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Submitted by John Piesen on Friday, March 8, 2013 at 12:00 AM


By John Piesen:

At a time they are making March Madness Vatican Edition book on the Sweet Sisteen in Rome, it would be big-time ironic if a horse named Tiz A Minister becomes a major Kentucky Derby player halfway across the world at Santa Anita.

Was that a mirage when Tiz A Minister rallied from downtown  Tijuana to win the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes (as, we need to point out, a $20 winner on the John Piesen Hot Line), or is he (aha!) the real Derby deal?

We will learn more on Saturday when Tiz A Minister takes on the likes of Flashback and Goldencents, top shooters on every one’s Derby Top Ten, in the $300,000 San Felipe over a mile and a 16th of prime Arcadia real estate.

Tiz A Minister looked like a modern-day Silky Sullivan when he circled the field from 30 lengths out under Garrett Gomez in that Breeders’ race.

Gomez came back shaking his head in disbelief, as were the folks who watched the race -- especially the ones who had the good fortune to wager on him.

Can Tiz A Minister do it again against obviously much stronger competition in the San Felipe? I for one can only hope he does. A victory in the San Felipe, and/or the Santa Anita Derby, would give Minister the points he needs to qualify for the Derby.

And what a Derby story he would be. Enough already with Pletcher and Baffert!

For my selections for the Tampa Bay Derby and San Felipe Derby Preps and Saturday’s 5 Hidden Money Horses, click here to get these winners online or call the John Piesen Hot Line at 1-888-612-2283. You can get my Daily Best Bets here and ALL the remaining Derby Preps including Saturday’s 2 races right here.

The Toddster and Bullet Bob (who else?) will be running the favorites in both Derby preps on Saturday. The Toddster has Verrazano in the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs, and Baffert has Flashback in the San Felipe.

At this time last year, no one was talking about the California 3-year-olds, and most of us, yours truly included, were blindsided when I’ll Have Another came out of the left coast to win the Derby and Preakness (and Paynter would win the Haskell and just miss in the Belmont).

This year, California 3-year-olds already are giving signs they mean business. In addition to Flashback, Goldencents (partially owned by Rick Pitino) and Tiz A Minister, we’ve seen California-based Super Ninety Nine win the Southwest at Oaklawn Park by half a mile, and Code West, another left coaster, miss by a nose to the 135-1 Ive Struck A Nerve in the Risen Star. 

Oh yes, Code West and Super Ninety Nine (who will be the Rebel favorite) both are trained by Baffert as are Flashback and Den’s Legacy.

The thinking here is that Team Baffert has the Derby by the throat, not Pletcher, the darling of what’s left of the national media.

Since we warned in this space a while back that the Toddster was not the Derby cinch that we were told he was, he has gone down in flames in various Derby preps, namely Violence, who was officially retired on Thursday; Shanghai Bobby, Overanalyzed and Forty Tales (am I missing anybody)?

Shanghai Bobby is still standing, as are Verrazano and Revolutionary, but facts are facts, and these are the facts: Todd is 1-for-31 in the Kentucky Derby, and he’s run the last three beaten favorites in the Tampa Bay Derby.

That said, if you want to play Verrazano (at 3-5) in the Tampa Bay Derby be my guest. After all, Verrazano beat maidens in his first start by eight lengths, and all of four opponents by 16 lengths in his second start.

Those two races seem to make Verrazano the most talked-about 3-year-old in North America,  No. 1 on many Derby Top Tens, and the 9-1 favorite (not counting the mutual field) in last weekend’s pool two of the Churchill Downs Derby Future Book.

The only problem is that Verrazano yet to beat anything resembling a good horse, and he needs to win the Tampa Bay Derby or his final Derby prep just to qualfy for the Kentucky Derby.

Hopefully, the Tampa Bay Derby, which is soft on paper, and San Felipe will be entertaining horse races capable of producing major profits at the windows. But there’s always a chance Pletcher will wire ’em by open lengths with Verrazano, and Baffert will do likewise with Flashback.

As mentioned above, Baffert will run the favorite, Super Ninety Nine with Bejarano up, in the Rebel next Saturday, along with the uncoupled Den’s Legacy.

Baffert was needing a rider for Den’s Legacy, who is coming off a respectable second to Flashback in the four-horse Robert F. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita.

Last Monday morning, Baffert was sitting at Clocker’s Corner at Santa Anita alongside Oaklawn announcer Frank Mirahardi.

The conversation went something like this:

Bob: I’m sending Den’s Legacy to the Rebel. What am I going to do for a rider?

Frank: There’s a kid riding in Hot Springs named Santana. He won 10 races in four days last week, and is top jock. Over Albarado.

Bob: Get me the kid’s agent on the phone.

And so Bob Baffert called Ruben Munoz, Santana’s agent, and offered him the ride on Den’s Legacy.

Offer accepted.

"Can you believe this country," Munoz was saying. "I’ve got this 19-year-old rider, just off the boat from Panama, barely speaks English, and Bob Baffert calls me from California asking for him to ride one of his best horses."

The only topper of course would be Santana winning the Rebel on Den’s Legacy. And, to do so, he’ll have to beat the other Baffert horse, Super Ninety Nine...a year which was super indeed.

Speaking of Oaklawn, kudos to Calvin Borel for riding his 5,000th winner on Thursday in Hot Springs: Hezunusual ($11.20) for  trainer David Whited, who himself won 3,795 races as a jockey.

The only shock was that the rider they call "Bo Rail" reached this memorable milestone from the 12-hole.

At the post-race ceremonies Borel did a classy thing. He said he dedicated this victory to his long-time agent Jerry Hissam, who is hospitalized in town with various health issues.

My only regrets are that Terry Wallace didn’t get to call the race, and that Jeff Coady didn’t get to take the pictures.

Mike Smith, fresh from winning the Big Cap on Game On Dude, and the La Virgines on Beholder last Saturday at Santa Anita, will fly into Hot Springs this Saturday to ride Flashy Doll for trainer Mott in the Honeybee, and Brethren for trainer Asmussen in the Razorback.

Smith, as mentioned here before, hates to fly, and, at this point in his career, certainly doesn’t need the bread.

Trainer Mott incidentally showed us Thursday at Gulfstream a 3-year-old filly who may be the next Royal Delta. Her name is Conistoga, who won a seven-furlong allowance from here to Joe’s Stone Crabs in her second start.

Wouldn’t surprise me if she goes to the Fantasy at Oaklawn, and or the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill.

Speaking of Churchill, did you notice that CD omitted the Illinois Derby (at Hawthorne) in its "points" races.

Maybe it’s a coincidence, but Churchill owns Arlington Park, the big boy in crosstown Chicago.

Another example of racing kicking itself in the rear.

Just like last week when a Jersey guy won $3.6 million in the Rainbow Pick Six by singling a longshot in the final leg. Except for a mention in this venue, there was not a word spoken or written in the media.

Where was for example the NTRA?

When a lottery gets hit for big bucks, you see stories and pix of the winner(s), and the folks down at the store who sold the winning ticket(s).

But zippo on the Rainbow score.

Tiz a pity.

That said, here is my current Derby Top Ten:

Super Ninety Nine Baffert  Bejarano
Itsmyluckyday Plesa Trujillo
Revolutionary Pletcher Castellano
Den’s Legacy Baffert Santana
Flashback Baffert Leparoux
Code West Baffert Garcia
Orb McGaughey Velazquez
Goldencents O’Neill Krigger
Vyjack Rodriguez Rosario
Normandy Invasion Brown undecided

Obviously, this list is subject to major changes pending the results of the Tampa Bay Derby and San Felipe.

Thanks for tuning in. Good luck this weekend, Click here for my Derby Preps and keep the Hot Line 1-888-612-2283 on speed dial, and see you back here next Friday.

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