Rocky, and was forthright in his answers.

For example...

Q: Is the Eclipse Awards a popularity question like the Oscars?

A: In some ways, yes. But it's more than that. There's a lot of politics.

Frank Stronach owns a dozen racetracks, and the racing secretaries at

those tracks vote for the Eclipse Awards. You think they are going to vote

against Stronach's horse (Ghostzapper), and get to keep their jobs?

Q: What are Rocky's prospects in the Rebel (March 19 at Oaklawn)?

A: Rocky doesn't have to win. He won't be 100 per cent for the race. The

first Saturday in May. That's the race we want to win.

Servis's remarks were key because, you'll remember last year Smarty was

life-and-death to win his Arkansas debut in the Southwest. In the press box

 after the race, Servis said Smarty was only 70 per cent for that race. He'll

 be much better next time.

The public didn't believe Servis the next time (the Rebel) because he went

 off third choice...and of course won easily.

Rocky of course will be facing much tougher competition (Afleet Alex) than

 Smarty did last year in Hot Springs. And, I wouldn't be surprised if Alex

beats Rocky in the Rebel.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Alex turns out to be a better colt than

 Rocky. As good as Rocky is, who knows, Alex may be better. He's certainly

 training here like a monster.

There you have it. The two best 3-year-olds on the planet are hanging

 hear in south-central Arkansas, and it's my privilege (not like covering

the Jets) that I get to see these two superstar animals every day.

One more thing about the seminar.

I gave away a signed photo of Rocky as the prize for answering the

following question. (There were 60 people in the audience, and no one

got the answer).

The question simply was: "Who was the regular jockey on the 2004 Horse

of the Year?"

Not even the old pros in the press box could give me the answer, which

was Javier Castellano.

With that in mind, long after we're gone, someone will look up the racing

 manual and find that Ghostzapper -- not Smarty Jones -- was Horse of

 the Year 2004.

How could that be, the person will wonder.

Indeed.

Shifting gears, there was a piece in the paper the other day about a

middle-aged fellow named U.S. Reed, a pastor down the road in Pine Bluff, Ark.

Why does U.S. Reed belong in a sports column you might ask?

Good question. The answer is simple.

Back in 1981, U.S. Reed was a starter for the University of Arkansas

varsity basketball team. Arkansas was playing defending national

champion Louisville in an NCAA tournament game, and Louisville was up

 one with five seconds to play.

Reed took the inbounds pass, dribbled twice to midcourt, and let fly a

 prayer while sandwiched between Louisville defenders Poncho Wright

 and Lancaster Gordon.

The prayer was answered.

Arkansas 74, Louisville 73.

Reed went on to have cups of coffee in the pros with San Antonio and

 Dallas, but a bum knee cost him a pro career. He wound up coaching

 girls' hoops in Arkansas, and eventually found religion in his home

town of Pine Bluff.

"I still can't go anywhere in Arkansas without people asking me about

 that shot," he says. "It's amazing how something can last so long."

Finally, one more hoops note.

I didn't watch any basketball last night so I was looking forward to

Sports Center this morning. You know Sports Center. They pride

themselves on not tipping the winner as they go through the highlights.

(This of course is ridiculous because you can't miss the crawl on the

 bottom of the screen).

But this time was off the charts. The host said all four NBA games came

down to the wire. Thank you. That means all four dogs covered. Why

 bother watching? I switched to Katie.

And since the dogs won all three ESPN college games last night, the

right-hand column went 7-0 on TV games, including the NBA ticket. Not

 the first time. Won't be the last time.



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