ANOTHER DERBY PREP SATURDAY AHEAD
by John Piesen
The Bob Baffert-trained The Program, a recent allowance winner, drew the one-hole for the Sham Stakes for 3-year-olds Saturday at Santa Anita. But, in this case, the one is a good thing because the Sham is a two-turner.
At this point, The Program stands fourth in the Baffert pecking order of Kentucky Derby prospects -- behind Lookin at Lucky, Conveyance and Tiz Chrome.
And since trainer Pletcher may run six in the Derby, and since trainers Lukas and Zito, between them, boast at least five Derby hopefuls, we are looking at a potentially awkward situation on the first Saturday of May.
Namely, if the Big Four run say a combined 15 in the Derby, that would leave all of five spots in the gate for the rest of the free world.
Hey, I'm not saying that's going to happen.
It's just a thought.
There is not a single graded stakes-winner to be found in the Sham, but the 10-horse field includes some promising colts from high-profile barns, notably Nextdoorneighbor, Outlaw Man, Alphie's Bet, Kettle River and Setsuko.
Outlaw Man will be making his stakes and plastic debut for trainer McPeek, who has a better one in the barn in Noble's Promise, the top dog in my current Derby Top Ten.
A son of Forest Wildcat, Outlaw Man required four races to break his maiden, but was impressive doing so on the grass at the nine-furlong distance of the Sham.
It pays to note that jockey Gomez, always with his choice of mounts, takes the call on Outlaw Man, who is drawn well in post four.
Richard Mandella, who you may recall had '09 Derby winner Mine That Bird in the barn for one race a year back, believes he has a genuine Derby '10 prospect in Setsuko. He'll know for sure by sundown Saturday.
Sham, second to Secretariat among the 1970 foal crop, was trained throughout his career by Frank (Pancho) Martin. And it's nice to see that Frank is still doing business some 37 years later, and winning his share of races in New York for owner Jo Beth Scovazzo.
There is also a stake for 3-year-olds -- the Mountain Valley -- Saturday at Oaklawn Park, but it's doubtful the six-furlong race will produce a Derby horse.
But you never know.
Back in 2005, a nice colt named Afleet Alex won the Mountain Valley, and all he went on to do was run third in the Derby, win the Preakness and Belmont, and the 3-year-old championship.
And, here we are, five years later, and Dublin -- a 525K son of Afleet Alex -- is a major player on the Road to the Triple Crown.
Following a closing second in the Southwest last week, Dublin will go next in the Rebel Stakes on March 13 at Oaklawn Park, and the competition will include Super Saver, who will be making his season debut for Pletcher.
But Calvin Borel, who won the Kentucky Jockey Club on Super Saver by five lengths back in November, won't get to ride SS back.
Seems Calvin will have a conflict that day. He will be at Fair Grounds to ride a nice filly named Rachel Alexandra in her 4-year-old debut.
The Toddster no doubt will have a worthy substitute in John Velazquez. And you can be assured, I'll be ready with my 1-2-3 selections on both the Sham and the John Battaglia at Turfway Park.
GULFSTREAM OFFERS MANY OPPORTUNITIES
Three filly stakes -- the Sabin, Davona Dale and The Very One -- are on the 10-race docket, and all have full, competitive fields. Two morning-line favorites are 5-2, the other 7-2.
Compare that to the ill-fated Aqueduct feature on Saturday wherein Understatement was the 1-5 morning-line favorite from the one-hole in the five-horse Stymie, a one-time $100,000 stake now going for $65,000.
Heads-up to the Mad Bomber: The Stymie already has been re-scheduled for a week from Sunday (March 7).
Speaking of the one-hole, two of the more accomplished fillies in the Gulfstream stakes three-pack on Saturday had the misfortune to draw the one -- Justwhistledixie in the Sabin, and Amen Hallelujah in the Davona Dale.
That reminds me. Trainer John Veitch once entered Davona Dale against males in the one-mile Champagne at Belmont Park, but scratched when DD drew the dreaded one-hole.
SNOW CAUSING HAVOC AT THE BIG A
After a feeble attempt at shoveling my car out of the driveway on Friday morning, I sat down to handicap Saturday's $250,000 guaranteed Late Pick Four at Aqueduct.
After all, what better way to warm a horseplayer's cold, cold heart during a record blizzard than diving into a Late Four consisting of three maiden races -- two of them for New York-bred claimers -- and a dime-claimer for mostly 7-year-old geldings.
Got it nailed.
Then came the bad news on-line. Live racing at Aqueduct on Saturday has been cancelled. For the second straight day. Maybe they'll race on Sunday. Maybe not.
If you didn't get the memo, these are not the best of days for New York racing. It seems that the financially-strapped New York Racing Association will next week announce two major cost-cutting measures:
1) Shutting down the Aqueduct backstretch, and
2) Scrapping the Belmont detention barn.
Things have to be better racing-wise for our neighbors across the Hudson.
Well, maybe not.
An article in Friday's editions of the Newark Star Ledger confirms earlier reports that:
1) The Monmouth Park meet this year will be trimmed from its usual 90-odd racing days to 50 days, and
2) There no longer will be thoroughbred racing at The Meadowlands.
What's more, Monmouth will race a mere three days a week (Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays...plus three Monday holidays), down from its traditional five-day schedule.
No matter how you spin it, none of this is good news for the folks who own, train, ride and groom horses, nor for those who bet their money on them. At least for the players, thanks to the wonders of simulcasting, there will be no shortage of action.
Get more articles by John Piesen here...