The Heat's On Rosario

THRU THE BINOCULARS

THE HEAT'S ON ROSARIO

By John Piesen

Last year at this time, Joel Rosario, freshly-in from California, finished fifth to Ramon Dominguez in the Saratoga jockey standings with 29 winners, a far cry from RD, who led the way with a Spa-record 68 winners.

What a difference a year makes!

In one of the great tragedies of the sport, Dominguez, the worthy recipient of the last three Eclipse Awards, last winter went down with a fractured skull in a horrific spill at Aqueduct, and soon later he announced his retirement from riding.

The king was gone. So who would be the next king?

None other than that Rosario fellow.

A quick study:

Already this year, Rosario won the Derby on Orb, the $10 million Dubai Cup on Animal Kingdom, the Keeneland riding title, and currently leads the nation in wins with

194, and purse-money with $13.4 million.

On Wednesday, the third of four straight dark days in New York, Rosario flew to Los Angeles to accept an ESPY award as Jockey of the Year 2012. (Why didn't Ramon get the honor?

Only the ESPN gods know.)

Since the awards dinner came in the evening, that gave Rosario plenty of time to drive down the coast to Del Mar for opening day. And all he did was win the first two races, four of six overall.

"Stick around," pleaded the media and the players.

"No can do," Rosario replied. "Tomorrow morning, I catch a jet plane back to New York."

And so, after accepting his ESPY, making a brief speech, and posing for pictures,

JR returned to New York, and found his way to Saratoga Springs in plenty of time to ride nine of 10 races on opening day Friday, and all 11 races Saturday. I would

expect that of those 21 mounts, at least nine or ten will go favored.

Since Rosario this year already has won the first race of the Keeneland meet, and the first race of the Del Mar meet, what are his chances of completing a hat trick at the

Spa? Oddsmakers say not very good, because State Flag, his first-race mount on Friday, is listed at 10-1 in the morning line.

On Saturday, Rosario will ride the favorite in the second, third, fourth and sixth races, and major players in the two graded stakes.

Winning the stakes will be no easy task

In the Shuvee, a nine-furlong Grade 3 for fillies and mares going as race nine, Rosario will be a price in the five-horse field (reduced from seven by the expected scratches of Summer Applause and Eblouissante, Zenyatta's unbeaten kid sister).

That will leave Authenticity, from Pletcher and Johnny V., as the favorite, likely at odds-on. But Flashy American has won as many graded stakes (one) as Authenticity, and

Rosario, who does some of his best work on the lead, no doubt will try to steal this from his inside post (two).

The Coaching Club, a Grade 1 for 3-year-old fillies going as race 10 will offer a similar script as the Shuvee, as follows: Nine furlongs. Five horses. Pletcher to

beat and Rosario to catch from an inside post (one). In this case, JR will hustle My Happy Face to the lead, and it will be up to the Toddster

twosome of Princess of Sylmar and Unlimited Budget to catch her.

If the reader is inclined to play the final pick four we find it advisable to use all four of Rosario's mounts -- Charley's Picnic, Flashy American, My Happy Face

and Velvet Cap.

Rosario and Pletcher will be in the mix at all times, but they can't win all the races.

Can they?

Pletcher, who has won the last three Saratoga training titles, and eight overall, as usual is locked and loaded this long, hot summer.

Just check the first three features.

The Todd Squad kicks off the meet Friday with the coupled entry of Elena Strikes

and Yes Liz in the Schuylerville, a six-furlong Grade 3 going as race nine on the

10-race card.

Both fillies won their downstate debuts in impressive fashion, but Bret Calhoun, a Midwest bomber, makes a rare Spa appearance with Bahnah, who looked like the second coming of Ruffian winning first pop at Churchill.

This may be one of the few times in the 40-day meet that Pletcher will not go favored in a stake.

As mentioned, Todd on Saturday runs the uncoupled Princess of Sylmar and Unlimited Budget in the Oaks, and Authenticity in the Shuvee. On Sunday, the beat

goes on with TP saddling the formidable All in Blue in the Sanford.

For those who will brave the Spa heat this weekend, the NYRA has some good news and some bad news.

The first act of new CEO Kay is to provide five-pound bags of ice at various concession stands.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that there will be a price to pay.

At least the horses will get the ice-bags for free!

Hopefully, it will be a lot cooler on August 10 when reigning Horse of the Year

Wise Dan comes to town for the Fourstardave Handicap, a race which honors the most popular horse in the century and a half of Saratoga.

It's only fitting.

The bad news is that, for the first time in that century and a half, the New York Post, my alma mater, will have no coverage of Saratoga.

Times, they do change.

Let's take the Jersey Derby, the Saturday feature at Monmouth, as another example.

The Jersey Derby, not that long ago, was the most significant race on the East Coast for 3-year-old turfers, and before that, when it was run on dirt at Garden State Park (now a mall) , was won by the likes of Dr. Fager, who alas had the misfortune of getting DQd after airing by eight lengths.

Back in the day, the Jersey Derby was worth $500,000. Saturday's purse is $60,000, or 20K less than a 2-year-old maiden-special purse Friday at Saratoga.

Of the 11 horses in the race, only Vegas No Show is a stakes-winner, and that was the ungraded Dover last year at Delaware Park.

For all of my Saratoga selections, you need to go online or ring the celebrated John Piesen Hot Line -- 1 (888) 612 2283.

Thanks for tuning in. Keep cool, go Bucs, and keep the aptly-named “Hot” Line

at your ready.

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