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Submitted by John Piesen on Friday, July 18, 2014 at 12:00 AM


By John Piesen

Looking over the entries for the opening weekend at Saratoga one can come to only one conclusion: the new poobahs at NYRA love grass racing.

On both Saturday and Sunday, six of the 11 races are scheduled for the grass, and thankfully they will stay on the grass because the weather is looking good, much as it was last year, when the sun seemed to shine on the Spa virtually every day.

Hopefully, the weather gods again will look kindly on Saratoga because, if not, we are looking alas at dozens of off-the-grassers, with their short fields dominated by main-track-onlys.

The bottom line: Javier Castellano and John Velazquez are going to dominate grass racing.

Need evidence?

Try this stat on for size:

Castellano and Johnny V both show flat-bet profits on the grass this year, and that’s with half the year gone, and the reality that there were few bombers to skew the figure.

Another constant is trainer Todd Pletcher. Yes. I know he’s been beating me for years, but I have to forgive him…especially in view of the fact that The Toddster has won 10 Saratoga training titles, and shows no signs of slowing down, considering he’s loaded one again with monstrous 2-year-olds.

Pletcher, who has averaged 18 two-year-old winners the last four years at the Spa, figures to trump that figure this summer with the likes of colts Nonna’s Boy, Competitive Edge, Dada Maino, both from the first crop of 2010 Derby winner Super Saver; Bully Proof and Reality, and fillies Fashion Alert, Overspending, Pointe Class, Tybalt’s Queen, Sierra Olivia and Curolina.

For starters, they are running two stakes for juveniles on the first weekend, and Pletcher will be favored in both—with Fashion Alert in the opening-day Schuylerville, and Nonna’s Boy in the Sanford on Saturday.

As of this writing, they haven’t run one race at the Spa, but Pletcher already is exerting his influence. When the opening-day program was drawn on Tuesday, NYRA elected to card the featured 150K Schuylerville—with Fashion Alert 1-5 in a five-horse field—as the third race on the 11-race card, rather than as the traditional eighth or ninth race, the better to assure a pick six carryover.

The hell with a century-plus of history.   

Meantime, with Castellano, Johnny V, and to a lesser extent, the Ortiz brothers dominating the action, it will be interesting to note how newcomer Corey Lanerie will fare. Personally, I doubt all those Florida and Kentucky riding titles will carry much weight with the jaded New York trainers.

Same goes for European icon Frankie Dettori, arguably the most accomplished rider in the world. Dettori crossed the Atlantic to ride the opening four-day Spa weekend for buddy Wes Ward, but could scarcely scrape up another mount.

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Speaking of jocks making moves, how ’bout Stew Elliot?

Eliot this week made the radical move of forsaking Philly Park (Pax), where he has been a god-like figure for 30 years, to venture cross-country to ride Del Mar.

Stew wasted no time making an impact. On opening day Thursday, he had one mount, and merely won race seven with Know Plan at $52.20!

You didn’t hear the Del Mar brass complaining. On his first day in town, Elliot gives them a pick six carryover (106K).

But don’t look for more Elliot fireworks on day two. He has only one call, and that’s on an also-eligible.

No matter, Stew’s one of the good guys. We wish him luck on his Left Coast adventure.

Speaking of luck, hope Elliot has more luck than the millions of poor souls who had the National League and/or under in the All-Star Game.

That cookie Wainwrong gave Jeter conceivably affected the winning and losing as well as the total, but not a peep from the media. After all who ever heard of gambling on sports, much less baseball? 

Good thing there is gambling permitted on horse racing, because otherwise that $20.20 mutuel we got on first-starter best-bet Hazel Eyed Girl last Saturday at Monmouth would have been wasted.

Good things like Hazel Eyed Girl obviously are a long-time tradition for us in the good old days of the New York Post and Daily Racing Form®, and since 2001 online at and on the John Piesen Hot Line at 1-888-777-4155.

The thinking in racing circles is that Hazel Eyed Girl will turn out to be a precursor of the good thing first-starters that await at Saratoga for my on-line followers.

We’ll know soon enough.

Meantime, they’ll run the first of 15 Saratoga Grade Ones on Saturday—the 500K Diana at nine furlongs on the inner turf for fillies and mares, 3 and up, and no less than 10 of the 11 potential starters are graded stakes-winners.

The key to the wide-open race is the uncoupled Chad Brown entry of Alterite and Stephanie’s Kitten.

Thanks to some foot problems, Alterite has been out of circulation since running a bang-up third to champion Dank in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Filly-Mare Turf, beaten a diminishing length.

Castellano, who rode Alterite for the first time in the Breeders’ Cup, rides her for the second time in the Diana.

Curiously, Johnny V takes off Stephanie’s Kitten, beaten a half-length in the ’13 Diana, to ride longshot Strathnaver for the red-hot Graham Motion, replacing Mike Smith, who opts to stay home at Del Mar.

Frankie Dettori inherits the mount on Stephanie.

I know I’ll be up half the night looking for the Diana winner, and hopefully it will be worth a sleepless night. Hey, at least I don’t have to beat Pletcher. Todd’s
sitting this one out.

Thanks for tuning in. Have a great Saratoga, keep the Hot Line in mind, go Buccos, and see you back here next week for a look at the Haskell.

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