AN ANGRY MAN
by John Piesen
It takes a lot to make me angry. But I got angry Sunday afternoon when Fabulous Strike was scratched from the $200,000 Tom Fool Stakes at Belmont Park.
No...not due to a physical issue.
But because he might lose.
What's going on here?
Only in racing could this happen. And does happen.
In baseball, could the Reds scratch because they might lose to the Phils? Or in football, could the Bills scratch because they might lose to the Patriots?
Don't think so.
But on Sunday afternoon, Todd Beattie, the trainer of Fabulous Strike, the top-ranked sprinter in North America, called the Belmont Park racing office to put in a scratch...with the following explanation:
"Fabulous Strike is doing great. (But) I have a lot of respect for Munnings, and we are giving him 11 pounds. With the difference in weight, drawing the one-hole, and going seven furlongs, we just felt there wasn't a lot working in his favor."
Let's give Beattie points for honesty. But by all means let's give him a big fat zero for sportsmanship. If every trainer took the same approach, there would be no horse racing.
The sport of kings?
More like the sport of wussies.
And we're not even talking about the hundreds who went to Belmont that day to see a champion. Or the thousands who were prepared to bet Fabulous Strike straight and in the gimmicks.
And the kicker is not a single voice cried out in the racing media...or what's left of the racing media.
Yes, Munnings probably would have beaten Fabulous Strike Sunday. But that's not the point. The point is that Fabulous Strike was scratched because his trainer felt there was a chance that Munnings indeed would beat him.
And what does that say for our sport?
Interesting that Beattie, like most horsemen, acknowledge that post one on the main track at Belmont Park is a death trap.
I pointed out in this space last Friday that Warrior's Reward was a vulnerable favorite in the next-day Dwyer Stakes at Belmont because of the one-hole. And we saw what happened.
Sent off at 4-5, Warrior's Reward broke a step slow, fell to his knees, and dropped 20 lengths back. He did good to close for third.
This is nothing new. In fact as far back as the late '70s, I recall trainer John Veitch scratching Calumet champion filly Before Dawn from a mile stake at Belmont because she drew the one-hole.
And Before Dawn, like Fabulous Strike, would have gone favored.
A reminder: You don't want post one either in one-turn races on the main track at Saratoga.
On a more pleasant note, kudos to old buddy George Steinbrenner. The Boss celebrated his 79th birtday on Sunday with a double victory. Evolutionist, a 3-year-old colt bred and owned by Steinbrenner and trained by Bill Mott, won race 11 at Belmont Park. The colt is by El Prado out of Dream Supreme, The Boss's multiple stakes-winning mare. Then the Yankees beat Toronto in twelve innings.
Speaking of El Prado, just when we were thinking that Edgar Prado was playing the back nine of his career, he craftily booted home a pair of upset winners in Saturday stakes at Belmont -- Kensei at $15.40 in the Dwyer, and Dry Martini at $23.60 in the Suburban.
There were 14 graded stakes run nationally Saturday and Sunday...and Dry Martini (who topped a $67 exacta for JP Hot Line players) and Kensei produced the biggest win mutuels in those 14 races. Otherwise, the favorite won nine...including five-for-five (Munnings included) on Sunday.
Speaking of the Suburban, I suggested in this space, as well as on the Oaklawn Park radio/internet program, that Oaklawn Handicap winner It's A Bird, the morning-line favorite, was a play-against in the 400K Suburban.
One reason: jockey Leparoux abandoned It's a Bird for Informed Decision in a 150K stake at Arlington Park.
Obviously Leparoux knew what he was doing. It's A Bird checked in seventh (as the second choice to Asiatic Boy) in the Suburban...while Informed Decision won the Chicago race from here to Gary, Ind., for Long Jon Sheppard.
Incidentally, you don't want to bet against Informed Decision next month in the Ballerina at Saratoga.
Speaking of jockeys, I must confess that I'm a little late (like two years) discovering the talents of jockey Rajiv Maragh. On Sunday for example, Maragh scored a triple on Caesar Beware, Even Raise, and Dos Hombres (an $8.10 Hot Line special), and in each case, Maragh was the difference.
Maragh never seems to mail in a race, and looks to be in the mold of Cordero and Pincay as a finisher.
Now let's see. Maragh currently stands second to Dominguez in the Belmont standings with 50 winners from 284 mounts (18 per cent), and rides seven -- including several major players -- on Wednesday.
Would not be surprised to see this rider have a breakthrough meet at Saratoga.
And Mott, traditionally a main-event player at Saratoga, looks to be sitting on a big Spa meet. Ten minutes after Evolutionist won on Saturday at Belmont, Mott sent out Belmont shipper Mr. Sidney to win the 150K Firecracker Handicap on the Churchill grass.
But the grass star of the day clearly was Presious Passion.
The world knew that Presious Passion was the controlling speed of the United Nations at Monmouth Park, a race he won last year, but who knew that PP would open 20 lengths on his field in the first quarter-mile?
The players were screaming at jockey Trujillo to slow down, but Elvis wasn't paying attention. PP kept going thru :45 1/5 and 1:09 4/5 fractions while the contention was bunched up somewhere in the next county.
Turning for home, the lead was 13 lengths...and something would have had to grow wings to catch Presious Passion. That didn't happen, and moments later trainer Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was talking Breeders' Cup in the winner's circle.
Props to horse, jockey and trainer...and shame on me for trying to beat 'em.
Finally, kudos to Gozzip Girl for winning the 700K American Oaks Saturday at Hollywood Park, a race won last year by Pure Clan, who will be very tough to beat this Saturday in the Modesty Handicap at Arlington.
Thanks for tuning in. See you back here Friday for a detailed look at the weekend's stakes fare.
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