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Sep 30, 2005

RACING TODAY

By: JOHN PIESEN


Braulio Baeza and Angel Cordero Jr. belong on anyone’s list of top ten jockeys of

all time. In fact, I’m sure they would rank one-two in some minds.

Now, Baeza and Cordero are in the mainstream news, but for much different reasons.

I’m sad to say that Baeza, who has had nothing but hard luck since finishing his Hall

of  Fame career in the ‘70s, is looking at jail time for his role in the NYRA jockeys’

weights scandal.

On the other hand, Cordero, who certainly has had his share of ups and downs since

 catastrophic injuries forced him to stop riding in the late ‘80s, is -- at age 58 -- coming

 out of retirement to ride one race for Eclipse trainer Todd Pletcher this Saturday at

Philadelphia Park.

When the story of Cordero’s comeback broke two weeks ago, Pletcher said that Cordero

would ride two stakes for him Saturday at Philly Park. – Indian Vale in the Cotillion, and

Yes Yes Yes in the Gallant Bob.

Now it’s down to one – Indian Vale. Chris DeCarlo will ride Yes Yes Yes.

And, speaking of DeCarlo, Chris’ mother, Cindy DeCarlo, has volunteered to baby sit

Angel’s mother at the track that day. Like most mothers, Angel’s mom worries when

Angel rides. And she’s been extra nervous about this comeback. That’s the main reason

 why Angel hasn’t tried a comeback before. Angel has been galloping horses in the

morning for Pletcher, and he’s at his riding weight of 115 pounds.

I plan to be at Philly Park Saturday to cheer Angel on. I don’t know if he’d want be there

 or not. Actually, I’m quite certain that he doesn’t give a damn either way. But our lives

 crossed so many times over the years that I just feel I should be on hand just one

more time to see him do his thing.

You want Cordero stories. I’ll give you a couple. One pro. One con.

The pro…

One quiet weekday back in the early ‘80s, as the racing writer for the New York Post, I

got a phone tip in the Belmont press box that Cordero, the No. 1 rider in the world at

the time,  planned to fly up to Saratoga that evening to comfort a terminally-ill boy who

 worshipped him.

I told Angel in the paddock that I knew about his plan, and asked him if I could string

along on the trip.

“Yes, you can,” Cordero told me, “but on one condition. You don’t write it. This is

about the boy and me.”

And so we flew a private plane (not cheap) out of Kennedy, and met the boy in the

dining room at the Saratoga harness track. Angel brought whips, helmets, and all kinds of souvenirs to the kid, and stayed for dinner with the kid and his family.

Hours later, Angel gave the kid a big hug, said goodbye, and we flew back to Kennedy.

 Not a dry eye in sight.

The con…

Cordero hated criticism. Always has. And since colleague Ray Kerrison and myself were

 virtually the only ones writing racing in New York the ‘80s, most of the criticism directed

 at Angel came from the Post. There was plenty to criticize. Heaven knows Angel had

 his faults, both on and off the racetrack. But, then again, who doesn’t?

One day I made my once-a-day walk to the Aqueduct jocks’ room…only to find a rather

 large sign hanging over the front door.

The sign read: PRESS: KEEP OUT!

It didn’t take a physics major to figure out the identity of the person responsible for the

 sign, nor the identity of the person to whom it was directed. The sign still hangs there.

 The long-time open-door policy (before Cordero vs. Piesen) was changed forever. For

years now, the only time the press is allowed in the New York jocks’ room is to

interview riders after the stake.

For years, Braulio Baeza was a mainstay of the jocks’ room, and he always had a smile

 and a nice word for me. Once in a while we’d reminisce about his salad days when he

 rode every major horse and won every major race in North America.

Personally, I’m devastated that Baeza has been caught up in this scandal. I’ve talked to

 his friends, and they have no idea how this could have happened. After all, as the

assistant clerk of scales at the New York tracks, his only job was to follow orders from

 his boss, the clerk of scales. He had no authority. And I see no way he profited from his

alleged conspiring to report wrong weights.

The New York Daily News and the Saratogian are among the newspapers who have

blasted NYRA in the wake of the weights’ scandal. I’m just saying the last person who

 belongs in prison is Braulio Baeza.

In the meantime, do you notice that racing in Massachusetts, meaning Suffolk Downs, is

 on the brink of going over the cliff?

As is the case with so many racing venues, only the slots can save Suffolk Downs, and

Governor Romney is opposed to installing slots there. It seems the gov wants to run for

 president, and he wants to keep the anti-gambling elements happy.
  
There is more bad news in racing.

Stu Rubin, a horseplayer and a press box regular for most of his 51 years, suffered a

fatal heart attack at a New York OTB parlor.

I know you are supposed to say only nice things those who have passed away, especially

 long before their time, but Stu, known far and wide as “Beef”,  was as good as it gets

 in racing circles.

A nice guy with a heart of gold.

Stu loved the action. But only sprints. If they had to go more than six furlongs, Stu

would sit it out, and talk mostly about his bad luck with women.

Another guy who likes the action is Mike Quinn.

Anybody involved in New York sports the last 30 years knows Mike Quinn. Before

computers, the press filed its copy with Quinn Communications. And, for the most part,

 Mike knew more about what was going down on the track or on the field than the

guy writing. I know he caught hundreds of my mistakes, and I know he saved at least a

 couple of guys their jobs.

Among Mike’s closest pals were  Sonny and Tom Werblin, Dave Johnson,

Allen Gutterman…and this writer.

Mike recently was diagnosed with bladder cancer. He has a young wife, two beautiful young children, and a lifetime of good things ahead of him, He deserves your prayers.



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