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Jul 10, 2003

Racing Today

By: John Piesen

Wouldn"t it be a great advantage for horseplayers if the connections of a racehorse had to make their game plan public?

It would be no big deal. Instead of the TV talking heads wasting our time with the pre-race drivel from the paddock, why don"t they just mike the trainers as they give instructions to their riders.

Hey, the heck with invasion of privacy. We bet billions on horse racing every year, and we have a right to know what"s going on. Would you make a baseball bet without knowing the starting pitchers, or a football game not knowing the quarterbacks?

All this is leading up to a review of last Saturday"s United Nations Handicap at Monmouth Park, one of only two Grade Ones on the New Jersey racing calendar.Seven were entered in the 11-furlong grass race - five closers, and two speed horses - The Tin Man and Balto Star.

When I handicapped the race in this space last Friday, I said I would love The Tin Man if Balto Star, 20-1 overnight, wasn"t in the race. I said that Balto Star would take the juice out of The Tin Man, and set the race up for one of the closers, notably the uncoupled Bob Frankel entry of Denon and Requete.It never occurred to me, or thousands of other players, that Mike Smith would rate The Tin Man and allow Balto Star an easy lead. I presume those were the orders from Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella, who is no fool. He figured he had Frankel to beat, not a 37-1 shot.

But Balto Star was no ordinary 37-1 shot. I covered the 2001 Arkansas Derby which Balto Star won for fun on the lead, and I"ve since followed his career closely, and have torn up a lot of tickets on him. Simply put, when Balto Star makes an easy lead, it"s over.

That"s what happened in the U.N. Balto Star cruised three-quarters in "14 as Smith strangled The Tin Man back off the pace, and, at 37-1, he held off the cavalry through the lane to win by a half-length.

For winning rider Jose Velez Jr. (who was identified as Roger Velez in the press, it was his first Grade 1 in 20 years. And he got the mount only because regular rider John Velazquez couldn"t be bothered to make the trip from Long Island.

As for Smith, he said, in so many words: "I guess I screwed up."

And, the funny thing is, if they ran the race again next week, nothing would change. The world-class riders in the race -- Smith, Bailey, Prado, Day, Sellers - would all take back off Jose Velez Jr.

If you want to accuse me of red-boarding, that"s OK. But the point I"m making is that the 2003 United Nations wasn"t the first time thishappened - AND IT WON"T BE THE LAST TIME.

And here"s the kicker. Not only did the jock (Velazquez) not show up for the U.N., neither did the owners or the trainer. Bet they would have if they knew The Tin Man would take back.


This New York State vs. NYRA war is taking on a life of its own.

Last week, Donald Trump, in a full-page ad on the back page of the metro section of the New York Times, likened NYRA to Al Capone, and said that it would be sheer lunacy to give NYRA the keys to run slots.

The Donald just may have an ulterior motive here since he wants to be the one to run slots at the New York racetracks.

Now, this week, a group, billing itself as "The Many Friends of Terence J. Meyocks", took out a full page ad in the Form supporting the NYRA president against the many charges, including fudging expense accounts, outlined in the State Attorney General"s report charging NYRA with everything short of kidnapping the Lindbergh baby.

Again, let"s not take sides until all the information is in. But it"s fun to watch.Speaking of information, the New York Daily News already is posting odds for the first week of the NFL two months hence.

Not to nitpick but I find it interesting that the Giants are minus 1½ over the Rams, while, at the same time, the Rams are 6-1 in the futures and the Giants are 15-1. Yeah, I know. Home field.

But what do I know? When I was in Vegas last month, I accepted 6-1 on the Dolphins in the futures without blinking an eye. The lastI looked, the Dolphins are 10-1!

Finally, one would think that a baseball team with the winning tradition and history of the New York Yankees, would take more care choosing its announcers. Yeah, I know that Red Barber and Mel Allen aren"t available, but there has to be something out there better than John Sterling and Charley Steiner.

Sterling takes the most heat in the media, but Steiner, in only his second year on the job, has to be the biggest homer I"ve ever heard.

On July 4 at the Stadium, the Red Sox were leading, 5-2. Home fifth. Two on, none out, Ruben Sierra digging in."The Yanks are in great position to win this game," says Steiner. "I don"t care what the score is."

Next pitch. And I mean the next pitch. 4-6-3.

Final score, 10-3.

But, not to worry.

The game sold out.

"Isn"t it great," says Sterling, "to see all those fannies in the seats."

Very professional.

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