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Submitted by John Piesen on Friday, May 10, 2013 at 12:00 AM


This was a difficult week in the Land of Oz on every level.

First and foremost of course was the Derby.

My Derby top pick online and on the John Piesen Hot Line (1-888-612-2283) was Normandy Invasion at 8-1.

One of many reasons I liked him was that I believed, off the Wood, that he was a far superior horse to Verrazano going into the Derby, and Verrazano, as we all know, was generally regarded for a long time as the Derby favorite. 

And my judgment was confirmed when Normandy blew past Verrazano at the quarter-pole, and  looked a sure winner with a three-wide move turning for home. Of course, the bad news was that NI tired in the muddy homestretch, and settled for fourth, beaten three lengths.

Jockey Castellano took heat for moving too soon, but I don’t blame the rider. NI made the move that wins thousands of races every year, from Triple Crown races to five-claimers.

Maybe it was the muddy track, or the colt’s inexperience, or his bottom-line pedigree that failed him, but, whatever it was, he got beat. It happens. Don’t blame the jock.

I’m glad that trainer Brown is running NI back in the Preakness. Another day, another track, probably another surface. And this time Orb will be 3-5, and
NI maybe double-digits.

Two others who may improve off the Derby are the two Lukas colts -- Oxbow and particularly Will Take Charge.

D. Wayne has a pretty good Preakness resume -- five wins.

And, in this case, Oxbow was the only horse who was close-up into the hot Derby pace to be around at the wire. And Will Take Charge, who, incidentally, hates wet going, was stopped cold at the top of the stretch when Verrazano stopped in his face. At that point, jockey Court re-grouped, and WTC came running again at the end.

Interesting that the sharps hit the Derby big-time,

Orb, who was 8-1 and 7-1 throughout the betting, dropped two points in the final three flashes to overtake Revolutionary as the favorite. Obviously, Derby regular Tom Brady, who was seen betting five grand on Orb in the final minute in the Churchill Turf Club, wasn’t the only one who hit the jackpot.

Then of course there was NBC, who, in the post parade, incorrestly  identified the rider of eventual runnerup Golden Soul as Brian Hernandez rather than Robby Albarado.

Now Robby is getting days for his ride on Cyber Space. Sometimes a guy can’t catch a break.

Hernandez will get his chance at Orb in the Preakness when he rides Departing.

Regular readers of this venue might recall that weeks back I raised the possibility of Departing, who didn’t have the points to qualify for the Derby, wrecking whomever’s Triple Crown dreams in the Preakness.

So here we are, Departing is looking like the second choice to Orb, who, if you were paying attention, was rated No. 1 in the final three Piesen Derby Top Tens in this space.

Yes, it would have been smart to follow my own advice.

A story you are going to hear a lot about in the Preakness hype concerns the fact that Orb and Departing as yearlings shared a paddock at Claiborne Farm and were presumably, best buds.

And, speaking of Churchill Downs, I thought you’d like to know this little-known  fact about the Derby host track.

Three days after breaking the bank with the Derby and the Oaks, CD levied a $5 fee for cashing track paychecks, and will cash said checks only on the front side. Great news for those backstretch workers who lack transportation to even get to the front side.

Then there was the sad but very expected news that Hollywood Park will be shut down, effective the end of the Fall meet in December to become a mall.

Holly Park of course was the home for  the likes of Seabiscuit, Zenyatta, John Henry, and Swaps, whose glorious statue adorns the front gate, as well as the site of the first two Breeders’ Cups.

It’s all about the money.

And speaking of money, the Mad Bomber angrily reports that he was cut off by Penn National after cashing 17 straight 5K show bets. This actually was small potatoes for the MB, who regularly made and cashed 100K show plays in his prime. 

Two things come to mind:

1) Race tracks open their doors ostensibly to provide gambling opportunities, and 2) the corporation that runs Penn National does very well thank you.

The Mad Bomber deserves at least as much sympathy as trainer Pletcher, who somehow goes from running five in the Derby to none in the Preakness.

Talk about an amazing coincidence, and I’m sure it was...but the NBC camera caught the Toddster watching the Oaks on TV with the owner of the
36-1 winner rather than with the connections of her uncoupled 6-5 mate.

Meantime, I have to believe that New Yorkers are saving up for the Belmont. On Wednesday and Thursday, the on-track attendance fell below 1,500. They probably had that many folks on the buffet lines at the casino.

Back to Pletcher.

The Toddster has the usual uncoupled entry in Saturday’s Belmont Park feature, the 59th running of the 200K, Grade II Peter Pan Stakes for 3-year-olds, a race which traditionally produces one or two horses for the Belmont..

They are Abraham, fresh from a troubled fourth to Departing in the Illinois Derby, and Battier, who was transferred to the Todd Squad after winning the Fit to Fight Stakes at Aqueduct.

Battier also is first-time Rosario, while Abraham will be piloted by Johnny V., who somehow has escaped criticism for choosing Verrazano over Orb for the Derby. Pays to be a nice guy I guess.

Declan’s Warrior, to be ridden by Lezcano for Zito, is the only graded stakes-winner (the Bay Shore) in the Peter Pan field of 11 going nine furlongs, and the Normandy Invasion connections (Chad Brown/Castellano) are back with Saint Vigeur. who runs for the owners of Horse of he Year Saint Liam.

Thanks for watching. Keep that Hot Line number at the ready, and see you back here next Friday for a detailed look at the Preakness.

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