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Jul 25, 2003

Racing Today

By: John Piesen

These are good times for our favorite sport. "Seabiscuit" opened to glowing reviews (even Steve Crist and Andy Beyer didn"t hate it). A record crowd of 40,000 came out for opening day at Del Mar. More than 30,000 came through the turnstiles on the second day at Saratoga to get their Edgar Prado bobble-heads and watch seven favorites roll home. Look for NYRA to announce a crowd of 60,000 for Sunday when it gives away Seabiscuit mugs, and, if all goes well, there actually will be 60,000 fannies in the seats when Funny Cide and Empire Maker hook up in the Travers on Aug. 23. Monmouth Park is looking for a record crowd a week from Sunday when Funny Cide goes in the Haskell, and the race took on more juice yesterday when Sky Mesa came aboard. Speaking of Prado, Edgar made this columnist look good (Prado Da Man) when he went out and rode four winners on opening day at the Spa. And, on the left coast, Julie Krone continued her remarkable comeback when she rode her first first Del Mar stakes-winner on opening day, and was hauled into the winner"s circle by on wrestler Goldberg"s shoulders as the crowd cheered wildly. The only down note of the week came on opening day at the Spa when writing icon Joe Hirsch took a fall in the press box, and fractured his right clavicle. Joe was released from Saratoga Hospital on Thursday, and hopes to get back into action by the Travers.God speed, Joe.

TEST STAKES (Saratoga)As for Saturday"s stakes races, the lineup is topped by the seven-furlong Test Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at the Spa. The 2002 Test, in which You nipped Carson Hollow under a sensational ride by Bailey, was the stakes highlight of the meet, and Saturday"s renewal may provide similar fireworks.The Test is basically a rerun of the Acorn, six weeks back at Belmont. On that day, Bird Town enjoyed a perfect trip, and hung on by a head over Lady Tak, who had an awful trip. Final Round was wide throughout closing for third, beaten a length.Bird Town draws the outside for the Test, a huge plus, and will vie for favoritism with Lady Tak, who"s down in the two-hole. That"s Prado vs. Bailey, a scenario we will witness on a regular basis for the next six weeks. That said, I"ll take a shot with Final Round. She runs well for Day, she"s getting two pounds from the favorites, she cuts back to seven - her favorite distance - off an OK third in the Mother Goose, and she"ll get a fast pace. I"ll take the Storm Cat filly at aprice, and use her over the two chalks.

PIESEN"S PICK: 1) Final Round 2) Lady Tak 3) Bird Town

DIANA HANDICAP (Saratoga)My most unforgettable memory of the Diana Handicap is not a pleasant one. On a late August night back in 1998, the main topic of discussion at the various Spa watering holes was the following afternoon"s running of the Diana Handicap. As I was leaving the Wishing Well restaurant with my party, there was a large crowd gathered around the TV set in the coat room. The people were gasping in horror as they watched live reports of Princess Diana"s fatal car crash in Paris.Five years later, they are running the Diana on the first Saturday of the meeting to complement the Test, and its $500,000 purse actually is twice that of the Test.I have to presume the Diana, being a Grade One, will stay on the grass, and, if it does, I have to like the Bobby Frankel-trained entry of Heat Haze and Pertuisane. Heat Haze is 3-for-3 for Frankel, including a pair of Grade Threes, gets Bailey and the rail. Pertuisane comes off a fast-closing second in the New York.If you can"t beat Frankel, you may as well join him.

PIESEN"S PICK: 1) Frankel entry 2) Wonder Again 3) Voodoo Dancer

BING CROSBY HANDICAP (Del Mar)We"ll find out today how good is Beau"s Town. I watched this Arkansas-bred destroy the best sprinters on the grounds the last two springs at Oaklawn Park, and I have felt right along that this could be a big-time horse nationally if given the chance.Here"s his chance. He gets the outside post, from which he can sit and stalk, and he gets top jock Valenzuela. Toss out his Saratoga race last summer. He was ailing going in and coming out. We"ll see the real Beau"s Town today.

PIESEN"S PICK: 1) Beau"s Town 2) Captain Squire 3) Disturbingthepeace

ARLINGTON HANDICAP (Arlington)In the Cardinal Stakes here a month back, Act of War (4-1) beat a troubled Mystery Giver (4-5) by two lengths. Mystery Giver was DQd from second to ninth for wiping out half the field at the start.For this race, Robby Albarado, one of the best grass riders on the planet, gives up a day at the Spa for the mount.

PIESEN"S PICK: 1)Mystery Giver 2) Act of War 3) Shaanmer

MODESTY HANDICAP (Arlington)It"s been a while since Bobby Barnett has come up with a good horse (remember Halo America?), but Flager looks the real deal. Graded stakes-placed in her native Argentina, she won her U.S. debut by 10 at Churchill despite blowing the break. Albarado takes the mount on Flager, who is getting serious pounds from main rivals Owsley and Bien Nicole.

PIESEN"S PICK: 1) Flager 2) Bien Nicole 3) Owlsey

SALVATOR MILE HANDICAP (Monmouth Park)Readers of this space know I"ve always been a big fan of Bowman"s Band from the barn of underrated trainer Michael Matz. Bowman"s Band has been second in the Oaklawn and Iselin handicaps, and comes into this race on top of his game. A short price with Jersey Joe.

PIESEN"S PICK: 1) Bowman"s Band 2) Dhaffir 3) Highway Prospector

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