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Jul 02, 2003

Racing Today

By: John Piesen

This may surprise media outlets across the land, but Churchill Downs actually does conduct horse racing more than one day a year.


Last Saturday, for example, the most-hyped female out of Africa since Meryl Streep made

her debut at Churchill. That, of course, was Ipi Tombe. Sent off at 2-5 in the Grade 3

Locust Grove Handicap, the Team Valor filly won by a measured half-length, prompting a

standing ovation from the railbirds.

Following the race, trainer Elliott Walden said that Ipi Tombe"s next race will be the Diana Handicap

on the first Saturday (July 26) of the Saratoga meeting. That"s a Grade 1, and the competition will be

a lot saltier than what she faced in the Locust Grove (Kiss the Devil).


An aside here.


Kiss the Devil, a $27 winner for readers of this column a month back, is trained by David Vance, whom I

rate as one of the top 10 trainers in the business. Vance never gets any ink so I was delighted

to see the following headline in the Louisville paper the other day: "Vance Inducted Into Kentucky Hall of Fame."

I was all set to knock off an E-mail to Vance congratulating him on his good fortune. But

then I read the lead. It said: "Van Vance, a retired Louisville broadcaster…"


But, back to Ipi Tombe.


Bred and raced in that racing hotbed Zimbabwe, Ibi Tombe made headlines back in March

when she beat males in the $2 million Duty Free at Dubai, a mile and a half from a U.S. Air Force

base, from which we were sending out planes to bomb Iraq. But that"s a story for another day.

Following that race, Ibi Tombe was shipped by Team Valor to Walden for an extensive U.S.

campaign up to and including the Breeders" Cup. Her Churchill victory last weekend spiked

her record to 12-for-14.


"We are the custodians for this filly," Team Valor president Barry Irwin tells Daily Racing Form.

"It"s a great feeling, but it also really adds to our responsibilities."

Irwin, a former DRF columnist who has owned and raced 64 stakes-winners, including

Captain Bodgit, Star of Cozzene, Prized and The Deputy, since starting Team Valor in 1987, says "We have never owned a horse like her - period."


We"ll learn more on the first Saturday of Saratoga.


There are other names in the news at Churchill these days:


  • Robby Albarado, whom I rank in the top five riders in the land, endured a rare losing streak (2-for-50) at Churchill, and faded to fourth place in the standings. When he got beaton Mineshaft in the Stephen Foster, there were even whispers that he would be replaced for Saturday"s Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park. Trainer Neil Howard (and owner Will Farish)say that Albarado will keep the mount on Mineshaft, the best older horse in training at the present time
  • Like Albarado, Pat Day has had a rough go at Churchill. In one stretch, he lost on 27 consecutive mounts, including 15 favorites, and actually stands second to newcomer Cornelio Velasquez (51-45) in the standings. This is quite remarkable since it seems like yesterday that Velasquez and his then-agent, Frankie Sanabria, were hustling the Monmouth Park backside in vain looking for business.
  • Former world-class rider Randy Romero, whose career was cut short by liver and kidney ailments,spent some time on the Churchill backstretch this week, and reports he is making some progress. He still needs a kidney transplant, and his older brother Edwin has volunteered to give Randy one of his kidneys. Our prayers ontinue to be with Randy Romero, one of the classiest guys I"ve known in racing.

Here"s an example:


Back in the late "80s, Romero was the regular rider for a pair of top 3-year-old fillies, Personal Ensign for

the Shugster, and Sacahuista for D. Wayne. During the course of an interview in the Belmont Park jocks" room,

I asked Randy "Who is the better filly?"

I expected the usual answer. ""They"re both great horses. I can"t compare them."

Instead, Randy said: "Personal Ensign. No question."

History, of course, proved Randy right, but the point is that Randy was a straight shooter.

It never occurred to him that D. Wayne would read the paper the next day and rip him.

Not that Wayne would ever do such a thing of course.



It"s not exactly the Pick Six Fix, but there is another interesting gambling story coming out of Arlington Park.

Last Saturday, a horse named Rainy Day Rules broke running at 9-1, and midway through the race,

while running on a clear lead, the odds dropped to 5-1. She went on to win by five, and pay $13.80.

You gotta love this stuff. How come you never see the odds go up on a horse racing on an uncontested lead?

In this case, track management actually is at least going through the motions of launching an investigation.

"Arlington Park management is reviewing the wagering," says track president Cliff Goodrich.

"Once more information has been obtained and reviewed, we will make it available to the public."



In this space last week, I said that I have learned my lesson. I will never ever again try to beat

Bob Frankel in a big race. I said I had learned my lesson after the Belmont and the Phipps Handicap.

So what happened?


Last Saturday, Frankel ran a filly named Spoken Fur in the Grade 1 Mother Goose at Belmont.

Frankel had just purchased Spoken Fur off an allowance victory at Churchill. The filly had never as much

as competed in a stake, much less won one.


I didn"t pick Spoken Fur 1-2-3 in the Mother Goose, and watched the filly win by five at $11, keying

the NTRA Pick Three, the other two legs of course I had cold.

That was Frankel"s 30th graded stake win this year, with the promise of another 30 to come by

Labor Day. On the other hand, Bobby doesn"t have to win another race all year, and he"s still the

Eclipse trainer for the third straight year.


From one Brooklyn boy to another: "Bobby, I learned my lesson."

It could have been worse last Saturday. I could have had the Yankees at minus 1 ½ runs

against the Mets that night at Shea. The Yanks, up 9-0 in the sixth, won 9-8. Remarkably, there

were no reports of bridge-jumpers at the Whitestone.


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