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Submitted by John Piesen on Friday, May 9, 2014 at 12:00 AM




For most of my journalistic career, I would spend Derby week enjoying the good life in Louisville -- and, more importantly, nailing the Derby winner.

But life moves on. Things change, And this year I spent Derby week at home, focusing on an appointment with my orthopedist on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 30.

The doc a look at the MRI film, and delivered the bad news: five herniated discs!

Funny, the way the human mind works. As soon as he told me the bad news, the pain intensified.

But this was Derby week, and there were selections to make. I didn’t care if there were 20 herniated discs. Almost everyone, by the time they hit 40, has herniated discs, the doc told me, they just don’t know it. You take some pills. Go to physical therapy twice a week. And you make the best of it.

And so I continued to make my picks here online and at 1-888-612-2283, and the results -- except for one day -- have been sensational.

April 30:
Perfect Praise $7.00
Infliction $5.40
one loser

May 1:
Bridgeville $10.80
Integrity $3.70
one loser

May 2:
A Little Bit Sassy $10.20
2-horse Oaks box $21.80
one loser

May 4:
Freddie G $6.00
Ground Transport $6.10
one loser

May 7:
You You $7.20
Auld Alliance $6.20
one loser

May 8:
Prairie Stone $6.50
Days Ride $9.60
one loser

By my count, that’s six-straight two-for-three days...or 12-for-18 total.

This isright up there with my earlier handicapping achievements -- 207 straight days with at least one winner in Jersey, and 10 straight winners overlapping two days at Aqueduct.

Of course, you’ll notice one omission -- the first Saturday in May.

I had California Chrome on top in my last three Derby Top Tens on this venue, so obviously I felt like most folks that he was the most likely winner.

But my mantra in the Derby is that when push comes to shove I have to try to beat the favorite. And since I was impressed by Danza on so many counts, I went to Danza, who finished third as the 9-1 third choice after a rough trip.

Hey, rough trips happen every year in the Derby. This year, try to find the Derby chart footnotes, and you’ll find that 17 of the 19 horses had some kind of excuse. The winner was one of the two exceptions, but credit goes to CC and the rider for avoiding trouble.

Winning trainer Sherman in fact was asked when he thought he had the race won. And he responded "the eighth pole" No, not the second eighth pole -- the first eighth pole, when CC was nice and clear on the outside, right off the slow pace.

And it was at the eighth pole (the first time) that Danza got clobbered by his stablemate Vinceramos. You knew that one of these years all these Pletcher horses eventually would knock each other out,but who knew it would happen here?

For good measure, Danza would take some more hits along the way, and the fact that he finished so well for third speaks volumes for the horse. Right horse. Wrong trip. It happens.

Would I have traded those 12 winners for Danza. Probably. But that’s old news. There’s still two-thirds of the Triple Crown to go. Danza reportedly will sit out the Preakness (typical Pletcher), and point for the Belmont.

On the other hand, Social Inclusion arrived Thursday at Pimlico for the Preakness. And that’s the earliest a Preakness horse has come to Pimlico that I can remember. The inclusion of Social Intrusion guarantees that California Chrome will have to work for his Preakness.

Take nothing from California Chrome. He was a deserving Derby favorite, and a deserving winner. And he’s a great story. We all know it now. My favorite part is that Sherman, a 19-year-old kid from Brooklyn, was Swaps’exercise rider, and rode the railcar with that great champion from California to Louisville for the Derby.

And, here we are six decades later: Art Sherman is 2-for-2 in the Derby...and Todd Pletcher is 1-for-40.

The big Derby mystery was Candy Boy. Odds rarely move late because of volume, but Candy Boy was in the 14-1 to 16-1 range through two days of betting only to drop to 9-1 at kickoff.

The theory is that one guy was given a $1 million free Derby bet for winning some kind of contest, and bet the mill on Candy Boy. But that leaves two questions: if that was the case, why was there no publicity?, and why didn’t the guy just do the prudent thing, and bet the mill on the chalk?

Maybe, some day we will get an answer, but I doubt it.

Finally, a word about the TV coverage.

The talent was very good. Laffit Pincay III, Jerry Bailey, and particularly Randy Moss are solid pros, and they touched all the bases. Bob Costa, despite a limited knowledge of racing, is the best interviewer insports, and his interview with suddenly Mr. Nice Guy Steve Asmussen was excellent.

But the most compelling story to come out of the ongoing PETA scandal was Gary Stevens’ admission to using buzzers on horses in his youth -- and that angle was never touched in the two-day NBC coverage.

And, of course, NBC’s insistence on using 20 camera angles to cover the Derby, and other races, is beyond maddening.Why doesn’t NBC look back at the Swaps-Nashua Derby where one camera angle was more than sufficient?

The other curious thing is that besides California Chrome, only one other Derby horse (the seventh finisher Ride On Curlin) will make the Preakness.

And even curiouser, jockey Borel, who has merely won three Derbys, was fired by trainer Gowen, and replaced for the Preakness with Joel Rosario.

Sure, Ride On Curlin had a bad trip in the Derby...but it only shows how lucky Calvin was to get through those three other times.

Finally, there have been some good Peter Pans in the past, but Saturday’s renewal at Belmont is not one of them. Only one stakes winner (Our Caravan) in the field of seven, and only two from Pletcher.

Thanks for tuning in. Have a great weekend, check out the my Winner’s Circle Daily service, and see you back here next Friday for a Preakness preview. And for sure I’ll try to beat the favorite.

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