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Sep 02, 2005



Senior correspondent for

I'm sorry to sound negative, but there has been a lot to be negative about in horse

 racing in recent days.

At Saratoga...

The mainstream media has been rhapsodizing for days about the great race card

last Saturday. But as far as I'm concerned, when they run four major stakes

 back-to-back, would it be asking too much to see one good finish? One measly

good finish?

Was it a different lifetime when we'd see two horses hitting the wire as a team after

 a long stretch run? Or, better yet. An actual blanket finish?

When was the last time we saw a major race not decided at the eighth pole. OK. I'll

give you the Derby and the Whitney. What else?

And, despite all the hype, the Travers attracted a crowd of 42,000 people in

dead-perfect weather. In case you missed it, this was the smallest Travers turnout

 since 1989. Easy Goer's year. Now that was a blowout.

Management blamed the higher prices. Hello!

No matter how management wants to spin it, attendance is down -- way down -- at

 the Spa this year. On Sunday, with no giveaway, the crowd was 15,000, and, on

Monday, it was 12,000.

I don't know if there's a connection or not, but the caliber of racing is way down. Is

 this Saratoga or the Aqueduct inner track?

Then, of course, we had two incidents in the past few days in which the public was

not notified until the last minute about the addition of blinkers. And both horses won.

This game is tough enough when you get the information. There always has been

 a public be damned attitude. Now, it's worse than ever.

I'm sorry. I forgot. Management canned maitre'd Manny Alvarez for accepting a

$200 tip from two plainclothesman for getting them a table in the ground-floor

 clubhouse restaurant.

Manny, a NYRA employee for 49 years, merely pocketed the cash, like he -- and

every other captain at every other restaurant -- has been doing forever.

In this case, the tip could have been the usual $10 or $20. Manny didn't look to see

 what it was. When was the last time you saw a captain check out the bills?

The bottom line? Thanks, Manny, for 49 years!

That said, the biggest disgrace happened Sunday at Monmouth Park.

In case you missed it, and it's very possible you did, they ran the $190,000 Iselin

 Breeders' Cup Handicap that day at the Jersey track.

There was one good thing about the race. In attendance was one-month-old Philip

 Iselin, the great grandson of Philip Iselin, an original founding father of Monmouth

 for whom the race was named.

But that was it.

Where to begin?

The favorite at 6-5 was Purge, who will always be remembered as the horse who

 was once favored over Smarty Jones in the '04 Rebel at Oaklawn Park.

Purge wound up finishing third for trainer Todd Pletcher, beaten four lengths by

West Virginia, the $34.20 winner who just also happens to be trained by Todd Pletcher.

 Uncoupled entries are the scourge of the racing business, and when the 16-1 wins,

and the 6-5 runs third, which was the case this time, it sends all the wrong messages.

 And it happens all the time.

No way I'm inferring that Pletcher's motives were to cash a bet. But the sight of seeing him celebrating in the winner's circle while thousands of folks are tearing up tickets on Purge

is not a pleasant one.

Pletcher in fact said afterwards that the only reason he ran West Virginia in the Iselin

was because a desired allowance race for him the previous day didn't go.

But the real disgrace about the Iselin was the fact that West Virginia should have been

 DQd. At the eighth pole, West Virginia came out under a left-hand stick, and forced the

charging Zoffinger to check sharply. Zoffinger (65-1) got back to running, and was

coming at West Virginia at the end.

The crowd waited for the "stewards' inquiry" to go up, but it never did. Jockey King

claimed foul, which was summarily dismissed. The foul was blatant. The winner should

 have been DQd.

"It's a shame," Jimmy Iselin told me this morning. "It would have been great to see

Dennis Drazin (the owner of Zoffinger) win the race. No one has done more for New

Jersey racing than Drazin."

Jimmy Iselin, an owner-breeder-trainer in his own right, is the son of Philip Iselin.

As for Drazin, a prominent New Jersey-based attorney, he told me this morning that

he has filed an appeal to civil court asking the stews' decision be overturned.

"There's no question that the winner should have come down," Drazin said, "...and

 there's no question that if this race had been run in New York, the winner would have

 been DQd.

"Now, we can only wait for the appeals process to run its course. There have been

 instances here where the stewards' call was overturned.

"The pan shot they show the public wasn't that incriminating," Drazin said, "but you look

 at the rear shot and (the foul) was obvious. My horse got stopped cold, and lost all his

 momentum. He would have won otherwise."

Curiously, the Iselin was run one year to the day that the Saratoga stewards permitted

 Lady Tak to stand in the Ballerina although her rider whacked the oncoming My Trusty Cat

 in the face with the stick.

Jerry Bailey rode Lady Tak that day, and John Velazquez rode My Trusty Cat. Bailey

convinced the stewards he and his filly did no wrong.

The following morning, I dropped over to see Wayne Lukas, and get his opinion of the race.

"John," he said, "I'll tell you one thing. If I'm ever up for murder, I don't want F. Lee Bailey defending me. I want Jerry Bailey."

PIESEN CUES: The most embarrassing moment of the weekend came as the horses--

 including Lost in the Fog -- were loading for the King's Bishop. An ESPN announcer shoved

a mike under the nose of Harry Aleo, the 80-something owner of Lost in the Fog, and

 asked him: "How does this compare with the Battle of the Bulge?"... A weekend highlight

 was watching a piece of the Dodgers-Astros game Sunday from LA. The home team wore

 the Brooklyn Dodgers' uniforms from 1955 (this is the 50th anniversary of the Brooks' Series triumph over the Yankees). Vince Scully called the game, and they used 1955 technology --

black and white, two cameras, etc. It was great watch...Don't worry about pitcher Duke.

Yes, he is on the DL, but he will be back next week to hopefully make four or five more

starts for my beloved Buccos.

This is a scene that had to be seen to be believed. Last of the ninth at Fenway, the Tigers

 are up 12-8, two out, no one on, and Manny up. And the faithful are going nuts! Screaming

 their heads off, pounding on the walls. Manny strikes out. The noise stops.

I guess this is what being a fan is all about.

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