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Jun 10, 2005

RACING TODAY

By: JOHN PIESEN


I'm sorry. Try as hard as I can, I can not work up a lather about the

 Belmont Stakes. I planned to make the commute to Belmont Park this morning

in the '90s heat for the post position draw/breakfast. It's a trip I've made maybe

8,000 times. The Goethals. The SIE. The Verrazzano. The Belt Parkway. The

Cross Island.

After all, I thought I should be there. If nothing else, to hear Nick Zito talk of God,

country and Iraq. But if ever there was a race in which post positions mean nothing,

 it's this one. And, moreover, a freebie meal doesn't do it for me. Personally, I'd

rather go for the pastrami/corned beef combo at Harold's Deli in the neighborhood.

Plus what more can I learn about Afleet Alex than I did spending three months with

Team Alex in Hot Springs? I knew back in February the horse was a star. You might

 remember I wrote in this space back then that the two best 3-year-olds on the

planet were Rockport Harbor and Afleet Alex. There were based 50 yards apart at

Oaklawn Park, and I, for one, at the time couldn't separate them.

Rockport Harbor remains on the shelf due to physical problems, but now the whole

 world knows that Afleet Alex is the best. I did think that Alex would start to wear

 down by this point, but now trainer Ritchey is talking about running the colt this

summer in the Haskell and Travers.

Alex is a machine. And he is a great story for racing. It's hard to top the

Smarty Jones yarn, but Afleet Alex -- as a symbol in the fight against pediatric

cancer -- comes close.

That said, it is very difficult for me to get worked up about the Belmont. It's not

enough to have a great horse to make a great race. Maybe, just maybe, there is

another Coastal or Sarava lurking out there, but it's doubtful.

Have you ever seen a Triple Crown race which included a mere three graded

 stakes-winners? But that's what we are looking at: Afleet Alex, Giacomo -- and

Southern Africa, the winner of the Grade 3 Lone Star Derby.

That reminds me. Back in March, Southern Africa was booked on a flight from

 southern California to Hot Springs for the Rebel, but his connections backed out.

 They wanted no part of Afleet Alex, Rockport Harbor, and Greater Good.

So where have all the 3-year-olds gone?

Six weeks back, I was reading that this Triple Crown group was the best in years.

 Now take a look at the Belmont field. Only three of the 20 horses who ran in

 the Kentucky Derby (Alex, Giacomo and Andromeda's Hero) have made it to the

 Belmont. And only two (Afleet Alex and Giacomo) of the 14 horses who ran in

 the Preakness made it to the Belmont.

For lack of anything better, the Belmont is being hyped as a rubber match between

the Derby and Preakness winners. But this is such a stretch. How can anyone want

 to bet serious money on Giacomo in view of the Preakness result? Alex beat

Giacomo 10 lengths that day, and it would have been 20 if Scrappy T. didn't get

in the way.

And so I ask where is the Blue Grass winner? The Wood winner? The Santa Anita

 Derby winner? The Florida Derby winner? The Louisiana Derby winner?

Hell, where is the Withers winner? I'll answer that one. The connections of

Scrappy T. decided they like the Virginia Derby more than the Belmont Stakes.

Speaking of the Wood winner, I talked to Ed Sexton, George Steinbrenner's point

 man for Bellamy Road, the other day, and, unlike his NBC appearance from the

 Derby paddock, Sexton had much to say.

JP: How is Bellamy Road doing?

ES: He's doing great. He just had the shin pin-fired, and he'll go back in training

with Nick next week at Saratoga, and point for the Travers.

JP: Beyond the shin, was there another reason for his Derby performance?

(BR finished seventh as the fave).

ES: The horse completely freaked out in the paddock. His eyes were bloodshot.

 He was sweating a storm. He was a wreck. The paddock was a zoo. I can't

understand why they let everyone in there. There was no room for the horses to walk.

JP: Do you still plan to send some 2-year-olds to John Servis?

ES: Yes. We've had some training setbacks here (in Ocala) due to the weather,

 but we will be shipping our 2-year-olds north by the end of June, and we plan

to send one or two good ones to John.

JP: I've read that you were unhappy with Castellano's ride. Will there be a

jockey change?

ES: True. There will be a new jockey on Bellamy Road, and we've already

got him. I'll tell you, John, but it's off the record.

(Off the record is off the record. But the reader won't need more than one guess.

 Remember that when down the road you see the page one story in the Form.)

By the way. How great would it be if Bellamy Road and Rockport Harbor make

it back, and, down the road, line up against Ghostzapper, Roses in May and

Afleet Alex in the Breeders' Cup?

Speaking of Steinbrenner, I figure this is not the best time to be talking to ol'

George. I don't feel sorry for the Boss, but I do worry about the announcers

who shill for him.

My favorite example occurred last night.

The Yanks are down, two-zip, to the hated Brewers when Giambi starts the ninth

 with a long fly to right, which is caught up against the fence.

Said the shill: "That would have been a home run in Yankee Stadium."

And the other day when Sheff botched a fly ball (which cost the Yanks the game),

 the shill called it "...a great try."

It's not easy working for the Boss when things aren't going that great.

And I have to wonder how long will it be before Vegas catches up to the Yankees.

 I'm sure this weekend when they go into St. Louis.

On the other hand, things are going great for Round Pond.

Last Saturday morning, I got a call from a friend who has an off-shore account,

 and they were offering 7-2 on Round Pond for the Acorn.

That's the best news since the exacta box I told him. Grab it. And indeed my

friend got lucky. The rest of us had to settle for $6.50. This filly, as the faithful

followers of this space, know is a freak. And we'll get to see her again in the

 Alabama at Saratoga if not sooner.

I'm assuming that Afleet Alex and Round Pond (not Round Pound as the NYRA

 gal told us) will wind up the season as 3-year-old champs. That means that

Oaklawn Park on Central Avenue, Hot Springs, will produce three champs in two years.

Yes, I hate to be patting myself on the back, but who else is going to do it?

Finally, don't you love these expert sports analysts on TV and in print who make

 their picks based exclusively on the home field?

I'm referring to folks like Theismann and Wilbon, who constantly tell us they

 like so-and-so because they are home. If only life was that simple.

These same folks are going to tell us that San Antonio is the right side in the

 NBA finals BECAUSE THEY'RE HOME!

Not that it matters, but ESPN produced a graphic this morning that Detroit has

 won its last three series in which it did not have home court.

Incidentally, it will be interesting to see how low Vegas can go with the total.

Finally, although I don't spend much time on harness racing in this space, I

just want to pay tribute to Gallo Blue Chip, who was retired last week at age 8

 after compiling a remarkable 53-19-9 record from 133 starts.

Gallo was -- I should say is -- a very special horse.



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