A NUMBERS GAME
By John Piesen
The numbers are numbing. Indeed.
My editors were kind enough to drop my recent Derby numbers into last week's column on this venue, and the numbers knocked my socks off - at least proverbally.
In case you missed it:
- In 2007, I hit the three-horse exacta box ($101.80) and the $440 trifecta box.
- In 2008, I hit the three-horse exacta box ($141.60) and the $3,445.60 trifecta box.
- In 2009, I missed the Derby (Mine That Bird), but still showed a full-card profit.
- In 2010, I hit the four-horse $152 exacta box.
- And in 2011, I hit the exacta box for $329.80.
Clearly, I have returned to my golden years in the '80s when I nailed on top eight of 11 Derby winners for the New York Post and Daily Racing Form -- including bombers Gato del Sol, Ferdinand, Alysheba, Unbridled and Strike the Gold.
The bottom line is that I feel supremely confident about my 2012 Derby selections, which can be found next weekend by clicking here or calling the John Piesen Hot Line at 1-888-612-2283.
I know you're thinking that, considering my good fortune handicapping the world's most important race, I should be on Easy Street.
No, but I am comfortable.
And I've always liked to share.
My confidence peaked this week with a 7-11 record from Saturday thru Thursday on my three daily picks at the Hot Line number.
For the record, the winners were: (at Aqueduct) Concept ($9.70) and Ezzy ($12.60); and, at Keeneland: Iron Ike ($8.80), the Sky Victor-Lunar Pass $37.60 exacta box; Upperline ($6), and Shootdeworx ($14).
With the Derby a mere eight days away, I have to feel momentum is on my side.
Make that our side.
This is one Derby you don't need to worry about a price. Everybody will be a price. I'm thinking that the favorite (Bodemeister) will be 5-1 minimum, and there is not a throwout in the field of 20.
Fact is the perceived rank outsider is a horse named Trinniberg, who merely is the fastest 3-year-old in the world. He's a huge price because he's never won beyond seven furlongs.
But what if jockey Martinez puts Trinniberg on the lead from the bell, all the world-class riders take back, and Trinniberg is still in front turning for home?
It hasn't happened much. But it happens. See Spend A Buck, Winning Colors and War Emblem.
Then there's the possibility that two or three horses would try to go with Willie, and thereby kiss their chances goodbye.
Hey, Willie is no bumski. Back in 2004, he was the regular exercise rider of a 3-year-old colt named Smarty Jones...and he mentioned to me in mid-February that he was working the Derby winner.
Willie also is the point man on my favorite racing story - a true story.
One day at Churchill, Willie was riding a 3-5 shot. His horse looked a winner in mid-stretch, but tired late, and finished fourth.
The irate owner promptly confronted Willie, and demanded to know what happened?
Willie looked at the guy, and said: "Boss...too many poles."
Hay, maybe this time there won't be too many poles.
You never know.
One thing I do know is that the trip will decide the winner. These horses are so evenly matched, are peaking at the right time, and are in the best of hands.
Just check out the trainers. Pletcher, Baffert and Asmussen -- the Big Three of North American trainers -- each has two in the race
Then there's Matz, who won the Derby with Barbaro, and Motion, who won last year with Animal Kingdom. Not that these guys are superstitious, but you'll currently find Union Rags based in Barbaro's stall, and Went the Day Well based in Animal Kingdom's stall.
And there's O'Brien, and Hollendorfer, and Casse, and Romans, and Byrne, and McLaughlin, and Jones, all A-listers.
And speaking of Jones, it was to sad to see last week that his 2011 Horse of the Year was retired, and sadder still the next day to see that she will be sold at auction.
Makes me think that Jones, considering he has to deal with owner Porter on a daily basis, would have been better off retiring the mare after the Breeders' Cup, and save himself and his staff (notably ailing wife Cindy and groom Cody) a lot of aggravation.
Speaking of Bodemeister, it drives me nuts how the media characterize his chances. He's either a cinch because his numbers tell us so, or he's got no shot because he's gonna bounce from the Arkansas Derby.
It's one or the other. There is no middle.
Then I realize that these guys will tell us that the Derby winner is a cinch to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed.
I just hope the media gives Baffert a break in view of his recent serious health issues.
Otherwise, the racing landscape changes dramatically, at it is wont to do at this time of the year.
Belmont Park, Churchill Downs and Hollywood Park open for live racing this weekend, and Monmouth Park (Live Online on May 20) kicks off in two weeks. The simulcast joints will be jumping.
Belmont will be tougher than ever to handicap this year. The casino-fueled purses will
exceed 600 grand daily, and attract new faces -- mostly from Kentucky, which is in a financial crisis.
Trainer Romans, who has never based more than 10 horses in New York at any one time, has 38 on the grounds, and trainer McPeek isn't far behind.
Other new trainers: Wilkes, Trombetta, Proctor, Motion and Nicks.
Foremost among the new jocks in town will be Leparoux and Napravnik. They join Dominguez, Johnny V, Castellano, Cohen, Lezcano, Castro, Garcia, Bravo, Nakatani, Solis, Alvarado, Prado and Cornelio, making this the deepest riding colony in modern times.
My guess is that Castellano will be top jock and the Toddster (who else) top trainer.
Leparoux, the top jock at Churchill the last five years, will be getting live mounts from his Kentucky clients.
As usual, you'll find that horses who were not getting there on the speed-favoring Aqueduct dirt strip will indeed do so at Belmont. And, everything being equal, the outside posts have the advantage on the main, the inside posts on grass.
The 114th running of the Belmont Stakes (no, I have not seen them all) will highlight the meet on June 9. Management I guess is expecting there will be a Triple Crown at stake because it already is posting want ads for the big day.
And, this I know from all my years covering Derby Week at Churchill. All week long I'd watch horses go wire to wire...only to see the closers get the money in the Derby itself.
Churchill opens Saturday with a night card featuring the $200,000 Derby Trial going
as race eight at 9:30.
This being Kentucky, it's only fitting that the favorite will be Bourbon Courage, who earned triple-digit Beyers winning a pair of sprints at Fair Grounds.
Jockey Mena has the call from the extreme outside (a plus) in the field of 13 on Bourbon Courage, whose sire, Lion Heart was the runnerup to Smarty Jones in the '04 Derby, a cold exacta on the Hot Line.
Which reminds me...
Ghostzapper, unbeaten that year, last week was elected to the Hall of Fame. No problem there. A fitting legacy for his trainer, Bob Frankel.
But how can you have a Hall of Fame without Smarty Jones, the most popular racehorse since Secretariat?
And can it be? This is the 40th anniversary since Big Red won the Derby and the Triple Crown.
And, speaking of the Hall of Fame, our condolences to the family of Fame executive Dick Hamilton, who passed this week, and likewise to the families of owner Scott Schwartz, and jockey Eddie Razo, who tragically died at 46 in an explosion at his Chicago home.
Herewith, my final Derby Top Ten:
|1. Union Rags
||The jock is the king at CD|
||Note the two Hall of Famers|
||Winless in his three CD starts|
|4. Creative Cause
||AD result flattered this coaster|
||Francessa says he has no shot|
||Jock going bad since spill|
||Ramon chose Hansen over him|
|8. Went the Day Well
||Congrats to JV on making the Hall|
|9. Daddy Nose Best
||Smith bailed for Bodemeister|
|10. Take Charge Indy
||Calvin eyes a Derby grand slam|
Thanks for tuning in. You need to check out the Hot Line, and see you back here next week for a final look at the Derby.
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