Submitted by John Piesen on Friday, June 14, 2013 at 12:00 AM
THE JOY OF SIX
Very rare, especially on a stormy Thursday in mid-June, do you get a sports day like Thursday.
In no particular order, we saw: 1) Lebron and Wade run wild in Game Four of Heat-Spurs; 2) Phil Mickelson shoot an opening 67 at the U.S. Open, off the red-eye no less; 3) Jason Kidd named coach of the Brooklyn Nets a week after announcing his retirement as a Hall of Fame player; 4) Matt Harvey sustain his first loss; 5) Yanks lose in 18 with four of their big bats going 0-for-28, with 12 strikeouts, and 6) Ramon Dominguez, the greatest racerider of our generation, hang ’em up at 36.
With all going on, Dominguez hardly got a whiff from the media. An example: in the New York Post, which, until last week boasted the best racing section in the business, Ramon’s retirement was reduced to one AP graph at the bottom of the sports shorts back with the junk-car ads.
Since I spent the bulk of my career as the racing/writer handicapper for the Post, it was so sad to see the Post fire its racing staff on the eve of the Belmont, and reduce the racing section to one page of agate - entries and results.
Hopefully, Messrs. Fontaine, Da Silva and Affrunti will land on their feet, but the Post will never be the same.
Nor will racing.
Dominguez was racing’s equivalent of Lebron. The numbers were awesome: 4,985 winners from 21,267 starts against the top jockey colony in the world; winner of the last three Eclipse Awards, and just last year, he set a one-year record with $25 million in earnings..
It’s so sad to see Dominguez give it all up, but also a major relief. His head injuries suffered in an Aqueduct spill back in January were much worse than reported, and insiders knew he had no choice but to take his doctors’ advice and retire.
I’m happy to report that Ramon knew how to save and invest his money, and won’t have to beg and borrow like so many ex-jocks have been forced to do. I’m sure he’ll find work in racing. He’s bright, articulate, the whole package, and most importantly, one of the real good guys of our game.
One of my lasting memories of Ramon came in the jocks’ room at Saratoga. Out on the patio, Ramon and Rich Migliore were playing cards, and they invited me to join them. I put the notepad away, and we just talked shop, and shared some fond memories.
Little did I ever think that The Mig and Ramon both would go down in horrific spills, their riding careers over, but their lives intact.
Richard has done very well, notably as a TV reporter for NYRA, and I’m sure Ramon will be equally successful in a second career.
Funny, I was thinking about all my Friday columns in this space centering on Ramon’s out-of-town business on Saturday.
Ramon won’t be riding those out-of-town Saturdays anymore. But he already has a successor. Fellow named Joel Rosario. Forget those Preakness and Belmont Stakes meltdowns on Orb. Joel Rosario is the next Ramon Dominguez.
Look no further than this Saturday.
Rosario will take off his Belmont duties to fly to Louisville to ride the evening card at Churchill. He has calls in nine of the 11 races, and five of the nine are program favorites.
The king is dead. Long live the king.
Also, it’s worth noting that former king Mike Smith continues to go strong at 48.
A week after winning the Belmont on Palace Malice, the California-based rider will be at Churchill Saturday to ride Royal Delta, then catch a flight to Jersey to ride Itsmyluckyday against Verrazano in the Pegasus Sunday afternoon at Monmouth Park.
As for Dominguez, if not for the spill, he would be riding Willet for owner-trainer Jimmy Iselin the Bed O’Roses Handicap on Saturday afternoon (race three) at Belmont. RD rode the 5-year-old mare in six of her eight starts, three of them wins by a combined 28 lengths.
Jockey Maragh, one of RD’s best friends in the room, gets the call on Willet, who will break from the outside in a field of five fillies and mares going seven-eighths. This is the first start since November for Willet, but she shows three recent big-time works, and Iselin assures she’ll be ready off the layoff.
"This is a wonderful horse," Iselin told me Thursday prior to celebrating his wedding anniversary. And he should know about wonderful horses. See Crafty Prospector and Crafty Starlet.
"Don’t worry about the layoff," Iselin said. "She’s in great form, and she has a great rider and a great post.
Dance to Bristol, who will be making her Belmont debut, and Fantasy of Flight look to be Willet’s main rivals in the short field.
Trainer Pletcher is sitting out the Bed O’Roses, but he’ll have his traditional uncoupled entry in the Hill Prince for 3-year-olds at a mile on the grass -- Red Rifle, unbeaten in two starts, and Notacatbutallama, with Castellano and Johnny V, respectively.
Watch out for the two Saezes - Luis on Joha, and Gabriel on Michael With Us.
After a good day at Belmont, you’ll want to check out the four evening stakes at Churchill.
Unless you’re the Mad Bomber, there won’t be much value in the Fleur de Lis, which kicks off the stakes quartet as race six at 8:30 p.m. Royal Delta, who
won this race by eight lengths last year at 3-5, will be even shorter this year under Smith. Case you asked, the Mott-trained mare is my long-range selection for Horse of the Year.
A prime candidate to complete the exacta is Wine Princess, the best-bred horse in North America. She’s by Ghostzapper out of Azeri, who, between them, won three Horse of the Year crowns. Regular rider Bridgmohan has the call from trainer Margolis.
Sunbeam, with blinkers and Rosario on, will be tough to beat in race seven, the Matt Winn for 3-year-olds. Look for Dewey Square, the Horse for the Course with Smith; Code West, Abstraction and Carve, to provide the competition in a wide-open race.
Fort Larned, the reigning Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, may take some catching the eighth-race feature, the 500K Stephen Foster, a Grade One for 3-and-up at nine furlongs. Ron the Greek, last year’s Foster winner, will be super-dangerous from Mott, as will Successful Dan, still going strong at age seven.
The latter is the only member of the six-horse field not to win a Grade One. He did finish first in the Grade One Clark over the track in 2011, but was unjustly DQd.
Rosario rides Golden Ticket, a live bomber from McPeek.
Joel will pilot the favored Kitten’s Dumplings in race nine, the Regret for 3-year-old fillies at nine furlongs on the turf. KD races for the Ramseys, who seem to own the game these days.
McPeek has a possible upsetter in Beverage Queen.
Thanks for tuning in. Good luck Ramon, Go Bucs, check out the John Piesen Hot Line (1-888-612-2283) as often as possible, or sign up for my picks online, and see you back here next Friday.