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



THE NEWS IS GOOD Blizzard be damned. There is all kinds of good news these days in the racing community. Firsrt and foremost, jockey Dominguez has been released from the Burke Hospital Center in White Plains, N.Y., and is said to be making a rapid recovery at home from the severe head injuries he received in a horrific spill last month at Aqueduct. I once lived in White Plains, no more than 10 minutes from Burke, and it was common knowledge that once Burke takes you, you’re there for a while. Even this week, a Burke doctor was quoted as saying it was rare that a patient is in and out so fast.

This obviously reflects well on Ramon, who spent just two weeks at the facility before being sent home.

No one knows when Ramon will resume riding, or, for that matter, if he will. At 36, with three consecutive Eclipse awards on the mantle, and established as the leading rider in North America, he should be set for life, and the last thing he would need is another spill. But the decision to ride is up to him and his family, and, of course, his doctors. In the meantime, we join the racing community in wishing RD a speedy recovery. Speaking of recovery, the racing world is seeing one for the ages.

Pohla Smith, the long-time national racing writer for UPI, a respected colleague,and a two-term president of the National Turf Writers Assn., recently spent three months in a coma after falling, and cracking her head on cement pavement near her home in Pittsburgh.

Pohla was given the proverbial two chances, slim and none, and her doctors pretty much agreed that slim had left town.

But, miraculously, Pohla magically awoke from the coma one morning, and, like Dominguez, is home making rapid progress. Indeed, a modern-day miracle.

Pohla is counting the days she gets back to her current position as health editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. When they crowned Pittsburgh the city of champions, they had to have Pohla Smith in mind.

While we are on the sbuject of good news, two other racing people -- both trainers -- reached magical milestones this week.

On Thursday, Gary Contessa, who got his start training the cheapest of claimers back in the ’80s at Monmouth Park, notched his 2,000th career victory when Al’s Rosie came down the fence to win the seventh at Aqueduct.

Winning 2,000 races, mostly against the saltiest New York competition, is a tremendous achievement, as we congratulate him.

And, speaking of achievements, how ’bout John Nerud, who, on Saturday, will celebrate his 100th birthday?

Maybe celebrate is too strong a word.

"I’ve had so many birthdays," he says, "that I don’t pay much attention anymore."

I could spent days recounting the achievements of John Nerud, but suffice to say, a generation ago he trained a couple of horses named Dr. Fager and Gallant Man, two all-timers who will never be forgotten.

Just like their trainer.

Long story short.

Back in the ’80s, when I was knocking heads with Russ Harris (he for the New York Daily News, me for the New York Post), I was told one day by Jan Nerud, a public trainer and a good friend, that something called the Breeders’ Cup was going to be announced within 48 hours.

Thanks, Jan, and I went about researching my bombshell exclusive.

While I was busy researching...Russ broke the story.


I had Jan Nerud, but Russ went one better. He had John Nerud.

Fast forward. John Nerud is 100 years old...and he’s still breeding horses. Happy birthday, John.

Speaking of Saturday. the attention of the racing world will be centered that day on Gulfstream Park, where the weather will be a little more conducive to racing than the northeast. Four consecutive stakes will be run -- the Gulfstream Turf, the Gulfstream Sprint, the Suwannee River and the Donn -- as races 8 thru 11. Race Eight is by far the most appealing -- a matchup of Animal Kingdon and Point of Entry going a mile and a furlong. Both horses have been freshened since nightmarish trips in separate Breeders’ Cup events, and both are using this race as a prep for March 30 races in Dubai. If all goes well for Animal Kingdom, he will race for a third (and final) time at Royal Ascot, and then embark on a stud career. That’s bad news for American racing since Animal Kingdom could well be the game’s next superstar, but I’m hesitant to place any blame on Barry Irwin, the Team Valor honcho who calls the shots. After all, Barry could have retired AK the day after the colt got hurt in the 2011 Belmont, and no one would have said a word. Instead, Barry brought AK back in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Mile, and, if the colt had found room one second earlier, he would have beaten Wise Dan, the race winner and Horse of the Year.

From a betting standpoint, and my selectons as usual will be up on-line and on the John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283), the Gulfstream Turf is near-impossible to figure because both big names are using the race strictly as a prep for Dubai, and who really knows who’s ready and who’s not. Both trainers (Motion and McGaughey) are saying all the right things: their horses are training great, all is great. But who knows the truth? That said, you might want to take a look at Unbridled Command, a great-grandson of the John Nerud-owned Fappiano. Unbridled Command, a New York-bred owned by Lewis Laken, who raced some big stars in the midwest with the late Bob Holthhus, has won five straight. And/or Salto, the main speed from the Toddster. It helps that Salto is getting nine pounds from Point of Entry. Speaking of Mr. Pletcher, Pool 1 of the Churchill Downs’ Kentucky Derby Future Wager kicks in this weekend, and seven of the 23 individual horses hail from the Toddster. They are: #1 Capo Bastone, 30-1; #3 Delhomme, 30-1; #14 Overanalyze, 15-1; #16 Revolutionary, 16-1; #17 Shanghai Bobby, 12-1; #20 Verrazano, 15-1, and #21 Violence, 12-1.

In sharp contrast, D. Wayne Lukas, the Toddster’s mentor, has only one among the 23. That would be Oxbow, #15 at 20-1. But who’s to say Wayne’ s one isn’t better than Todd’s seven?

Then there is the Pitino factor.

Goldencents, #9 at 20-1, is co-owned by Rick Pitino. Ol’ Rick wasn’t talking horses much while in Jersey the other day to coach Louisville to a win/cover against Rutgers, but he’s got himself a nice horse in the Delta Jackpot/Sham winner, and he is looking at a personal NCAA/Derby double. Maybe Vegas will give you 200-1 on it.

Despite the numbers, I’m sticking to my prediction made in this venue a month back.

Namely that Pletcher will NOT win the Derby.

I don’t think this is a long limb I’m on. After all, the Toddster is 1-or-31 going in. At this point, Always In a Tiz, who sparked my interest closing for third in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park, is a member of the Future field (#24 at 9-5) pending his next start in the Southwest at the same facility. Thanks for checking in. Be careful out there, keep the Hot Line on speed dial, and see you back here next Friday.

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