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Apr 22, 2005

Daily Racing Best Bets

By: John Piesen

The name Jones is big news in the state of Arkansas.

There is Jerry Jones, who was making the rounds of the fancy fourth-floor dining room

 on Arkansas Derby day at Oaklawn Park. Even with a crowd of 71,000 on hand, you couldn"t

 miss ol" Jer. He was surrounding himself with the beautiful people.

Then there is Larry Jones, who trains winners at a 25 per cent clip at Oaklawn, and gave us

Acorn winner Island Sand last June at Belmont Park. He"s always worth a play.

And then there is Matt Jones, the University of Arkansas quarterback-turned-wide receiver, who

 will be drafted -- maybe by the Iggles -- in the first round tomorrow in New York.

And, of course, there is Paula Jones, who made herself quite a national reputation you may

remember during the Clinton Years.

But enough of the Joneses, let"s turn our attention to the Evil Empire.

The Yankees may be struggling in the AL East these days, but their owner and manager are

doing quite well on the racetrack.

Just the other day, a reporter asked Joe Torre when was the last time he talked to George.

"Yesterday," Torre replied, "...but we didn"t talk basbeall. We were talking horses."

No wonder.

On the weekend of May 6-7 at Churchill Downs, Sis City and Bellamy Road will go favored in

 the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby, respectively. Joe Torre, the Yankee skipper, is

 part-owner of Sis City. And George Steinbrenner, the principal owner of the Yankees, is the

 sole owner of Bellamy Road, the Derby favorite. wonder, Joe and George were talking horses.

It"s kind of scary when you realize that a Torre-Boss Oaks-Derby double will be worth "bout

$7 for a $2 ticket.

That said, I got a call this morning from Ed Sexton, the manager of Kinsman Farm, George"s

 horse operation in central Florida. Regular readers of this space may remember that Ed Sexton

 was saying really nice things about a 2-year-old named Bellamy Road in this space as far back

 as last September.

"I"m getting a lot of calls about Bellamy Road these days," Ed told me, "but I"m really too busy

to talk to all these guys. I"ve got a farm to run, and s..t to clean up. But, John, I"ll talk to you.

You were there from the start."

So we touched on several issues concerning Bellamy Road, who was

named for George"s street where he was raised in Cleveland:

JP: Are you concerned about a possible bounce?

ES: No, not at all. Bellamy Road will improve off the Wood (a 17-length win). We haven"t begun

 to see the best of this horse yet. I know talk is cheap, but this horse is a pure machine. He won"t bounce.

JP: Are you responsible for changing trainers (from Dickinson to Zito), and if so, why?

ES: I had input into the change with George"s family. I had all the confidence in the world

in Michael. We have been and will remain good friends. And I"m sure we"ll do business with

him again. But I felt that Nick has had so much experience with Derby horses that he should

 be the man to get this horse to Louisville. And I"m convinced we made the right decision. Nick

 has done a great job with this horse. I have the utmost confidence in Nick Zito.

JP: Is two races enough to get Bellamy Road to the Derby? After all, in modern times,

Sunny"s Halo is the only horse to win the Derby off only two preps.

ES: Given my choice, I"d want a fresh horse every time. A fresh horse will always run better

than a tired horse.

JP: Does Bellamy Road need the lead?

ES: No, not at all. In fact, I wouldn"t be surprised if he"s seventh or eighth going to the first turn.

 In fact, I would like to see that. The only reason he has been racing in front is that there was

no one in his races who could stay with him.

JP: Who deserves the credit for Bellamy Road?

ES: I have to take my hat off to Mr. Steinbrenner, and his son Hank. They have been very

supportive to me, especially considering that I"m new here, and they have let me call the shots.

 My hands are not -- nor have they ever been -- tied.

JP: Who do you consider the horse to beat?

ES: I"d have to say Afleet Alex. He"s always been a good horse, and he was very impressive

 winning the Arkansas Derby. He"s the one to beat...but I"m not afraid of him.

Sexton had to excuse himself...but not without a warning:

"John, I"ve got three 2-year-olds here on the farm who look really good," he said. "I wouldn"t be

 surprised if I"m looking at the 2006 Derby winner right now."

Sexton gave me the pedigrees of the horses, but asked me not to
divulge them.

"It"s only April," he said, "this summer we"ll talk more."

PIESEN CUES: The week"s toughest beat? The total on Pittburgh-St. Louis on Monday

 night was nine. St. Louis led, 2-1, going into the ninth...and put a nineski on the board...Speaking

 of Pittsburgh, what"s wrong with lefty Perez? I thought this was the next Koufax. Now, he

 can"t get out of the fourth inning...Does Stephen A. Smith ever sleep? It seems he"s on

TV 24/7. He"s a tough listen, but I think I heard him say that it didn"t matter that the Nets

made the playoffs. That they"ll get blown out by Miami. He may be right, but I wouldn"t want

 to bet on it...If you want to see what a thoroughbred should like, check out Mike Marten"s

 photo of Rockport Harbor on page one of Saturday"s Form...Obviously -- like all racing -- I"m

 hoping to see the real Rocky show up. I"ll be watching the Lexington at the OTB parlor on

 Second Avenue and 53rd street...Sacramento, Indiana and Washington are other live NBA pups.

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