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Jul 18, 2003

Daily Racing Best Bets

By: John Piesen

Saratoga opens next week. Seabiscuit opens next week. And the countdown has begun for Funny Cide vs. Empire Maker in the Travers. (Hopefully nothing goes wrong.)That’s the good racing news.For the bad news, one need look no further than tomorrow’s (July 16) editions of Daily Racing Form, the sport’s bible, and my employer for 20 years.It wasn’t so long ago that it was impossible to find a negative piece in the Form. That’s when the sheet was no more than a house organ.Need an example?Back in the early ‘90s, I was hacking away as the New Jersey correspondent for the Form when I got a strange call one cold winter morning in the Garden State Park press box. That, in itself, was unusual, because there were not that many phone calls coming into the Garden State press box.The caller said:“John, I can’t tell you my name, but I work on the backstretch, and you probably know me by sight. I’m calling you to tell you that Shug (McGaughey) is rehabbing in Minnesota. Check it out!”

I made some phone calls. Found out that, sure enough, Shug, the premier trainer in North America at the time, hadn’t been at the barn in days, and was nowhere to be found. Obviously, my Deep Throat call was legit. I called the bosses at the Form. Told them what I had. No big deal, they told me. Forget about it. I suspect that one reason was that Shug was (and is) the private trainer for the Phipps family, and the last thing the Form wanted to do was irritate the Phippses.So, instead of doing a Shug-rehab piece for page one, I knocked off an advance on the Vineland Handicap for page 24.Two months later, the Racing Times, launched that year to compete with the Form,. ran the biggest story in its brief history – an interview with Shug McGaughey upon his release from rehab. Screaming headlines. Page one. Fast forward to the present. Times have changed for the Form. The papertakes its shots. And that’s a good thing.

Look no further than the Letters to the Editor column last Sunday. The second letter was from Kurt Paseka, who, years back, did an excellent job penning the “Binocs” column for the New York Daily News.Said Paseka:“Here’s a typical day at the races:I bet on five-horse fields. Bobby Frankel wins at 3-5 with a no-fig rat who he’s had for a week. I’m past-posted by some computer twerp from Maryland. Then the mutuel clerks steal what little money I have left. And people want to talk about Jerry Bailey’s pants? Jockeys could all have rubber ducks glued to their heads for all I care. I’m one step closer to the bingo hall. Come on, one time, with G-4!”C’mon, Kurt. Say what you really mean!The point is not what Paseka says is true or isn’t true. You can make a case either way on several of his points. But the point is that the Form ran the letter. Somehow I don’t think the old Form would have done so.Now, back to tomorrow’s Form.

There are three pieces that I, as a devout follower of the game, find troublesome.

1) The connections of the New York-based Brooklyn Handicap winner Iron Deputy are sending the horse to Arlington for the Washington Park Handicap rather than run him in the Whitney at Saratoga.The reason, explains trainer Jimmy Jerkens, is that the owners, John and Susan Moore, “don’t want to run against Mineshaft and Medaglia d’Oro.”Wasn’t there a time when folks didn’t duck horse? If Jimmy’s dad, Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens, was scared of the other fellow’s horse, he never would have beaten Secretariat, Kelso, Buckpasser or Cicada. Hey, the Moores are good people. Last year they presented a shocked Rich Migliore a five-figure check the day after the Mig went down on Iron Deputy in the Jim Dandy. The Mig could have taken off Iron Deputy that day to ride Magic Weisner in the Haskell at Monmouth Park. With Mike Luzzi subbing, Magic Weisner finished second to War Emblem.It’s just too bad the Moores can’t show the same kind of sportsmanship this time, and run their good horse against the M&M boys in the Whitney. The game never used to get played this way.

2) Speaking of Jersey, the management of Monmouth Park and The Meadowlands plan to cut the purse structure in half – to $150,000 daily – this fall at those two tracks. The Form piece says that the Jersey horseman have to decide whether they want to run for cheaper purses or run less days. Word is that the Big M wants to conduct a mere three cards a week in October – presumably Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.Whatever happens, it’s obvious that Jersey racing is in deep trouble, and that’s a damn shame.

3) Since the 2004 Breeders’ Cup will be run at Lone Star Park, it’s not a good sign that the Form reports across-the-board declines – up to 10 per cent -- at its 2003 meet that ended last Sunday.Management blames the Iraq war and the sagging economy.

More likely, the bloom is off the rose. Another reason is that Cole Norman was 3-5 every race.Otherwise, my favorite racing story of the week came out of Monmouth. Mike Gill fired his go-to rider, Jeremy Rose, the day after Rose had the bad judgment to get himself disqualified on a Gill horse. (A bad call by the way). Then three days later, Victor Carrera, Rose’s replacement, also was fired.Last weekend, Jose Ferrer, who is having a terrific meet, signed a contract to ride first-call for Gill. For his sake, Ferrer better not screw up.Finally, congratulations all-around to Hollywood Park and its horsemen and customers for their heart-warming tribute to Laffit Pincay Jr. last weekend. In all my years covering racing, I have never met a finer gentleman than Laffit Pincay. Hopefully, he’ll stay in the game.

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