SUPER SUMMER WEEKEND
by John Piesen
Are you ready for some...horse racing?
Sure hope so.
Granted it will be a tough act to follow that Meadowlands race last Thursday when Man O' War came back from the grave to win a race before a cheering crowd-- at a $21 mutuel no less, but Saratoga and Monmouth Park sure are going to give it a try this weekend.
Despite an alarming dropoff in on-track attendance (7,000 on Monday; 12,000 on Wednesday) the quality of stakes racing remains unchanged at Saratoga.
Georgie's Angel, a filly named for the late George Steinbrenner, looked liked the best 2-year-old filly in the nation winning the opening-day Schuylerville. Overdriven, from Uncle Mo's people, looked like the Derby favorite (where have we heard that before?) taking the Sanford from here to Newburgh; Monday's state-bred stake produced a thrilling finish, and, on Wednesday, Winter Memories looked like a superstar circling from last at the head of the stretch to win the Lake Placid, and J Cs Pride, who had finished second to Overdriven in his Belmont debut, broke the 5 1/2-furlong track record in breaking his maiden.
This brings us to this weekend when the Spa will showcase the Jim Dandy and Diana on Saturday, the Ruffian on Sunday, and the long-awaited return of Lisa's Booby Trap in the new Rachel Alexandra Stakes on Monday.
And, lest we forget,Sunday is Baseball Cap Day, guaranteeing a "crowd" of 70,000-plus. We know this is a gig deal because lastweek the host on the "Racing from Saratoga" cable TV show declared that "it"s only eight days to Baseball Cap Day."
And, down the shore at Monmouth Park, on Sunday they will run the $1 million Haskell, matching the Preakness and Belmont winners.
Let's look at these races in chronological order:
The first thing I notice about the Diana is that Hall of Fame trainers Mott and Sheppard, who, between them, have won the last three runnings of the Diana, return with some new shooters -- Mott with Aviate (Leparoux) and Sheppard with Dyna Waltz (Prado).
Both can rumble.
The second thing I notice is there is a lack of early speed in this $500,000 Grade One for fillies and mares at nine furlongs...and, except for Winter Memories, both Spa grass courses are playing speed this young season.
The third thing I notice is that Joe Bravo is giving up a Saturday at his home base of Monmouth Park to ride Justaroundmidnight (at 20-1) for Biancone.
The fourth thing I notice is that Derby winner Motion is running the morning line favorites as an uncoupled entry: Aruna (3-1; Dominguez), and Unbridled Hunor (4-1, Johnny V.)
And the fifth thing I notice is that Giants Play (Maragh) and Zagora (Castellano), fresh from a dramatic one-two finish downstate in the New York Handicap, are double-digits.
That's how tough the Diana is to figure. For some help, you need to turn to the John Piesen Hot Line at 888 612 2283.
One dangerous outsider is Mekong Melody, if only for trainer Attfield, who has made a living swooping down from Canada to wreck havoc in New York.
THE JIM DANDY
Thirty minutes later, Stay Thirsty and Brilliant Speed, second and third, respectively, in the Belmont, square off again in the Jim Dandy, a $500,000 Grade 2 for 3-year-olds at nine furlongs, a major prep for the Travers on Aug. 27.
Castellano returns on Stay Thirsty, the 5-2 morning line favorite from post six in the field of seven, while Johnny V replaces Rosario on Brilliant Speed, the 7-2 third choice. I loved Brilliant Speed in the Belmont, but that was at a mile and a half over a course that favored closers, while the shorter Jim Dandy will be run over a surface that is favoring speed.
And, at 123 pounds, Brilliant Speed somehow must spot 2-to-6 pounds to his six rivals.
The speed in the Jim Dandy is Dominus, who wired the Dwyer downstate. He draws well in two for Asmussen and Leparoux, and no doubt will be dangerous if allowed to be loose on the lead.
Two dangerous invaders from the Central Time Zone are Alternation, who gave trainer Von Hemel is first-ever New York winner in the Peter Pan, and Scotus, the Matt Winn Stakes winner at Churchill Downs for trainer McPeek.
Dominguez and Alan Garcia are the respective riders.
There's also a sharp Canadian shipper in this race -- Moonshine Mullin, making his dirt debut for trainer Baker in the wake of a victory last month in the Victoria Stakes at Woodbine.
Emma Wilson, Canada's premier female rider, makes her Spa debut on MM, who will break from the rail as the 117-pound lowweight. Look no further than the Delaware Handicap two weeks back to remind how important the weights are.
The thinking is that if Shackleford or Ruler On Ice should win the Haskell, he becomes the pro-tem leader of the 3-year-old division since he would be the lone dual-Grade One winner in the clubhouse.
But if -- and that's a big if - something else in field of eight going in the nine-furlong Sunday headliner should jump up and win, then it's back to square one.
That "something" well may be Coil from the barn of five-time Haskell winner Bob Baffert.
The fifth Haskell winner for Bullet Bob was Lookin at Lucky last year for the same owners, and Bob doesn't ship 6,000-miles round trip if he doesn't mean business - a hot dog at Max's, and a Haskell trophy.
Coil, a son of 2001 Haskell winner and Horse of the Year Point Given, exits a narrow loss in the Swaps at Hollywood, but rebounded on Monday with a 1:11 2/5 drill at Del Mar, convincing Baffert to send Coil to the Shore for his dirt debut. Martin Garcia, who the '10 Haskell on Lookin at Lucky, ships for the call.
Curiously, since the ship to Monmouth, Coil is lodged in the Kelly Breen barn, down the shed from Ruler on Ice and Pants on Fire, who will run uncoupled in the Haskell.
Valdivia has the return call on Ruler and Ice, while Trujillo, the top gun at Monmouth, replaces Rosie Napravnik on Pants on Fire. Rosie had the bad luck to break an arm a month back in a spill at Delaware Park.
As for Shackleford, you have to wonder how much gas is left in the tank after an exhausting Triple Crown campaign, a campaign that produced a compelling Preakness score over Derby winner Animal Kingdom.
Imagine how much steam this Haskell would have if Animal Kingdom was in it, but the Team Valor colt was injured in the Belmont, and is done for the year, if not forever.
Jockey Castanon retains the mount on Shackleford, who has been training well at his old Kentucky home.
Bravo will be back from Saratoga in plenty of time to ride Illinois Derby winner Joe Vann for Todd Pletcher. No doubt Joe will have Joe on or near the lead.
The eight-horse Haskell field will be completed by Astrology, Concealed Identity and J Js Lucky Train.
With superstars Blind Luck and Havre de Grace passing up the Ruffian (although nominated), a field of of six is expected for Sunday's $250,000 Grade 1 for 3-year-old fillies at nine furlongs.
Three of the six trainers -- Baffert (Freedom Star); Mott (Dynazapper); Absenthe Minded (Lukas) --are already in the Hall of Fame, and the other three -- Pletcher (Super Expresso); Jones (Payton D'Oro) and Distorted Legacy (Penna) eventually will be.
Freedom Star, who must be supplemented to the race, will be the one to catch and beat if she goes; if not then the favorite is anyone's guess. If Freedom Star passes the race, then the Lukas filly should make an easy lead.
But, most of all, don't forget those baseball caps.
THE RACHEL ALEXANDRA
Since Rachel's crowning achievement was beating males in the Woodward at Saratoga, it's fitting that NYRA honors her with a race in her name at the Spa.
The racing office currently has some problems finding fillies for Monday's seven-furlong race because no one is anxious to run against Lisas Booby Trap, the rags-to-riches filly who caused so much stir at the Spa last year when she won the Loudonville Stakes.
Owned and trained by the Finger Lakes-based Tim Snyder, Lisas Booby Trap, named in part for a strip club, is 2-for-3 this year at Finger Lakes, and on Wednesday worked a half-mile in a bullet :46 2/5.
Snyder says if Lisa runs well, she'll go right to the Ballerina, a Grade 1 on Travers Day.
Hopefully, the Rachel Alexandra will go. At this time, the only other definite is Buckleupbuttercup.
Thanks for tuning in. Good luck on this super weekend of racing. I'll be ready with bankroll building action today and Friday, then a three-day extravaganza to take you through Monday. Join me and let's get started on the winning.
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