May 20, 2005
Daily Racing Best Bets
By: JOHN PIESEN
Who will be this year's Louis Quatorze?
Back in 1996, Louis Quatorze from trainer Zito finished 16th in the Kentucky Derby without lifting a proverbial hoof. A week later, he was the first Preakness horse on the grounds at Pimlico, and two weeks later, he won the Preakness wire to wire by three-plus lengths over Hall of Famer Skip Away.
Trainer Zito has three Derby also-rans going in this year's Preakness, and any one of the three -- Sun King, High Fly or Noble Causeway -- indeed may qualify as a modern-day Louis Quatorze.
Then again, it may be High Limit, who neglected to beat a horse at Louisville, but gets Prado, blinkers, and trainer Frankel's word that he will send him. Or it might be Greeley's Galaxy. But you need to wonder why jockey Desormeaux -- for years the main man at Pimlico -- couldn't wait to take off. Or it could be Wilko, who ran OK in the Derby despite a bloody nose.
Certainly, in view of the confounding (at least to most observers of the racing scene) Derby result, Saturday's Preakness is crying for the second coming of Louis Quatorze.
From a personal perspective, the '96 Preakness was one for the archives.
As a Racing Form correspondent, I was assigned to write the race leads on the five supporting stakes that afternoon at Pimlico.
At 3 p.m., I got a call from my editor.
"Hey, Piesen," he said, "...while you're there, you may as well give us the Preakness lead. You'll have five minutes."
As I hung up the phone, I realized one thing. Joe Hirsch, my esteemed colleague and a living legend, had written every Triple Crown race lead for DRF for the last 20 years.
Talk about big shoes to fill. And five minutes to fill them.
I'd been in the business a while, and I was accustomed to writing on deadline. But this was different. This was a Triple Crown race, and I was being asked to deliver Grade 1 copy in five minutes. Which meant three.
Don't mind saying I was scared to death.
Luckily for me, the Preakness went off without a hitch. Louis Quatorze and Skip Away ran one-two all the way around the racetrack. And nothing else ran a lick or got in trouble. The lead wrote itself.
But then again I guess my piece wasn't that terrific. The Form never again asked me to write a Triple Crown lead.
But back to this year's Preakness. Aside from who will be this year's Louis Quatorze, the key question is:
Is Afleet Alex over the top?
After all, Alex will be favored -- at about 8-5 -- and the consensus of opinion is that the race is Alex's to win or lose.
I mentioned in this space last week that we need to watch carefully how Alex trains up to the Preakness.
Well, now we have our answer. Alex did his usual two-a-days jogs and gallops through yesterday, but no more. And, of more significance, Alex will not have a work for the Preakness.
You'll recall that Alex breezed a bullet :46 four days before the Arkansas Derby, which he won by eight, and breezed :58 and :59 bullets preparing for the Kentucky Derby, in which he ran lights out for third.
It was obvious Alex ran out gas the last 100 yards of the Derby. And jockey Rose, who is so refreshingly honest, admitted as much.
Five races in 10 weeks. Physical problems, some documented, some not. The frequent two-a-days. No work between the Derby and the Preakness.
There is no bigger fan of Afleet Alex than this writer, but I have to wonder just how much gas Alex has left in the tank.
Especially at 8-5.
The Pimlico linemaker says he plans to make Alex the 5-2 favorite for the Preakness, with High Fly the second choice at 9-2, and Giacomo the third choice at 6-1.
Two points here:
1) How can the man make a morning line before the draw? The outside is a killer going two-turns at Pimlico. In fact, in the last 15 runnings of the Preakness, horses breaking from post eight and beyond are
an unsightly 4-for-101.
2) Where's Closing Argument? The last I looked, Closing Argument beat High Fly by eight lengths in the Derby...and from post 18 no less. I know there's the Bailey factor, but if High Fly goes off shorter than Closing Argument, I'll give up my first born.
Hey, in case you don't think I know what I'm talking about, check out my Monmouth Park
selections for last Sunday on www.nationalracemasters.com.
I checked it out.
In race four, I nailed the $75.60 exacta on a $2 box.
In race five, I nailed the $11.60 exacta cold.
In race six, I nailed the $148.40 exacta box...and the $409.20 trifecta box. (the super paid $2,419.20, but I only make three picks a race).
In race seven, I nailed the $90.40 exacta box cold.
And in race eight, I had the $4.80 winner. Sorry.
That said, you need to check out my Pimlico full-card pix for Friday and Saturday on this website and national racemasters.com.
And for those of you in the Vegas area, I'll be talking Preakness Thursday at 2:00 p.m. (Vegas time) on the very popular Larry Grossman radio program on 1460 a.m.
And, trust me, I'll have some opinions on Friday's running of the Pimlico Special and the Return of Funny Cide.
They invited me back because I guess I did ok on the program two days before the Derby. At that time, they asked me for my Derby bomber. I gave them Giacomo. And they asked me for two Derby throwouts, and I gave them High Fly and High Limit.
My one mistake?
Asked if I liked the over or the under on the 2:02, I suggested the under.
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