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Mar 18, 2005



The bad news from the left coast this morning that Declan's Moon

chipped a knee, and is off the Derby trail, confirmed the obvious: that

 the road to the Derby this year runs through the State of Arkansas.

When I first got the word while patrolling the Oaklawn Park backstretch

 in my '94 Pontiac Grand Prix, I rushed right to the barns of Rockport Harbor

 and Afleet Alex to get quotes.

This is what the newspaper business (or bidness as we say in Arkansas) is

 all about. Something happens hundreds of miles away, and you need to

 go to people who are involved, be it directly or indirectly.

In this case, the obvious people to approach were John Servis, the trainer

 of Rockport Harbor, and Tim Ritchey, the mastermind behind Afleet Alex.

They had identical reactions. Both were sad that Declan's Moon is out.

That was for the record. What they didn't say was "better him then me."

Rockport Harbor worked an easy five-eighths this morning. I won't bother

 you with numbers. The only thing that's important is that trainer Servis

 was thrilled with the work, and all systems are go for the Rebel next Saturday.

Yes, the Rebel. The Big Three of Rocky, Alex and Greater Good. It's the

 race of the year, and it's even drawing some attention from the national

 media, although not enough to get the race on TV. If you want to see

 it, you will need to tear yourself away from the NCAAs, and find the

 nearest simulcast location.

Servis says that Rocky will be about 85 per cent for the Rebel, and Ritchey,

 again wearing his Pittsburgh Steelers sweats, says Alex will be about 85

 per cent for the Rebel. Greater Good is scheduled to work a stiff six-furlongs

 on Saturday morning, and I expect he will be 100 per cent for the Rebel.

That leaves the burning question: is Greater Good at 100 per cent better

than Rocky and Alex at 85 per cent.

Ritchey kind of likes Lost in the Fog a little.

"If he can stretch out," Ritchey told me this morning, "that will be a horse

 who scares you."

I pointed out to Ritchey that Afleet Alex galloped out his seven furlongs

last week at Oaklawn than Lost in the Fog ran his seven furlongs at

Gulfstream Park. You can look it up.

There will be only four horses in the Rebel. At least at this writing. The

fourth horse is Baston Challenge, trained by Pete Vestal, who began his

career as a club fighter in Red Bank, N.J.

Vestal has won two of the last nine runnings of the Rebel, but he says

he'll be a "hero" if he gets third this time.

Speaking of 3-year-olds, they are running the Louisiana Derby on Saturday

 afternoon at Fair Grounds. None of the nine horses in this race could warm

 up Rocky or Alex, but it is a great betting race.

High Limit is the favorite because he is trained by Bobby Frankel. If he was

 trained by Gary Sciacca, he'd be 12-1. Personally, I like Real Dandy at a price.

I spoke to Frankel the other morning, and Bobby being Bobby, he was mad

 at everything.

"My horses get overbet," he said. "Yesterday, I ran a horse off the boat at

 Santa Anita...and they made him 3-5!"

Did he win?

"Yes, but that's not the point."

Then I asked Frankel if he was still coming to Hot Springs with Ghostzapper,

who, the last I looked, was the 2004 Horse of the Year.

"It all depends on the weights," he told me."

Like what?

"If they give me 121 pounds, I'll be there," he said.

I kind of miss the old days when they would put more than 121 pounds

on the Horse of the Year. We are running the Razorback Handicap on Sunday,

 and the starting highweight will be Purge -- at 116 pounds!

Several of the trainers in the race couldn't find jockeys who could make

the weight.

Speaking of weights, here is an interesting note:

If the Azeri Breeders' Cup, to be run Saturday at Oaklawn, were a handicap,

 Island Sand, one of the best mares in America, would be the highweight.

 But the race is not a handicap. It's to be run under allowance conditions,

and that being so, Island Sand will be the 113-pound lowweight in the field.

My point is that if weight means anything at all to you, you need to pound

Island Sand in the Azeri.

Finally, we are getting another Magna 5 on Saturday, which means I have

to take a crack at it. I've been stuck at 4-of-5 for a while, so it's time to hit

 the damn thing.

Here goes...

Laurel (Race 9)
#8 Chrusciki
#2 Glory of Love
#4 Sea of Promises

Santa Anita (Race 4)
#2 Scriptress
#8 Natural Route
#4 How Bout Josette

Gulfstream (Race 10)
#8 Gold Vault
#7 Natalie Beach
#3 Que Punctual

Santa Anita (Race 5)
#11 Lady Libertine
#3 Wakired
#2 Starkay

Gulfstream Park (Race 11)
#7 Clock Stopper
#3 Lion Tamer
#4 Sir Shackleton

That's all folks. See you all next week with another Oaklawn report.

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