They're Off!


The Derby Preps start Saturday!
by John Piesen

Now that the Horse of the Year race thankfully is over we can get going on real racing.

That of course is the Road to the Triple Crown, which kicks off this weekend with the Holy Bull and LeComte on Saturday, and the California Derby on Sunday.

With the exception of the first weekend in March, there are one or more major stakes for 3-year-olds scheduled for every weekend up to the Kentucky Derby, which will go on May 1.

The John Piesen Hot Line, which has enjoyed much success on the Derby Trail through the years, again will be in action. Check it out here online, or call (888) 612 2283 for details.

The Holy Bull, a $150,000 Grade 3 going as race nine at Gulfstream Park, comes up unusually tough, drawing the Champagne winner, three Breeders' Cup Juvenile runners, and the winner of five straight.

The latter would be Jackson Bend, who, racing exclusively at Calder as a 2-year-old, finished second in his debut, and then reeled off a maiden win, and four consecutive stakes victories.

After Jackson Bend's last win at 4-5 in the $400,000 In Reality Stakes in mid-October, the horse was sold for big bucks. That meant goodbye Stanley Gold, hello Nick Zito.

It is very doubtful that a colt by Hear No Evil (a $3,500 stallion) out of Sexy Stockings, could make an impact on the Kentucky Derby, but JB will be a short price in the Holy Bull. He looks to be the controlling speed from the outside under Jeremy Rose in a field of nine in the one-turn mile, prompting Daily Racing Form to make him the consensus best bet.

That doesn't make JB the winner, but then again the all-world trainers of two of his chief rivals Saturday are very much cold-watering their chances.

Todd Pletcher, the trainer of the Grade 1-stakes placed Aikenite, tells DRF:

"I don't want Aikenite to be revved up coming off the bench. I don't want this to be the best race of the year for him. We've put him in a position to run well, and in a position to move forward off the race."

In other words, what's a $150,000 purse among friends?

Tony Dutrow, the trainer of Winslow Homer, goes even further.

"A one-turn mile is not what my horse wants," he tells DRF, "and I'm not excited about the Holy Bull even a little bit. The Fountain of Youth (Feb. 20) is the race I'm looking forward to."

In other words, damn the torpedoes.

It will be interesting to see which Homeboykris shows up...the one who one who won the Champagne, or the one who dragged home fifth to Buddy's Saint in the Remsen.

Kris, the only gelding in the field, has been training lights-out for Rick Dutrow, who gave us Big Brown two years back.

Piscitelli, beaten less than a length in the BC Juvenile, has been training bullets at Palm Meadows, and Kent Desormeaux (Brownie's rider) is very high on him. Greg Sacco trained him last year, brother Rick takes over this year, so what gives?

Turf Melody and Maximus Ruler will be the top two choices in the $100,000 LeComte, to be run as race 10 on a stakes-filled 13-race program at Fair Grounds, down the road from the NFC title game the next day.

Those two drew the advantageous inside posts in a field of 11 going a mile and 40 yards around two-turns.

Maximus Ruler looks to be the best 3-year-old mount for Francisco Torres since he played Braulio Baeza in the Ruffian TV film, and rode Foolish Pleasure in the match race.

Torres opts for Maximus Ruler over Worldly, whom he rode to a third-place finish behind Super Saver in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs.

Jockey Rose meantime takes off Turf Melody to ride Jackson Bend in the Holy Bull. The California-based Jose Valdivia gets the call Saturday from trainer Motion.

Here's a good place to note that Calvin Borel, who has ridden two of the last three Kentucky Derby winners, already has two top prospects for this year's running: Super Saver and Dryfly, the Charles Cella-owned winner of the Smarty Jones Stakes on Monday at Oaklawn Park. That was why Calvin was missing in action at the Eclipse dinner that evening.

Speaking of the Eclipses, it seems a mistake was made.

When the voting was announced, Zenyatta got 228 votes for older female, and Icon Project one. Now, it turns out that the one Icon Project vote was an error. The poor fellow checked the wrong horse. He came clean the next day, so now it's unanimous.

Thought you needed to know...

Switching gears, I had thought that David Cohen, after dominating the Delaware Park riding colony last year, was merely just another good Jewish jockey.

But hold on here.

Not since Steve Cauthen has a newcomer made an impact in New York like Cohen has. If Ramon Dominguez had done that right thing, and wintered in Florida, Cohen would be putting up Cauthen-like numbers over the Aqueduct inner track.

On Saturday, with Dominguez at Gulfstream to ride Winslow Homer in the Holy Bull. Cohen gets the Big A stage all to himself. He has calls on major players in eight of the nine races, the exception ironically the stake, the $65,000 Paumonok for 3-and-up at six furlongs.

Cohen's calls are, in order, Cires; Duke of Naples; Rule By Night; Stargleam; Kickapoo; Mr. Grievance; Manteca, and Favorite Colors.

Cohen likes the front end, and that's the place to be with the inner playing to speed these days.

Driven By Success (Luzzi) and Wall Street Wonder (Hill) will be the first and second choice, respectively, in the six-horse Paumonok, which will go as race three for two reasons: to keep it out of the Pick Six and out of the late Pick Four.

The over-under on an all-Cohen Pick Four is $50.

Finally, the main event at Oaklawn Park Saturday is race eight, the $75,000 Pippin for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles. This is a prep for the Apple Blossom, the race for which Team Cella surely will spare no expense to lure Rachel and Zenyatta.

Euphony is hardly in that class, but she is a perfect 4-for-4 over the track, including the Bayakoa last spring. The 5-year-old Pin Oak mare has been on the shelf since a fifth-place finish as the chalk in the Molly Pitcher last summer at Monmouth Park, but she has a history of running well fresh.

Euphony will break from the outside post in a field of five under regular rider Berry.

Afleet Deceit, twice a remote second to Rachel over the track last year, is the filly to beat under jockey Emigh.

Race nine, a $37,000 allowance for 3-year-olds at six furlongs, may produce a potential starter or two for the Arkansas Derby.

Five of the nine -- including Moojab, Overthehump and Henshin Hero -- exit blowout maiden wins, and Team Jones and Steve Asmussen will run uncoupled entries.

Thanks for tuning in. Keep the JP Hot Line in mind, and we'll see you back here Tuesday.


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