Submitted by John Piesen on Friday, October 18, 2013 at 12:00 AM
ON THE CLOCK
By John Piesen
It’s two weeks and counting to the Breeders’ Cup (Nov. 1-2 at Santa Anita), not that you would know it with the craziness going on in the world, and the absence of media racing coverage.
Hey, let’s be honest about this. On paper at least, this does not look like the greatest Breeders’ Cup ever, what with all the defections (see Orb, Oxbow and especially
Honor Code). But you never know. This BC could provide one slambang finish after another, and, more importantly will provide annual betting opportunities unparalled in the sport.
With that in mind, check out John Piesen’s selections on-line, and on the red-hot John Piesen Hot Line at 1-888-612-2283. Tip: boxing my selections in exactas, tris and supers traditionally has reaped rewards on racing’s biggest day.
As with any Breeders’ Cup, there is no shortage of good stories.
At the top of the list is Gary Stevens. Most of us know the background.
Despite multiple spills and injuries, Stevens reached the top of his profession years back and stayed there. He was a consistent 20% rider on the west coast, won virtually every major stakes in North America, including three Kentucky Derbys. My personal favorite was Thunder Gulch for Wayne Lukas in ’95. Wow, those 18 years have gone fast.
The multitude of injuries forced Stevens to retire five years ago, and he went into the acting business, notably drawing raves as a broken-down ex-rider in the TV series Luck. As we know, Luck ran out of luck, leaving Stevens unemployed at age 50.
But Stevens did not run out of luck.
To the surprise of all, Stevens last winter embarked on a riding comeback, most of us thought impossible. But then came that May day when Stevens lulled ’em to sleep on the front end, and wired the Preakness for D. Wayne with Oxbow.
Oxbow has yet to win another race, and likely never will. but his rider is going better than ever, recently winning three stakes on one Saturday at Santa Anita.
And suddenly, as the oldest big-time rider in the business, Stevens looks loaded for the Breeders’ Cup. Can it actually be 20 years since won the BC Juvenile at Santa
Anita, beating, among others, the great Deher?
This year, there will be 14 Cup races -- five Friday, nine Saturday -- and Stevens has eight calls (and counting), most of them live, several of them super-live.
On Friday, Gary will ride Got Shades for Danny Pish in the Juvenile Turf; Ever Rider for J.T. Bianchi in the Marathon, and Beholder for Dick Mandella in the Distaff.
On Saturday, Gary really gets going. He rides Starship Truffles for Marty Wolfson in the filly/mare sprint; Caracortado for Mike Mitchell in the Turf Sprint; She’s a Tiger for Jeff Bonde in the Juvenile Fillies; Indy Point for Mandella in the Turf, and Mucho Macho Man for Kathy Ritvo in the Classic.
After an up-and-down career, Mucho Macho Man has struck it rich in California. He missed by a whisker to Fort Larned in the Classic last year, and exits an
impressive victory in the Awesome Again Stakes-- both races at Anita.
The Macho Man’s secret is obvious. When he’s in front at the eighth pole, he wins. When he’s not in front, he gets beat. Consequently, Stevens must visualize the eighth pole as the finish line.
The Classic favorite will be Game On Dude, who no doubt will take ’em as far as he can under Mike Smith, Gary’s arch-rival and good friend for 30 years.
The very fact that Smith, the all-time BC leader with 16 wins, is back on Game On Dude is a story unto itself.
Back in August, Mike had to choose between Game On Dude for Bob Baffert in the Pacific Classic, and Royal Delta for Bill Mott in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga. Mike had given Royal Delta the call and kept his word.
So Baffert put Martin Garcia up on Game On Dude. and they won by a pole.
The fact that Baffert goes back to Smith, at 45 only a few years younger than Stevens, shows us how much confidence Bullet Bob has in Mike.
It would be no surprise if Smith has the favored Dude in front turning for home, with second-choice Mucho Macho Man, Stevens up, charging at him down the outside. Sixty years of race-riding experience battling to the finish of the Classic.
Might even make the papers.
I said might.
HORSE FOR COURSE
By now you know that in his over 30 year career as the KEY HANDCIAPPER with the NY Post, DRF and other publications, John Piesen has cemented the kind of relationships THAT SPELL INFO. On Saturday he has once again “Tapped Into The Mind Of The Trainer” with a UNDER-THE-RADAR CONDITIONER PLAY plus another HORSE FOR THE COURSE DOMINATOR. These two Belmont runners make for a PERFECT PARLAY. Bet these two strongly and also get John’s Best Of The Day Exotic Moves…
And, speaking of old-timers, how’ bout D. Wayne?
At age 77, but looking 47, Lukas is enjoying a big year, and will have three in the Breeders’ Cup -- Strong Mandate in the Juvenile, Will Take Charge in the Classic, and Fast Bullet in the Sprint.
One thing that hasn’t changed through the years is Wayne’s attitude or jockeys.
They are, according to the gospel of DWL, a necessary evil.
The latest example is Jose Ortiz, a painfully young New York-based whippersnapper.
Lukas put Ortiz on Strong Mandate at double-digits in the Hopeful at Saratoga, and Strong Mandate whipped the best 2-year-olds on the grounds from here to Schenectady.
Alas, in the Champagne at Belmont, would check in seventh to Havana under Jose as the favorite.
"The jock didn’t do anything I asked him to," Lukas would say.
So of course exit Ortiz. And enter Joel Rosario for the Juvenile.
No longer yesterday’s news, Lukas remains the winningest Breeders’ Cup trainer with 19 victories, five of them in the Juvenile. Wayne has a habit of describing each and every one of his 2-year-old stars as the best he’s ever trained, and Strong Mandate is no exception.
Wouldn’t it be fun if Strong Mandate wins the Juvenile, and Honor Code beats a four-horse field at 1-9 next month in the Remsen at Aqueduct?
In that case, who would be the 2-year-old champion...especially considering that Honor Code will be the shortest-price Derby winter-book favorite since Arazi.
And, going a step further, if Will Take Charge wins the Classic (it’s possible), is he Horse of the Year? Just asking.
Meantime, on Saturday at Belmont, they will run seven stakes for state-breds on the 11-day Empire Showcase Day card, which might get you home in time for Florida State-Clemson.
My favorite races are the 150K Iroquois (see Willet), and the finale, the 250K Empire Classic.
Saratoga Snacks, second to Lunar Victory in the 2012 Empire Classic, may go favored under Rosario in a field of eight. The 4-year-old son of Tale of the Cat is owned by Bill Parcells and radio gabber Mike Francesa, trained by Gary Sciacca, and exits a rough-trip third at the Spa.
Chad Brown, who is battling Todd Pletcher for the Belmont training crown, has the main danger in Readtheprospectus, who is stepping up seeking his eighth straight.
Thanks for checking in. Good luck this weekend (go Steelers), keep the JP Hot Line on speed dial, and hopefully see you back here next Friday.