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Apr 29, 2005

John Piesen

By: Daily Racing Best Bets


There I was last Saturday, hanging in the OTB on Second Avenue in midtown

 New York, counting down to Rockport Harbor in the Lexington Stakes at

Keeneland. Caught a few winners along the way. Feeling good. Taking some

ribbing from old New York Post readers who were surprised to see I was still alive.

Then they had to go spoil the mood by running the race. It was sad. Not as sad

 as Belmont Day last June, but still sad. I chalked Rocky's bum race to the fact

that I didn't enter him in the race.

Thus, I close my "entering" career with a 5-2-0 record in seven starts. Not bad

 for a novice. But not good enough. Not nearly good enough.

Yesterday, I called trainer Servis with some good news. Reached him, in of all

 places, Hot Springs, Ark.

JS: What's the good news, JP?

JP: I just good off the phone with Ed Sexton. He runs the show for George

Steinbrenner. He told me he wants to get in touch with you. He wants to send

you a couple of 2-year-olds. You interested?

JS: Of course I am. Only one problem. I'm not a Yankee fan.

JP: Not to worry. I think George will understand that since you're a Philly

 guy, you need to be a Phillies' fan. Besides, the last time the Yankees played

the Phils in the World Series was 1950. And the way the Phils are going...

So don't be surprised if, by August, you see a couple of 2-year-olds show up

at Saratoga owned by George Steinbrenner, and trained by John Servis. And

Sexton guarantees me they are runners.

Sexton is going so well that his last four first-time starters have won, including

Beacon Shine, who won first pop by a pole last Sunday at Keeneland.

"We're running him in the Three Chimnsyes Stakes on Derby Day at

Churchill," Sexton told me, "...I don't think you want to bet against him."

JS: Who trains that one?

JP: Billy Mott.

JS: That's amazing. I never saw Mott win with a firster before.

Speaking of the Derby, I just finished talking to a couple of writing colleagues

 who are en route to the Derby.

They wanted to know if I'm disappointed about not going.

No, not at all, I told them. I've spent the greater part of 30 years hanging mornings

 on the backside, and much of that time was spent at the Zito and Pletcher barns.

And, as we all know, Zito has five in the Derby, and Pletcher three -- that's

almost half the field. Believe me, you're not going to read anything new from

Louisville the next two weeks.

And since I had my fill of Tim Ritchey for three months in Hot Springs, I'll just

as soon hang out in Jersey, and make a few calls than go through that water

torture some more.

Hey, take nothing from the horse. While his Derby rivals are working five-eighths

in 1:04 and 1:06, Afleet Alex knocked off five panels in :59 this morning.

...and the vacuous quotes from trainer Ritchey and jockey Rose were the same

I took for three months in Hot Springs.

Bellamy Road or Afleet Alex?

It's a tough call.

Then again, maybe something else will jump up in the next 10 days to grab my

 attention.

This is important because I must remind the reader that my Derby record is

 pretty good: eight winners in 11 years at the Post, and the cold $65 exacta

last year. But who's counting?

Otherwise, here are some other things that have caught my attention in

 recent days:

Due to slipping from first to 24th in the NFL draft last Saturday, Mr. Rodgers

lost $50 million. That's not the Mr. Rodgers' neighborhood I remember.

Due to being suspended for one game, a Dallas Maverick reserve named Stackhouse

blew one game's pay: $87,000!

After being hyped as the next Koufax in this space last Friday, pitcher Perez of

the Pirates blanked Houston last night -- as a dog! This guy's the real deal.

Good news for our Vegas readers. I will be guesting on Larry Grossman's radio

 program (1460 am) on May 5 at 2:00 Pacific. Much of the chatter will focus on

 the Derby, but I won't be giving out my Derby choice. Not when you can get

it for a bargain fee by calling (888)
612 2283.

Do you realize (or do you care?) that, for the first time since 1951, nobody from

 Penn State was taken in the NFL draft?

And, do you realize that this is the 100th anniversary of Belmont Park? The 50th

 anniversary of the Swaps-Nashua Derby? The 20th anniversary of Spend A

Buck's Derby? And the 10th anniversary of Thunder Gulch's much-photographed Derby?

Since it seems that I covered Belmont for most of those 100 years, here are my

 five most memorable Belmont moments:

1) The Affirmed-Alydar Belmont

2) Secretariat's Belmont

3) Victory Gallop's Belmont

4) Proper Reality's Met Mile

5) Crafty Starlet's maiden win

On the other hand, the worst Belmont moment was Mike Venezia's fatal spill. Seventeen

 years later, it's a nightmare that won't go away.

And the second worst Belmont moment was Ron Turcotte's fall that left him paralyzed.

Please, don't think for a moment that Worst Moment No. 3 begins to compare

with Venezia and Turcotte...but, if you were at the Belmont Stakes last

 June -- in the words of Erasmus Hall classmate Neil Diamond --you know

what I mean.



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