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Submitted by John Piesen on Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 12:00 AM


By John Piesen

It’s bad enough that Aqueduct raced only twice over a period of the last 11 days, but it was worse that the Stymie Handicap, scheduled for Saturday, didn’t fill.

So NYRA did the next best thing, and replaced the Stymie with the Moro Stakes, at half the cost -- $75,000.

Racegoers over the age of 40 will remember Moro as one of the many rags-to-riches horses trained by Gasper Moschera, the all-time NYRA leader in races won. Gasper made his living claiming horses on the cheap, and often turning them into stakes-winners.

Such was the case with Moro.

"It’s great that they’re naming a race for Moro," Moschera was saying Friday from his winter home outside Orlando, "...but it would have been even better if they invited me to make the presentation. I wouldn’t have made the trip; still it would be nice if they has asked me.

"It’s also worth mentioning that Moro won the Stymie twice."

I’m fairly certain why the race is named the Moro. Someone in the NYRA racing office presumably scanned through the roster of Stymie winners, and found Moro.

The race office did manage to come up with six runners for the Moro, an ungraded stake for 4-year-olds and up at a mile and a furlong.

The favorite (and main speed) in the Moro will be Joan’s Choice, who has compiled a 2-1-2 record over seven starts on the inner. The 6-year-old gelding comes off a third in his first start since Saratoga, and switches to Ortiz the elder.

Isn’t He Perfect (Luzzi) and Ea (Cohen) look to be the main threats.

Of course the Moro Stakes is a further reminder to the folks at the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame that Moschera continues to be a non-member. After all, he has won more races on the NYRA circuit than any trainer in history, and did so without a single drug positive.

It boggles the mind that racing can have a Hall of Fame that doesn’t include Gasper Moschera.

It also makes me wonder why NYRA hasn’t named a (graded) stake for Gasper.

Speaking of Ea, it’s worth noting that Ramon Dominguez, Ea’s regular rider, is making rapid progress from the fractured skull he sustained in a spill last month, and hopes to get back on horses as soon as late March.

At the time Dominguez went down, his brightest Derby prospect was a horse named Always In a Tiz. In Ramon’s absence, Paco Lopez picked up the mount on Always In a Tiz in the Smarty Jones Stakes a month back at Oaklawn Park.

It was the first mount for Lopez ever at Oaklawn, and he didn’t bother to get a ride over the track that day. ThereuponAlways In a Tiz found all kinds of trouble, and settled for third as a day and a half the best.

Paco will get the chance to redeem himself Monday when he rides the colt back in the Southwest Stakes over the track. The horse to beat will be Super Ninety Nine, trained by Bob Baffert, who merely last year swept every race in Oakland’s 3-year-old stakes series, capped by Bodemeister in the Arkansas Derby.

Bodemeister, who was retired after near-misses in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, now is standing in Kentucky for a mere 20K a pop. Hey, if you have some spare change, that’s the way to go.

The other big news in Hot Springs is the return Saturday of Calvin Borel.

Calvin needs one winner for 5,000, and he has two live mounts Saturday.

The major 3-year-old race Saturday will be the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate.

Baffert is doubling down in this spot with Carving and Manando, who of course figure to be the favorite and second choice.

Zeewat, from the Hollendorfer barn, is the horse to beat with jockey Baze, who has owned Golden Gate since the Truman administration.

The third stake for 3-year-olds this weekend is the San Vicente Sunday at Santa Anita-and Baffert merely has three in this one: War Academy, Belvin and Shakin It Up.

But for one of the rare times on the Triple Crown trail, Bullet Bob won’t be the favorite. That honor goes to the Asmussen-trained Caballo Del Cielo, who Is also the main speed.

Speaking of main speed, the New York-bred, Baffert-trained Brigand will take some catching Monday in the General George at Laurel.

Surprise! We’ve gone this far with no mention of trainer Pletcher.

This is about to change because it’s time to kick off the Derby Top Ten, which as we all know, is the mother of Derby Top Tens.

The Toddster can fill a Derby Top Ten all by himself - or 15 for that matter, but I’m determined to try to beat him.

Pending this weekend’s three Derby preps, here’s our first installment: Click here to get the winners and exotics in the rest of the Derby Preps.

Itsmyluckyday Plesa Trujillo 13-1
Normandy Invasion Brown Lezcano 15-1
Always In a Tiz Schettino Lopez 8-5 (field)
Verrazano Pletcher Velazquez 11-1
Super Ninety Nine Baffert Bejarano 8-5 (field)
Violence Pletcher Castellano 13-1
Oxbow Lukas Court 26-1
Revolutionary Pletcher Castellano 13-1
Goldencents O’Neill Krigger 20-1
Vyjack Rodriguez Rosario 49-1

Rodriguez continues to be the modern-day Moschera. On Friday for example, RR saddled three winners at Aqueduct, and one at Gulfstream.

Vyjack was a three-time winner with Corny Velasquez in the irons, but Rosario will be aboard for the colt’s next race in the Gotham on the inner. Rudy blames the owner. Jocks get yanked for bigger names every year, but that doesn’t make it right.

That said, thanks for tuning in, check out my daily best bets online, my Derby Prep package and on the John Piesen Hot Line 1-888-612-2283, and see you back here next week.

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