THRU THE BINOCULARS
By John Piesen
Unlike many others, I don't think that horse racing is a dying sport. But media coverage of racing is dying.
Oh, for the days of Red Smith, Joe Palmer, Pat Lynch, Bill Rudy and Ray Kerrison, to name just a few of the newspaper legends who covered racing with such brilliance.
I thought of this when they ran the Haskell last Sunday at Monmouth Park. Of the three New York dailies, the Post blew off the race entirely, the News had its Saratoga guy write the race off the TV in the Spa press box, and the Times used an inexperienced stringer who wasn't about to ruffle any feathers.
Nowhere in the media could I find anything approaching a negative word or thought regarding Haskell Day...despite so much evidence to the contrary.
The Haskell itself was a farce. The stick (Verrazano) won by nine in the slowest Haskell in 30 years. The second choice (Oxbow) virtually was eased at the three-eighths pole with a knee problem when the winner went by...and somehow finished fourth because the field was so terrible.
The result was hardly a surprise since 10 favorites in the last 12 years have won the Travers--as we pointed out here last week-- and most of those races were blowouts, sending the picnickers hustling early out to the Parkway to beat the traffic.
And Vyjack unfortunately exited out of the race with ulcers, putting his career in jeopardy.
In an earlier race, the Monmouth Cup (formerly the Meadowlands Cup), Take Charge Indy was cruising on the lead at 3-5 leaving the backstretch, but broke down, and was pulled up by thejockey. Kudos to Stevens for saving the colt's life!
In the next race, the winner was disqualified for a borderline foul..
Hey, bad things happen at the racetrack. That's horse racing. But you wouldn't know from the media, who were content to write puff pieces about Verrazano and trainer Todd Pletcher.
And poor Gary Stevens.
The 50-year-old Hall of Famer traveled 6,000 miles from California to ride two horses on Haskell Sunday...only to return to the unsaddling area both times on foot.
That, in a nutshell, was what Haskell Sunday was really about.
The only positive I could find was the fact that the Jersey guys who own Verrazano are donating a significant share of their purse money to Sandy relief.
Perhaps the most significant event on the Haskell card occurred earlier in the day.
Larry Jones -- yes, the Larry Jones who gave us Hard Spun, Harve de Grace, Eight Belles, Old Fashioned, Proud Spell, Believe You Can, Island Sun and Joyful Victory in the last decade --vanned three fillies the 12 hours from Louisville to Monmouth.
Joyful Victory, the stable star, as expected wired the Molly Pitcher by seven as the 1-5 favorite, a steppingstone to the Breeders' Cup Distaff.
The other two fillies from the van did OK too.
Starstruck, an Irish import owned by Calumet, won the Matchmaker in hand, and the third filly made up 20 lengths to get third in the Regret.
"Calumet, Jones," Larry J was saying before the Matchmaker, "...that has a nice ring to it. We're talking a lot of history here."
Jones obviously wasreferring to Ben and Jimmy Jones, the trainers for Calumet in the salad days years ago that produced the likes of Citation,Whirlaway and Twilight Tear.
It may be a stretch, but I'm thinking this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Calumet and Larry Jones, not unlike Claude Rains and Bogie in Casablanca.
After all, D.Wayne Lukas is getting on, and just last week accepted an appointment to the Kentucky Racing Commission.
I'm thinking this should be the first step to National Racing Commissioner for DWL. I'm not saying it couldn't happen to a nicer guy, but it sure couldn't happen to a more qualified guy.
Speaking of Wayne, so much for the highly-hyped matchup of Classic winners Orb, Oxbow and Palace Malice in the Travers. Instead the first two choices no doubt will be Palace Malice and Verrazano, and, the last I looked, they are Pletcher stablemates.
In the red corner, Todd Pletcher! In the blue corner, Todd Pletcher!
Be still my heart.
At last look, the Toddster has won 12 races in 11 days at the Spa -- and half of those 12 were in stakes: Palace Malice ((Jim Dandy); Princess of Sylmar (Coaching Club American Oaks); Authenticity (Shuvee); Forty Tales (Amsterdam); Silsita (My Princess Jess), and Winning Cause (Sir Cat)..
Curiously, Pletcher to this point has more winners than his main jock Johnny V (nine).
On Saturday,TP will try to add the PAT when he sends out Cross Traffic (with Johnny V) in the 750K Whitney Handicap (race 10 of 11 at 5:45).
This will be the first-time two-turns in five career starts for Cross Traffic, who no doubt will take some catching under 117 pounds, five less than the 122 assigned to the favored Fort Larned, the reigning Breeders' Cup Classic winner.
Giving Pletcher five pounds in a Grade One is like giving Willie Sutton the keys to the vault.
It would be only fitting if Cross Traffic wins because he is a son of iconic sire Unbridled's Song, who left us last week at 23.
For my Whitney pick you need to go online or check out the John Piesen Hot Line (1 888 612 2283)..
Bad luck for young whippersnapper Brian Hernandez.
Normally Brian could ride Fort Larned in the Whitney, then jet to West Virginia to ride Departing in the 750K West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer. Mountaineer always runs at night, except this time, because of TV commitments, Mountaineer will run in the daylight, and the two 750K races are scheduled to go at the same time.
Hence, Robby Albarado will make the trip from Saratoga to ride Departing at Mountaineer.
Incidentally, this is an example of how much influence Pletcher has in the game.
There is no question in my mind that Departing should and will be the favorite in the WVD, but the Mountaineer morning-line man makes the Toddster's Overanalyze, with Rosie Napravnik up, the prohibitive favorite.
They both have to beat Steve Asmussen. who merely has won four of the last six runnings of the West Virginia Derby. This time Super Steve runs Betweenhereandcool, with Santana up, in the nine-furlong Grade 2.
Asmussen, who won the West Virginia Derby last year, also will be looking for a consecutive double in the 400K Vanderbilt on Sunday at the Spa.
Steve won the six-furlong grade one last year with Majesticperfection, and will try this year with Justin Phillip, who was the Vandy runnerup in 2012.
Only five will go in the Vanderbilt, and the main plot line will be a rematch of Gentlemen's Bet and Delaunay, fresh from a one-two finish in the Iowa Sprint Stakes.
But on that occasion, Delaunay had a terrible start as the odds-on favorite.
Interesting connections. Ron Moquett, who trains Gentlemen's Bet, spent a veritable lifetime training cheap horses at Oaklawn Park, and is looking for his first-ever Spa winner.
Maggi Moss for years has been the premier female owner in North America, and Delaunay, whom she claimed for 30K, has developed into a multiple stakes-winner under trainer Amoss, and is the best horse she has ever owned.
Curiously, none of the five in the Vandy field have won a grade one.
Finally, the racing community mourns the loss this week of two good people -- owner Elaine Klein, and trainer Sonny Wigginton.
Thanks for tuning in. Have a good and profitable weekend, go Bucs, and see you back here next Friday for a look at the Four-Star Dave Stakes.
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