Big Day in Philly



By John Piesen

No question in my mind that the race of the year, regardless of what happens from here on, will be the Travers. After all, I nailed the $330 exacta on-line and on the John Piesen Hot Line (1-888 612 2283) of Will Take Charge and Moreno.

That payoff was a little light for a 10-1 shot and a 30-1, but I won't complain. And, even if they deduce that the winning rider was packin', which I'm certain they won't, that won't change the mutual payoffs.

On paper, the story of Saturday's $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Philly Park (it will always be Philly Park as far as I'm concerned) is the rematch of Will Take Charge and Moreno, but this isn't tennis, where player A beats player B every time. And just in case we do get the same result this time, you'll be lucky to get a $10 exacta payoff, much less $330.

Moreno really does figure to get revenge on Will Take Charge. Not only is Moreno again the lone speed, he sheds four pounds and a furlong, he worked :59 last weekend, and he's even got the best of the draw (three) compared to Will Take Charge's eight on a speed-favoring track.

And how often do we get to see a horse win million-dollar races back to back, within a month no less?

Fact is, if Moreno gets beat, I believe it will be by a California shipper named Fury Capcori.

How can this be?

This is a horse whose only stakes success was in a 75K number at a California fair.

But let's take a look between the lines.

That race was the only time FC has raced on dirt (his other six races were on plastic); he was second in the Hollywood Cash Call to Violence, who, at the time was regarded as the top 2-year-old in training; his trainer and part-owner is Jerry Hollendorfer; Hall of Famer Mike Smith is making the 6,000-mile round trip to ride him, and, at 117 pounds, he's getting five and seven pounds from Moreno and Will Take Charge, respectively.

After six months on the DL with bone chips, Fury Capcori returned to action with two OK races at Del Mar, and last weekend, zipped five-eighths in :59 at Hollywood. That work convinced Hollendorfer to foot the bills for the trip to Philly.

And did we mention that Tiznow, the colt's sire, is the hottest stallion in the land?

If Departing was in the race, he would clearly be my choice, but as the late Woody Stephens once said, you gotta be in it to win it.

Another major player in the Penn Derby is Java's War, the same Java's War who blew the break as the wise-guy horse in the Kentucky Derby. He started only once after the Derby, in the Swaps Stakes on July 4 at Hollywood Park, and finished last of four at 2-1, beaten four lengths.

Proving once and again that there is no such thing as loyalty in this game, owner Charles Fipke fired trainer McPeek, and replaced him with Barclay Tagg, who currently is celebrating the 10th anniversary of Funny Cide's Derby and Preakness victories.

Java's War merely won a Grade One, and earned 700K for McPeek in nine starts.

As confirmed closer, he figures to be a victim of the pace Saturday, but he's worth a shot at a price.

The bottom line: I'm just thinking that the Penn Derby will not be a Travers redux.

Right or wrong, I often have a right opinion.

As proof, check out a recent Bill Finley blog on racing media on

Finley made several good points on the subject, but my favorite was suggesting that the best racing coverage in history was provided by the New York Post in the late '70s and '80s. Finley left out the names (Piesen and Kerrison) but that's alright, too. Most folks know whom he was talking about.

That brings us back to Mike Smith.

Smith, still riding high into his '40s, had a bit of bad luck last month. He was forced to take off Game On Dude, the best horse in training, in the Pacific Classic, to honor a commitment to ride Royal Delta the same day in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga.

As expected, both horse aired at short prices, but don't be surprised if Smith loses Game On Dude for the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Smith only leaves the west coast these days when he has to, and Saturday is one of those days.

In addition to riding Fury Capcori in the Penn Derby, he'll be at Philly to pilot Close Hatches, the favorite in the Cotillion, also a million-dollar race, and Rainbow Heir, the likely chalk in the 600K Gallant Bob.

In both cases, it's first-time Mike. He replaced the injured Joel Rosario on Close Hatches, and Elvis Trujillo on Gallant Bob.

Close Hatches hasn't run since winning the Mother Goose by seven last June at Belmont, but she has been training lights-out, and you gotta know trainer Bill Mott will have her ready for a million-dollar pot.

Sweet Lulu, unbeaten in four starts for Hollendorfer, including the Test at Saratoga, is very much the one to beat with Leparoux, and My Happy Face, a fast-closing third in the Test, is equally dangerous for Chad Brown/Javier Castellano.

A helluva race, but for $1 million, it should be.

As for Rainbow Heir, he was 4-for-4 going into the Amsterdam at the Spa, but was whacked at the break, and checked in sixth to Forty Tales. I expect between the jockey change, and the perfect post -- 11 in a field of 14 -- he'll wire the Gallant Bob for Team Perkins.

An interesting player in the Gallant Bob is a double-digit gelding named Res Judicata.

This is a son of Smarty Jones from Smarty's connections -- owner Pat Chapman and trainer John Servis. Carmouche, Philly Park's leading whippersnapper, has the call on RJ, who is fresh from a fast allowance score over the track, and is 2-1-0 from four starts over the track.

The only knock is the one-hole, a body blow at six furlongs. Well, the second knock is that he was beaten 12 lengths by Rainbow Heir two-back at Monmouth Park.

Two hours to the south they are also running a major six-furlong stake -- the 350K De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel.

Last year, they ran these two big-money sprint races a month apart, Go figure.

Trainer Rodriguez ships the multiple stakes-winner Sage Valley from New York for the De Francis, and he'll probably go favored with Corny Velasquez in a field of nine.

But the sentimental favorite will be Ben's Cat, who has won 22 of 34 starts and banked $1.6 million for the legendary King Leatherbury, most of those wins coming in nickel-and-dime, five-furlong grass races.

Regular rider Pimental no doubt will take Ben back to last and come widest and fastest thru the lane. Nothing would please his devoted fans more if he gets up.

Another horse to watch is Il Villano.

The gray was beaten a dirty nose in this race last Fall for trainer Susan Crowell, the daughter of Monmouth regular Charlie Harvatt, but hasn't raced since February when third to Maryland Horse of the Year Javerre in the General George.

If he gets loose, look out!

Meantime, something's got to give in the Gallant Bloom Stakes at Belmont Park, where Dance to Bristol, a winner of seven straight, faces Cluster of Stars, who is merely 5-for-5.

Then there is Dance Card, who has won her last three by a combined 15 lengths.

And, of course, halfway between Belmont and Philly Park is the classic matchup of Arkansas and Rutgers in New Brunswick. Go Hogs.

One piece of sad news.

Every racing writer with a soul can't help but become attached to certain horses. One of my favorites was Klassy Briefcase, a strapping chestnut filly who won multiple stakes at Monmouth Park for Phil and Tina Serpe.

Klassy passed this week at age 28, and at least one jaded racing writer feels like he has lost a dear friend.

Thanks for tuning in. Good luck this weekend, keep that Hot Line on hold, looking forward to a Bucs-Cards playoff, and see you next Friday.


Today’s Hot Plays