THRU THE BINOCULARS
By John Piesen
There were remarkable achievements accomplished by three Hall of Famers in the first week of Saratoga's six-week meeting.
First and foremost came in Thursday's opener when Long Jon Sheppard stretched his Spa winning streak to 45 years when Martini Brother rallied from last to first in the first jump-up of the meet. Shepp as usual meant business. He ran one-two.
At 72, in this year of the seniors, Sheppard is still going strong.
In the years I covered Long Jon for the Post, I knew he meant business when he wore that hideous green sports jacket to the races. Now, the jacket is long gone, but the streak lives, presumably forever.
How many trainers have even run a horse at the Spa for 45 straight years?
The second historic moment also occurred Thursday when Johnny Velazquez rode three winners, giving him 693 career winners at the Spa, and tying him for first all-time with the retired Jerry Bailey.
As is his custom, Johnny V. made no big deal about it. He pointed out that Angel Cordero Jr., his agent for most of those winners, stands third with Spa winners with 459 --but Junior had a thousand fewer mounts.
Naturally all three of these guys are Famers.
And, last Saturday Todd Pletcher saddled horses in all three stakes -- and won them all - starting with Silsita at $17.60
This Saturday at the Spa, the Toddster can outdo himself.
He will run seven, and all seven will be favored, including Palace Malice in the“Jim Dandy” and Kauai Kate in the “Prioress”. Needless to say, I picked against the Toddster in all three stakes he won last Saturday, and I'll try to beat him again this Saturday.
Will the kid ever learn?
For good measure, Pletcher will run three at Monmouth on Sunday -- Channel Lady in the "Matchmaker", Hudson Steele in the "Oceanport", and Verrazano in the "Haskell" -- and all three will be favored.
And, if by any chance, Verrazano (9-5 overnight but 2-5 at post), shouldget beat, a horse named Micromanage may be the one to do it. And he of course will be the price in Todd's uncoupled entry.
And, speaking of upsets, if Palace Malice should get beat in the Jim Dandy, the one to do it could be a colt named Moreno.
Historians will note that this is the 60th anniversary of arguably the greatest upset in Kentucky Derby history. The unbeaten Native Dancer was 7-10, but had the misfortune to get whacked leaving the gate, and wound up falling ahead short of catching the 24-1 front-end winner Dark Star.
Dark Star was ridden that day by Hank Moreno. And, here we have it, 50 years later, Moreno, named for that Derby-winning rider, will be the one to catch and beat under Jose Ortiz in the "Jim Dandy", the biggest local prep for the Travers.
Ortiz should be as fortunate as he was in the Lottsa Talc Stakes on Thursday. He did a terrific job nursing Clear Pasaj to a front-end victory, but Willet, the stick with Rosario, was a day and a half the best.
Willet lagged last and widest of sixin the seven-furlong stake forfillies and mares, and stayed widest closing for second under a hand ride, missing by a nose. Three jumps after the wire, Willet was five in front. Jimmy Iselin, the owner-trainer of Willet, said Rosario apologized to him for getting beat, but Iselin just walked away.
"What can you say?" Iselin said 24 hours later, "...that's horse racing."
The over-confident ride cost Iselin 60K, and the bettors considerably more.
That, too, is horse racing.
Look for Willet next in the Ballerina against stiffer competition.
Assuming Pletcher, who never seems to lose suchphotos, does not go 10-for-10 this weekend, look for trainer Baffert to pick up cash money. Bullet Bob has had a quiet year (by his standards), but he'll have some big guns blazing -- Code West in the "Jim Dandy", Power Broker in the "Haskell" (both with Rosie), and Paynter, the Comeback Kid, with Bejarano in the San Diego at Del Mar.
Baffert will stay at Del Mar with Paynter rather than make the cross-country trip to saddle Power Broker in the Haskell.Maybe Bob knows the odds are stacked against him.
Since 2004 every favorite but one has won the "Haskell". The exception was the Baffert-trained Lookin at Lucky. Still, Baffert has won the Haskell six times, but each time he was on hand to stuff himself with hot dogs at Max's on the boardwalk, and stop by Monmouth to accept the hardware.
So history says Verrazano will win -- at odds-on. Would you not like to have a piece of Verrazano, a winner of five of six starts, and named for the nearby iconic bridge?
One of the colt's owners told the media this week that, with a hundred friends and family coming for the race, he's never been so nervous. We should all have such problems.
The "Haskell" will go as race 13 on a 14-race card, so make sure you bring umbrellas, T-storms are in the forecast.
Rain or shine, don't forget that Lukas fellow. Wayne has been as dead as Elvis since he won the Preakness with Oxbow in mid-May, but you know he'll have Oxbow cranked up for this big one. He usually does.
Thanks for tuning in. Have a good weekend, go Bucs, and keep the John Piesen Hot Line 1 (888) 612 2283 at the ready or visit my website, www.johnpiesen.com.
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