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May 13, 2005

RACING TODAY

By: JOHN PIESEN


Just what were the odds that the Wood Memorial, Blue Grass Stakes and

Santa Anita Derby winners -- plus Rockport Harbor -- would not make the Preakness?

Perhaps not as high as a Giacomo-Closing Argument Derby exacta, but a

lot higher than Elvis and James Dean bios going head-to-head on TV last night.

But the fact remains that when they run the Preakness a week from Saturday,

 Bellamy Road (popped splint), Bandini (ankle chip) and Buzzards Bay (whatever?)

 won't be involved.

Bellamy Road's connections hope to make the Travers, and when and if the

 Boss Hoss makes it back, he will certainly have a new rider. Javier Castellano

did not good marks for having BR too close to the rabbit in the Derby.

Let me see now. Do you think Jerry Bailey will be available?

Ten days ago, the tabloids were comparing Bellamy Road to Secretariat and

Seattle Slew. The only comparison I can see with Slew comes from the late

great horse-trainer Phil Johnson.

Years back, shortly after trainer Billy Turner and jockey Jean Cruguet were fired

 by the Slew Crew, PG said: "Now that they fired the trainer and the rider,

who's next? The horse?"

Same deal with Bellamy Road.

With that in mind, I picked up the phone yesterday and dialed Michael Dickinson.

 Always a pleasure to talk horses with Iron Mike. After some idle chit chat, I got

down to serious business.

JP: Let's talk about Bellamy Road.

MD: No comment.

End of conmversation. A disappointing conversation.

But I can't blame Mike. Iron Mike is a businessman. And, as such, he looks forward

 to doing more business with the Boss in the future.

And the Boss is a regular reader of my various websites.

The other question I'm asking horsemen is "Is Afleet Alex over the top?"

We all saw what a terrific race Alex (my pick...and the right pick, although I picked

 Giacomo fifth) in the Derby, but it was obvious that Alex got tired in the last

100 yards. Even Jeremy Rose, who rode a perfect race, admitted as much.

Afleet Alex's race in fact reminded me of the little girl who lost her life to cancer,

 and left Alex's Lemonade Stand as her legacy. Both Alexes showed remarkable

courage in the face of overwhelming odds.

But the fact remains: Did Afleet Alex's 3-year-old campaign peak at the eighth

pole at Churchill Downs, or will he move on, and win the Preakness, for which

 he will be a short-priced favorite?

"Watch what Afleet Alex does between now and the Preakness," trainer Greg Sacco

 advises. "He likes to work fast before his races. If he does so next week, that's a

 good sign. If not, then maybe he topped out at the Derby."

It was Sacco who put me on Afleet Alex in the first place.

The day after Alex won first-pop at Delaware Park last summer, Sacco told me

 at his Monmouth Park barn that Alex's owners were offered --and turned

 down -- $1 million before the horse was unsaddled.

That put Alex on my radar screen then and there, and he's never been off that

screen -- well, maybe for a few days after he got that lung infection in the Rebel.

There was an interesting photo in the paper yesterday. It was a Bellamy Road

 shot turning for home, but the real story of the picture was Afleet Alex. You could

 see jockey Rose's eyes pointing straight ahead, eyeballing an opening between

High Fly and Bellamy Road.

But the hole snapped shut, and Rose then had to angle Alex outside Bellamy Road

for racing room. I have to think if that hole didn't close, Alex wins the race.

But take nothing from Giacomo. He had a stop-and-start race himself under

Mike Smith, and when the seam opened eight-wide near the furlong grounds, he took

 advantage, and turned the racing world upside down.

Personally, I was not surprised that Giacomo won the Derby. My faithful readers will

recall that I confidently picked him in the Santa Anita Derby, and that he was the second

 horse I mentioned in my pre-Derby column in this space last week.

But, like everone else, I entirely missed the Holy Bull angle. While the media was

huddling 10 deep outside Fort Zito all week, no one (yes, myself included) nailed

the story line that Mike Smith had the chance to gain revenge for his gut

wrenching loss on Holy Bull in the '94 Derby on the Bull's look alike gray son.

And, who would have thunk of the Holy Bull exacta: a son of Holy Bull, and the winner

 of the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

"I felt," Jimmy Croll, Holy Bull's trainer, said at a Monmouth pre-opening press

conference Tuesday, "...that that was my horse winning the Derby. I was thrilled

 to death."

Speaking of that lunch, Ed Barney, a long-time Jersey horseman, told me a Mike Smith

 story that I'll pass on here...a story that shows what kind of a guy Smith is.

Said Barney:

"This was back in the mid-'80s at The Meadowlands. It was a cold, miserable rainy

night in November. Mike had just won the stake, and, as he was getting his picture

 taken, he found out that a jock took off a horse in the last race -- a cheap claimer.

"The trainer of that horse was Glenn Hild, who was one of those trainers who gave

Mike a start years back in the southwest. Mike went right to Glenn Hild, and told him

he'd be happy to ride his horse.

"So instead of wining and dining upstairs in the VIP room, there was Mike out there

on the race track riding a no-chance 20-1 shot in the rain in a cheap claimer.

"I don't remember how the horse did, but it doesn't matter. It just shows what kind

of a guy Mike Smith is. I'm really happy to see him get his Derby."

Amen.

I'd be the last person to want to spend someone else's money, but wouldn't it be

 great if Mike Smith and/or the Mosses would contribute part of their Derby winnings

 to Alex's Lemonade Stand?

Just imagine the good will that would engender.

Otherwise, the best line of that Monmouth press conference came from Joe Bravo.

Asked by emcee Dave Johnson to name his best memory of winning last year's $1

 million Haskell Invitational on Lion Heart, Jersey Joe replied:

"...cashing the check!"

Bravo, back in good health, is l-9 to win his 11th riding title at Monmouth, which

opens Saturday (my full-card picks will be available at www.NationalRaceMasters.com),

 and, mark down May 28 on your Monmouth racing calendar.

That's the day that Monmouth will be giving away Joe Bravo bobblehead dolls.

Speaking of the Haskell, look for Rockport Harbor to show up.

"If all goes well," trainer Servis told me this week, "we will look at the Long Branch and

the Haskell for Rocky."

Servis also mentioned that Round Pond, the winner of the Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park,

 took sick after the race, and will miss the Black Eyed Susan next Friday at Pimlico.

"The filly is fine now," Servis said, "and we'll point her for the (June 4) Acorn at

 Belmont." That's the race that Fantasy runnerup Island Sand won last year.

One more newsy note about Servis.

You'll recall that I mentioned in this space a couple of weeks back that I arranged a meeting between Servis and Ed Sexton, the Boss' farm manager.

Sexton soon will soon send two 2-year-olds to Servis at Philadelphia Park. Servis also

 will be getting a pair of 2-year-olds (by Gilded Time and Maria's Mon) from Pin Oak Farm,

 and two (by More Than Ready and Brahms) from Vinery Farm.

Needless to say, these folks are not giving Servis bad horses.

Back to the Derby...

Terry Finley's West Point Stable didn't have a horse in the Derby, but Finley, a West Point

 graduate, was one of the big winners that day. He brought 400 Iraq-bound soldiers

from Fort Campbell to the Derby, and the boys had the time of their lives.

There were many losers, including 98 per cent of the bettors. Most took their beatings

 gracefully. Some did not.

Columnist Andy Beyer said that this Derby "will rank among the worst Derbies of

recent decades". And the deskman's headline was: "By any standard, this Derby was a dud."

I have to dissent. With nine horses having a shot at the quarter-pole, this was one of

 the most exciting Derbies in memory.

And whose fault was it that the horse with the 120 Beyer number finished seventh?

Along the same lines, here's an excerp from Jay Conley's ESPN post-Derby column:

"The national horseracing experts failed on a scale seldom seen in sports history. Two

 experts on national television said that Bellamy Road was the next Seattle Slew. Others

 said that he was extra special. It was as though the 120 Beyer number made anything else unworthy of the average expert's intelligence.

"The lead handicapper for a popular cable TV network offered a pick four ticket that

 used 11 horses, hitting none, a feat previously thought to be impossible. Expense

account bar tabs are flying at half mast."



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