Submitted by John Piesen on Friday, April 19, 2013 at 12:00 AM
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
By John Piesen:
No, the headline does not refer to the Willie Nelson hit single nor the pacing superstar of years past. In this case, it is merelya reference to the fact there is alas nothing going on this Saturday at my New York base, meaning the final Saturday of the six-month Aqueduct meeting.
Sad but true, there is no stake at the Big A on this mid-April Saturday, merely a hodge-podge of eight claimers and two maiden-specials. Knick-Celts cross-town at the Garden will be the big deal anyway, so why fight it?
For racing excitement, you haveto go west young man to Kentucky, Illinois and Charles Town for the major action.
Before we get to said races, I just want to be the first to give a soundout to the Kentucky Oaks, to be run May 3 at Churchill Downs, the day before the Derby. Looking over the projected lineup, it appears to this racing authoritythat the Oaks will have a more enticing field than the Derby while generating at best 10 per cent of the interest and the action of its male counterpart.
Fourteen 3-year-old fillies are expected for the Oaks, and at least half of them already are superstars or budding stars.
Start with Beholder, the champion 2-year-oldfilly, and already a two-time Grade One winner at three. On Thursday, she worked :49 3/5 for trainer Mandella over her Santa Anita home base. Oh, and her owner is Wayne Hughes, who gave us Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another last year about this time.
Then there are Dreaming of Julia, Unlimited Budget, Princess of Sylmar and Silsita, who have two things in common. All are graded stakes-winners, and all are trained by Todd Pletcher, the same Todd Pletcher who plans to run five in the Derby.
There is Rose to Gold, fresh from winning the Fantasy from here to Malverne. And Close Hatches, an unbeaten Bill Mott-trained filly fresh from winning the Gazelle in New York, anda pair of Bob Baffert-trained rockets -- Midnight Lucky and Fiftyshadesofgray.
"Completing the field"will be Pure Fun, Broken Spell, Seaneen Girl and Promise Me More.
Speaking of Pure Fun, she is using Saturday’s Lexington at Keeneland against the boys as her final prep for the Oaks. Sounds like strange strategy, but trainer McPeek obviously knows what he’s doing.
Just last Saturday, McPeek won the Blue Grass with Java’s War (keying a $1002 box triple for my legions of supporters online and on the John
Piesen Hot Line (1-888-612-2283), and was second with longshot Frac Daddy in the Arkansas Derby, the capper of Oaklawn Park’s Festival of the South.
Actually, in this case it was more Festus than Festival.
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Here’s what happened to the favorites in the three major Festival races:
1) Grace Hall, the stick in the Apple Blossom, was wiped out at the first turn by rank outsider On Fire Baby, who went on to wire the field under Joe Johnson in her first start in a year.
There were no beefs at the scene, but the next day, the OP stews handed jockey Johnson, who was winning his first Grade One in a 25-year career,a three-day suspension forcareless riding, which he gladly accepted.
Reacting to these events, one New York turf writer noted: "...aren’t you glad you don’t live in Arkansas?"
Actually, there’s not a thing wrong with living in Arkansas; just avoid the stewards.
2) Fort Larnard, the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, and 1-2 favorite in the Oaklawn Handicap (a shorter price than the likes of Cigar, Lawyer Ron, and Alydar), got beat a half-mile with no visible excuse, as the house horse won by a pole.
3) War Academy, the 6-5 chalk in the Arkansas Derby, was pulled up halfway down the backstretch by Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who said later he thought he detected a problem down behind. If that wasn’t bad enough, the race-caller had War Academy "in the mix" turning for home.
Back to Pure Fun, the two-back winner of the Hollywood Starlet (Grade One) is the morning-line favorite from the outside post against 10 male rivals in the 200K Lexington.
Thedaughter of Pure Prize (the sire of Lawyer Ron) sheds six pounds to 118 off her Turfway third in her season debut, and gets a rider change, from Gomez to Rosie. This is interesting since GG is taking off Pure Fun to ride a no-name geldingnamed Examen for Tom Proctor.
Meantime, Rosario, the hottest rider on the planet, jumps back on Cerro for the Animal Kingdom folks. Cerro’s last was a remote fifth to Orb in the Fountain of Youth...so the thinking is that if Cerro should win this race, it will say a lot about Orb.
Of course, Barry Irwin, who runs the Team Valor show, says he is thinking about the Belmont for Cerro.Barry, it must be noted, says the same thing about all his 3-year-olds, except maybe Animal Kingdom.
Then there is Sunbeam, who had a terrible trip behind Revolutionary and Departing in the Louisiana Derby after winning his prior three. He has since changed trainers (Maker for Stall) and riders (Stevens for Hernandez). Stall had liked Sunbeammore than stablemate Gantry, a multiple stakes-winner.
The one to catch in the Lexington is Pick of the Litter, whom I had the misfortune to put on top in the Florida Derby. POTL gave up when he couldn’t make the front, and checked in sixth to Orb and Itsmyluckyday.
The latter incidentally went a1:43 mileat Calderon Wednesday before shipping to the Derby.
"I’ve been around Calder a long time," said trainer Plesa, "and haven’t seen a mile work better than that."
Plesawill be trying to keep the Derby in the family. You’ll recall that his brother-in-law, John Servis, won the’04 running with a nice colt named Smarty Jones.
Back to Departing.
The DRF trouble line doesn’t show it, but Departinghit all kinds of roadblocks closing for third to Revolutionary in the Louisiana Derby. If the Claiborne gelding should win the Illinois Derby on Saturday at Hawthorne from post 13 in a field of 14, that could set up a major problemregarding theTriple Crown.
Seems the Illinois Derby was snubbed when they were allotting points for Derby participation... so Departing, even if he should win Saturday’s race, would not have sufficientpoints to make the Derby.
Then, OMG, what if Departing, who was 3-for-3 before New Orleans,wins the Preakness?
Talk about nightmares!
Of course,there’s the Pletcher factor.
The Toddster will be running a lightly-raced colt named Abraham (honestly) in the Illinois Derby.The 300K son of Distorted Humor started the season maybe 13th in TP’s 3-year-old pecking order, but he did finish third to Governor Charlie, Baffert’s Derby hope, last out in the Sunland Derby (remember Mine That Bird?), and jockey Castellano shipsto ride.
Well, maybe that’s not entirely accurate.
Javier also will ride the favorite, Disposablepleasure, for Pletcher in the co-featured Sixty Sails Handicap.
Perhaps if he wins either or both races, Todd will show more enthusiasm than he showed winning the Arkansas Derby with Overanalyze. who, incidentally, was tipped all over the Oaklawn track leading up to the race.
Not often you get a good thing for a million-dollar race. And was it ever?
Pletcher watched the AD on a grandstand TV at Keeneland, andlooked absolutely bored on camera before, during and after winning the seven-figure race
down the road in Hot Springs.
Most trainers would give an arm and a leg to win an Arkansas Derby.
But obviously Todd isn’t most trainers.
"He’s a nice colt, we’ll take him to Louisville tomorrow," he managed to say.
Speaking of Pletcher and million-dollar races, Todd is running three -- Mordi’s Miracle, Percussion and defending champ Caixa Eletronica -- Saturday evening in the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic, race 12 at Charlestown.
Baffert’s running only one, but that one (Game On Dude) will be enough. The 6-year-old gelding, the front-runner for Horse of the Year, is the absolute lone speed from post three of seven going a mile and a furlong.’
Presumably, this time jockey Smith won’t be pulling up.
Thanks for the look-in. Keep the Hot Line in mind, and we’’ll see you back here next Friday.