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Submitted by John Piesen on Friday, March 7, 2014 at 12:00 AM


By John Piesen

I’m sure that everyone who has ever put a deuce on a horse can sympathize with me about last Saturday. I gave out four horses at three racetracks online at and at the John Piesen Hot Line 1-888-612-2283, and all ran second: Uncle Sigh, Towering Moon at Aqueduct, California Kid at Oaklawn, and No Nay Never (via the scratch of Havana) at Gulfstream Park.

Hey, stuff happens. Hope to make good this weekend, especially at my specialty - the Derby Trail races.

There are two big Derby preps Saturday -- the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs, and the San Felipe at Santa Anita. Both are Grade 2, both are worth 50 Derby points to the winner, both are at 1 1/16 miles, both drews 10 horses, and both needless to say are  wide open…unless Todd Pletcher dominates in Florida and Baffert in California.

Bullet Bob Baffert first.

With Shared Belief sidelined for who knows how long, Baffert looked to have the best 3-year-old on the left coast with Midnight Hawk, a son of Midnight Lute, who was named for University of Arizona hoops legend Lute Olsen, and owned by football and hockey interests.

But on Feb. 8, Midnight Hawk checked in a tired third at 6-5 in the R B Lewis.

But as usual with Baffert, not to worry.

Five days later stablemate Bayern, making his second start, trounced a salty allowance field by 15 lengths with speed to spare, nailing a 98 number. That made Bayern two-for-two, by a combined 18 lengths at seven-eighths and a mile.

Saturday we find out if the Sheiks have a big-time Derby prospect, or a flash in the proverbial pan, when Bayern steps way up in class, and a baby step to 1 1/16 miles in the San Felipe.

Fiftyish Gary Stevens has the return call from post six.

Midnight Hawk? He’ll be breaking from the nine-hole under Mike Smith, the newest member of the New Mexico Hall of Fame. Betcha you didn’t know that.

Picture the scene. Stevens and Smith, lifelong buddies, firing through the Santa Anita on uncoupled Baffert stablemates. And just think of the roars a 6-9 exacta would solicit.

D. Wayne Lukas has other ideas. Earlier this week, D. Wayne shipped Will Take Charge from Hot Springs, Ark., to race against Mucho Macho Man and Game on Dude in Saturday’s 750K Santa Anita Handicap.

And so that Will Take Charge wouldn’t get lonely, Lukas provided a buddy on the long journey -- a 3-year-old colt named Unstoppable Colby. Under any other trainer, Unstoppable Colby, off an undistinguished 1-for-5 resume, would be the first toss in the San Felipe. With DWL, maybe you’ll get 20-1.

And, of course, Luis Saez, who makes the trip from south Florida to ride Will Take Charge, has the call on Colby.

It’s not like Saez has done anything wrong lately.

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Then there is Kristo, 1-3-0 from four widely-spaced spots for John Sadler. This 500K son of Distorted Humor exits a second to Midnight Hawk in the Sham, goes from Bejarano to Rosario, who might be tempted to engage Bayern through some early blistering fractions.

The people’s horse -- at least the people who frequent the owners’ dining palace near San Diego -- will be all over California Chrome, who has won four of eight starts, mostly in Cal-bred company. Victor Espinoza, two-for-two on CC, has the return call from trainer Art Sherman.

Trainer David Hofmans, who in a previous lifetime gave us Touch Gold, like Baffert, has two uncoupled dogs in the fight --Schoolofhardrocks (Joe Talamo replacing Jose Espinoza), and Home Run Kitten, who goes from Talamo to Alonso Quinonez, and breaks from the one-hole.

As for the Tampa Bay Derby, the major story line centers around Pletcher and Mark Casse, who is routinely labeled the "Todd Pletcher of Canada".

Both trainers have uncoupled horses in the TBD, and it will be no shock if the winner emerges from those two barns. After all, between them, Pletcher and Casse have won the last three runnings of the stake,

From Pletcher comes Vinceremos, fresh from a nose victory over the track in the Sam F. Davis. But purists will note that Harpoon, who was on the losing end of that nose, came back in the Gotham last week, and didn’t run a lick. At least not from the 10-hole.

This will be the first stake for Surfing U S A, who exits a second to Top Billing, a fast-closing third in the Fountain of Youth and a likely major player for the Florida Derby. Edgar Prado has the return call.

Surfing U S A is the inside speed from the two-hole, and looks very much the one to catch under Jose Lezcano, who does some of his best work on the lead.

On the other hand, both Casse horses do their best work from off the pace.

Matador won a grass stake last year in his native Canada, and in his 3-year-old debut in the Davis, closed in traffic for fourth, beaten only a length. Jockey Julien Leparoux fits this Malibu Man colt like a glove.

Conquest Titan likewise finished fast in his 3-year-old debut, getting up for a distant second to current Kentucky Derby favorite Cairo Price in the Holy Bull.

And must note that Javier Castellano, who seems to win five or six every Saturday at Gulfstream, takes off to ride the speedy Cousin Stephen for the red-hot ChadBrown.

Summing up, the Tampa Day Derby, although far below the San Felipe on the quality scale, is just as competitive.

No secret that I like Will Take Charge in the Big "Cap. I’ve picked and bet on this guy every race since the Travers, and he’s likely to work out a stalking trip with Saez from the one-hole.

You might think about bomber Blingo when creating your gimmicks. Another name horse in a comeback mode Saturday is Palace Malice, who makes his first start for Pletcher since his horror trip in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

John Velazquez has the call on PM.

Johnny V also picked up the mount on Fountain of Youth winner Wildcat Red in the Florida Derby, replacing Saez, who naturally sticks with the favorite, Cairo Prince.

And, speaking of 3-year-olds, here is Chapter Two of my Kentucky Derby

Top 10:

1. Top Billing   Rosario     McGaughey
2. Bayern Stevens Baffert
3. Honor Code  Castellano McGaughey
4. Cairo Prince Saez McLaughlin
5. Albino Clark Jones
6. Kobe’s Back  Lezcano Sadler
7. Tapiture    Santana   Asmussen
8. General A Rod Castellano Maker
9. Samraat J. Ortz Violette
10. Candy Boy Stevens Sadler

Thanks for tuning in. Good luck this week, and see you back here next Friday.

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