By John Piesen:
Two weeks back, I gave out two horses on opening day at Monmouth Park on my John Piesen Hot Line (1-888-612-2283). One was Final Forest at $5.40. Nothing special there. The other was Speeding Again, a first-time starter who was creating quite a buzz in and around the various watering holes on the Jersey Shore.
The buzz did not extend to the public handicappers. No one had Speeding Again 1-2-3, the public liked others better, and the colt got off at 7-1 in a field of eight maidens.
Speeding Again stalked the favorite to the head of the stretch, took command at that point from the outside, and coasted home at $16.20.
Now, I have no idea whether Speeding Again will turn into a star or if he never wins another race. All I know he was a winner on opening day at Monmouth
Park, and the folks who keep the faith and know my history at Monmouth Park made a score.
Cutting to the chase, I have spent my adult life in New Jersey, much of that time at Monmouth Park, and toiled as the Monmouth correspondent for Daily Racing Form for 12 years, succeeding the late, legendary Joe Hirsch in that role. During that time, I made many friends on the Monmouth backstretch, and have remained in touch through the years.
Often these friendships result in a winner.
One such winner was Speeding Again.
And, as fate would have it, the word is out on another firster ready to rock and roll on Saturday. For further information, you need only to ring up the JP Hot Line at 1-888-612-2283, or check out my 3-Day Memorial Weekend Extravagana online.
Speaking of Monmouth and DRF, they may as well forego the preliminaries, and present the 2012 Eclipse writing award to Barbara Livingston. Until I picked up Saturday's Form, I didn't even know that Livingston was a writer. I just knew her as the best racing photographer in the business.
Barbara's piece is about the bond between a man -- long-time Monmouth horseman Danny Perlsweig --- and a horse -- Lord Avie, the champion 2-year-old of 1980, and, at 34, the oldest living equine Eclipse winner.
This is must reading to say the very least. If you don't want to shell out the seven bucks for the Form, you can find it on-line. And, next
time you go to Monmouth, look up Danny, who celebrated his 84th birthday last week, and his daughter Carolyn, who for years has had the thankless job of running the horsemen's parking lot.
Wow. I can't believe I've gone this far with no mention of Team I'll Have Another.
The last time we saw IHA in New York, he was finishing sixth at 12-1 in the Hopeful, beaten 19 lengths by the winner, Currency Swap, and 15 lengths for third by the immortal Big Blue Nation.
In his three races at 2, I'll Have Another was ridden by jockey Leparoux, the No. 1 rider in Kentucky, and jockey Rosario, the No. 1 whippersnapper in southern California.
Trainer O'Neill was unable to find a name rider for I'll Have Another for the colt's 3-year-old debut in February in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. After all, IHA would go off at 43-1!
The rest, as we say, is history.
Under Mario Gutierrez. a struggling young rider from a small town in Mexico, I'll Have Another won the Lewis (at 43-1), and merely went on to win the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness. In the latter two, Gutierrez took the direct measure of Bodemeister and Mike Smith, merely a Hall of Famer who has amassed more than 5,000 victories.
So now, I'll Have Another is an early 4-5 favorite to win the Belmont Stakes on June 9, and become the 12th Triple Crown winner -- and the first since Affirmed in 1978, the year Lord Avie was foaled.
In his seven starts through the Preakness, I'll Have Another has the distinction of never being favored. Now he'll be 4-5 in the Belmont. There's not a sharpie alive who's not going to try to beat him.
The two major challengers, Union Rags and Dullahan, will have new riders -- Castellano for Leparoux on UR, and Johnny V for Desormeaux on Big D.
Between them, JC amd JV are a mere 1-for-19 in the Belmont, but they are 1-2 in popularity at the present time.
In the absence of Bodemeister, Union Rags and Dullahan are more than worthy potential spoilers -- although neither is trained by Nick Zito.
After all, Union Rags topped every one's Derby Top Ten (including mine) all winter and spring, and Dullahan was my eventual Derby pick.
Needless to say, both colts had horrid trips in the Derby, and yet Union Rags passed 10 horses in the final quarter-mile, and Dullahan made up 15 lengths to get
third, beaten 1-1/2 lengths by I'll Have Another.
Both have the benefit of a race off, both are training well for their all-world trainers, Matz and Romans, respectively, and both look like they want to go a mile and a half, although you never know. See Jazil, D'Tara and Ruler On Ice.
Hey, trainer McPeek, himself a Belmont winner. is so certain that I'll Have Another is vulnerable that he's sending two at him -- Atigua and Unstoppable U. Neither is exactly a household name -- but neither were Jazil, D'Tara and Ruler On Ice.
Right now, we are looking at a field of 12 for the Belmont, and you can be sure young Mr. Gutierrez will be riding with a target on his back. See jockey Elliott in 2004.
Jockey Dominguez keeps winning Eclipse Awards, but he's yet to win a Triple Crown race. He'll try again on Alpha, who has to be better than he showed in Louisville.
Completing the projected field are: Five Sixteen (Napravnik); Paynter (Smith); Optimizer (Nakatini); Street Life (Lezcano); Ravelo's Boy (Solis), and
Guyana Star Dweej, who understandably is riderless at this point.
I'll go out on a limb, and say that, going down the backstretch, Paynter will be in front, and Street Life will be last...and that Street Life will at
some point pass Paynter, who, a month back, was eighth on Baffert's depth chart.
Romans, incidentally, will attempt to become the first trainer since Woody Stephens in 1981 to post a Met Mile-Belmont double (with Shackleford and Dullahan).
You''ll recall of course that the Woodman needed only one horse -- Conquistador Cielo -- ro accomplish that feat.
Shackleford'a main challenger in the Met will be To Honor and Serve in what should be a corker.
Speaking of corkers, overlooked in the Preakness hype was the Pimlico Special the day before. I'll be shocked if anything tops this as the Race of
My eyes told me that Nehro won the race, but the camera said Alternation. Three others finished within a length of the first two. If you boxed my
four picks, you cashed the $573 trifecta.
This brings me to my favorite Preakness story.
A dozen Spanish-speaking young men approached a young lady Saturday about 5 p.m. in the Belmont Park cafe, and their spokesman asked her if she would be so kind as to place their Preakness bets.
"We are from Mario's home town in Mexico," the fellow told the lady in broken English, "and he told us to bet an exacta of I'll Have Another and Budweiser. We don't know numbers. We don't know how to bet. Would you bet for us."
"Sure," the lady replied.
With that, the fellow displayed a wad of bills.
"We want to bet $2,000 to win on I'll Have Another, a $1,000 exacta on I'll Have Another and Budweiser, and a $200 trifecta with the C horse."
An hour later, the lady cashed out 40 large, and for this, received a $200 tip and a hug. Not even a margarita.
Have a great holiday weekend, don't forget to check out the JPHL, and see you back here on the first Friday of June.
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