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Submitted by John Piesen on Friday, February 1, 2013 at 12:00 AM



The road to the Triple Crown picks up speed Saturday with Derby preps on tap at four big-time venues -- Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Santa Anita and Tampa Bay Downs. There also are interesting stakes for older horses at Fair Grounds and Hot Springs.

I’ll have my picks in all 4 races here online or you can call me at 1-888-612-2283.

The common thread is Todd Pletcher.

Last Saturday, the Toddster was odds-in in the of the biggest stakes east of California...and won just one, with the 1-9 at Gulf.

Todd wasn’t visibly upset that champion Shangahi Bobby tasted his first defeat when second at odds-on in the Holy Bull at the Gulf, but jockey Rosie evidently was.

Upon arriving at Sam Houston Park that evening to ride two stakes for main man Larry Jones, the first words out of her mouth to the Cowboy were: "I’m pissed."

And so she should be. Getting beat normally is no crime, but in this case it is what with jockeys Velazquez and Castellano waiting in the wings.

This Saturday is a perfect example.

Pletcher is running four at Aqueduct, and Castellano will be up from south Florida to ride all four, all of them favorites, including Revolutionary in the Withers.

Johnny V stays home at Gulf to ride five for Pletch, and at least three of the five will be chalk. One exception will be Forty Tales, who will be second choice to Merit Man in the Hutcheson.

Pletch is sitting out the other two Derby preps, the Lewis at Santa Anita, and the Sam Davis at Tampa, but he will run the favorite San Pablo, in the Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park. Hopefully for Todd, Chris DeCarlo, making his maiden ride at OP, won’t confuse the finish line, which is at the 16th pole.

The Withers, a $200,000 Grade 3 at 1 1/16 miles, is the most intriguing of the four Derby preps because 1) the winner gets 10 points in the convoluted Derby points system, and 2) the presence of Revolutionary.

A son of War Pass, out of Alabama winner Runup the Colors, Revolutionary created such a buzz last summer while training for his Saratoga debut that one New York scribe (for real) declared him a cinch to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed.

Sure enough, Revolutionary got clobbered at the break, and settled for a closing third. Two more placings followed at odds-on, but the colt broke through in his fourth start, winning by four with a 102 Beyer, a huge number for the inner.

Revolutionary later was flattered when Transparent, the distant runnerup that day, won by a pole next time despite being knocked to the outside fence  by a bolter at the first turn.

There is 1) not that much 3-year-old talent in New York, and/ or 2) they are ducking Revolutinary because this is hardly a classic Withers. Smooth Bert, 15-1 in the morning line, is the only stakes-winner in the field of eight, and that was with state-breds in the Bertram Bongard.

Don’t be surprised if Revolutionary (showing his War Pass genes), speed-pops this group from post three at $2.80.

In the aftermath, the media will note that Revolutionary, him being a son of War Pass, is not a mile and a quarter material. 

And did you notice that Aqueduct is eliminating six racing days on the inner as a means to cut back on racing fatalities...but at the same time goes from nine to 10 races on Saturday. Management’s reason for this move is to comply with HRTV’s schedule.


If you absolutely need to have the Withers exacta, you may as well use the Long River/Valid entry from the sheiks. Long River, who gets I. Ortiz and the one-hole, is simply the best-bred 3-year-old in the land (A.P. Indy--Round Pond).And his best race to date was a second to another Pletcher rocket, Delhomme, as in Jake Delhomme.

Meantime, at Gulfstream one thing you have to notice is that jockey Rosaio takes off Merit Man, the favorite in the Hutcheson, to ride the mid-priced My Name Is Michael in the Sam Davis upstate at Tampa.

Paco Lopez, back from his Hot Springs misfortune, picks up the mount from trainer Hess on Merit Man, who is 3-1-0 from four starts, a two-times-stakes-winner, and the potential speed of the Hutcheson, a 150K Grade II at seven furlongs.

On the other hand, Forty Tales, a son of personal favorite Tale of the Cat, is unbeaten in two starts for Pletcher, goes back to Johnny V, and gets the rail, a plus if he breaks well. which he has not to date. 

If it’s the Beyer numbers that float your boat, Forty Tales’ figures are in the same ballpark as Merit Man. And the two colts were nearly dead-even in the sales ring. FT brought 80K; MM 75K.

But the Hutch is not a two-horse race by any means.

Little Distorted was favored at 7-5 over Merit Man in the six-furlong  Spectacular Bid Stakes off a Belmont victory over Revolutionary, but settled for third to MM. Chances are he’ll improve off that effort. 

Undrafted comes off a third to Holy Bull winner Itsmyluckyday in the Gulfstream Park Derby at a mile, and Pataky Kid blew the start at 4-1 in the Iroquois at Churchill.

Then there’s Honorable Dillon, who will be closing widest and fastest in the 10-horse field.

Tough group to separate.

Out at Santa Anita, the Robert B. Lewis, to be run as race four, will be one of three Grade II events on the nine-race program. The others are the Strub (race eight), and the Arcadia (race nine).

One reason the 200K Lewis goes early is that only four showed up, and the two favorites -- Flashback and Dan’s Legacy -- are uncoupled Baffert stablemates in the 200K stake at 1 1/6 miles. 

Flashback, a roan Tapit colt, wowed Hollywood with a blowout win as the stick in his debut on Heisman Day, and surely will be loose on the lead with Leparoux.

Dan’s Legacy, fresh from a closing second to Goldencents in the Sham, no doubt will come flying under Gomez, who gave us an incredible last-to-first winner with Tiz A Minister ($21.40) at this distance last week. That’s a subtle way of reminding that our Derby Prep Picks will continue to be up and running online and on the John Piesen Hot Line 1-888-612-2283.

Then there’s He’s Had Enough from the folks who gave us I’ll Have Another last year.

The gray was a close-up second to Shanghai Bobby in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but had a terrible trip in he CashCall, and finished fifth to Violence, another Pletcher rocket.

With his armada of Derby hopefuls, you would think that Pletcher would ship something for the Lewis, but he’s sitting this one out.

The fourth in the Lewis is Little Jerry, who saves Santa Anita management the embarrasment of offering a three-horse race. Wonder if Little Jerry is named for the celebrated Seinfeld character?

Unlike the Lewis, the field for the Sam Davis, a 250K Grade III at the same mile-16 distance, drew a field of 10...and it’s wide-open.

My Name Is Michael finished well in his four 2-year-old starts at Woodbine, prompting  his owners to thank trainer Cotey by transferring the horse to Bill Mott, who has done everything in his Hall of Fame career but win a Kentucky Derby.

Michael has turned in a pair of bullet works at Payson Park, and, as mentioned before, Rosario gives up the Hutch chalk to ride.

Mark Casse, the Bill Mott of Canada, runs a worthy coupled entry of Northern Lion and Dynamic Sky, both coming off impressive wins. Stable riders Husbands and Contreras have the respective calls.

You can’t leave out Speak Logistics from the red-hot Plesa barn.

As a 2-year-old, Speak Logistics won a 300K stake at Calder, and was in contention in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile until mid-stretch. Also, that 1:12 work at Calder last week has to raise some proverbial eyebrows.

Speaking of fast works, Believe You Can, the 2012 Kentucky Oaks winner,  zipped five-eighths in :59 last week for her 4-year-old debut Saturday in the 100K Tiffany Stakes over a mile/16 at Fair Grounds.

I asked Fair Grounds-based trainer Jones the other day if he had something special for Super Bowl weekend.

"Sure do, John," he replied. "Believe You Can comes back Saturday, and she is training like a southern girl going to her prom. She’ll be ready."

Believe You Can may be a reasonable price because she’s been away six months, and theopposition is decent. 

Check out the weights. The Oaks winner, at 116 pounds, is the lightweight in the field of six.

Rosie rides from the five-hole. 

Thanks for tuning in. Enjoy a super weekend, don’t forget the Hot Line, and see you back here next Friday.

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