Tough Choice

TOUGH CHOICE

In light of the events of last weekend, racing people are asking: "So, who had the better weekend, Todd Pletcher or John Piesen?"

Regrettably, I would have to say Pletcher. After all, the man did win six stakes.

On Saturday: the Fountain of Youth with Eskendereya; the Risen Star with Discreetly Mine, and the El Camino Real Derby with Connemara (all 3-year-olds), plus the Fair Grounds Handicap with Blues Street, and the Rare Treat with Life At Ten.

On Sunday: one-two in the Ladies Turf Sprint at Gulfstream with Starfish Bay and West Ocean.

Piesen meantime won with five of his eight selections on the world-famous John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283), and hit four exacta boxes. For bonus-point purposes, JP left the favored Buddy's Saint out of his top three for the Fountain of Youth, and Buddy checked in ninth.

SPEED KEYS WINNING SELECTIONS

The single most important element in handicapping is speed, and speed was the common thread to basically all my weekend winners.

For example, in the Risen Star, Discreet Mine, a very fast colt stretching out to two-turns, and Tempted to Tapit, fresh from posting a 100 Beyer number in a blowout maiden win in New York, were the absolute "speeds" in the field of 12.

As it developed, those two -- who were 5-1 and 8-1 on the morning line -- ran one-two from start to finish for a $55 exacta. My only regret is that TTT didn't win because it would have been a triple-digit number.

Also, Discreetly Mine was exiting a terrible trip as the favorite in the Spectacular Bid Stakes at Gulfstream. And David Cohen was giving up a likely lucrative day at Aqueduct to make the trip to New Orleans for the ride on TTT.

As for the Southwest, it was obvious that Conveyance, despite post nine, would be the controlling speed, and speed is always solid at Oaklawn, especially on weekends.

Dublin was a question mark because he hadn't raced in four months, and was coming off throat surgery. But when trainer Lukas threw a hissy fit when Dublin drew the 10 for the Southwest, that was a signal that he had him ready to rock and roll.

Lukas got lucky when the Southwest was postponed and re-drawn, and Dublin moved inside to post three. I figured Dublin would sit second, and attack Conveyance in the stretch. But Dublin got into trouble early, fell far back, and made a remarkable late run for second.

No doubt in my mind that Dublin was the best horse.

There were several reasons I liked Valid Sum on Sunday at Aqueduct, and made him my lone Big A selection that day.

The colt hadn't raced since last summer at Monmouth, but he had been working well for trainer McLaughlin, who is especially good off a layoff.

I also liked the outside post (6 of 7), and the jockey switch to Migliore, who remains as good as it gets on speed horses. And, finally, the colt showed a liking for the inner track last March when he broke his maiden on the IDT by six-plus lengths at 4-5.

Valid Sum wound up getting the perfect outside stalking trip and won for fun. The only surprise was the price ($13.20). But it was a pleasant surprise. 

 I still have to give JP a better chance at selecting the Kentucky Derby winner than TP does have of saddling the Derby winner. After all, Piesen has nailed 12 a dozen Derby winners going back to '81, while Pletcher is 0-for-24 and counting in the Derby.

Hey, Todd, if you're reading this...I'm only kidding.

Truth is that after the smoke cleared late Saturday, Pletcher finds himself in the enviable position of having six legit Derby prospects -- Saturday's three winners, plus Super Saver, Rule and Aikenite.

Talk about an embarrassment of riches.

Poor Cot Campbell, the master of Dogwood Stable.

Here Cot has in Aikenite -- his best 3-year-old since Summer Squall ('90) -- and he's no better than sixth on his trainer's Derby depth chart.

And, in case you missed it, Pletcher continues to top the standings at both Aqueduct and Gulfstream.

I would think that there's an excellent chance that The Toddster will this year garner more than the one vote he received for Eclipse trainer in '09.

That said, the best 3-year-old I saw last weekend is not trained by Todd Pletcher. That would be Dublin, who so happens to be trained by D. Wayne Lukas, Pletcher's mentor and long-time buddy.

Making his first start in four months, and coming off throat surgery, Dublin was a fast-closing second to the unbeaten Conveyance Saturday afternoon in the Southwest at Oaklawn Park, beaten a diminishing three-quarters of a length over a speed-biased strip.

"Actually," jockey Thompson was telling me on Tuesday morning, "Dublin was the only horse to make up ground all day. And he blew past the winner galloping out. If the finish line had been the real one, and not the 16th pole, he would have won. Wayne and I know we had the best horse."

If you get the chance to look at the replay, check out Dublin's trip.

"He hesitated at the start," Thompson said, "and then he got bumped, and stumbled badly. After that, he started to pick up horses one by one from the outside, and he was flying at the end.

"Hopefully, I'll get the chance to ride him back in the Rebel. This is a real nice colt."

Thompson, currently second to Corey Nakatani in the Oaklawn standings, mentioned another promising Lukas 3-year-old.

"His name is Wow Wow Wow," Thompson said. "He broke on top the other day, and he picked it up at every pole. He'll be tough next time."

Next time will be the Gotham on March 6 at Aqueduct.

"Unfortunately," Thompson said, "I can't ride him back in the Gotham because I have commitments at Oaklawn that day."

Thompson also is excited about being a part of the Apple Blossom buzz.

"I'll be riding Just Jenda for Cindy and Larry Jones that day (April 9) against Rachel and Zenyatta," he said. "I really hope that they both make the race. It's going to be some day."

Unfortunately for Team Jones, the AB was changed this year from a handicap to an invitational race. If it had remained a handicap, Just Jenda would be getting double-digit pounds from the two superstars. Instead the race will be at level weights (123 pounds). Incidentally, I will be filing Apple Blossom (and Arkansas Derby) copy on this venue from Hot Springs. And I also will conduct morning seminars on Wednesday (April 7), Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Crosswalks Restaurant across Central Avenue from Oaklawn.

So if you're in the Hot Springs neighborhood, check it out. I'll be looking to have jockeys Smith and Borel among my guest speakers.

Speaking of Borel, congratulations are in order.

Calvin has been named the 2010 recipient of the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, an honor long overdue.

Who knows? Maybe one of these years Borel will get to make the cut for the Eclipse Award, much less deservedly win one.

Up until last Saturday, Borel, who has ridden two of the last three Kentucky Derby winners, was facing a choice this year of Super Saver or Dryfly. But the choice was made for him when Dryfly finished up the track as the second choice in the Southwest.

Super Saver, who breezed five-eighths in 1:02 for Pletcher on Sunday, likely will make his 3-year-old against Wow Wow Wow in the Gotham.

Noble's Promise, the top dog in my Derby Top Ten, tuned up for the Rebel with a half in :48 2/5 on Saturday at Gulfstream.

Here is my updated Derby Top Ten:

HORSE TRAINER BASED
1. Noble's Promise McPeek Florida
2. Dublin Lukas Arkansas
3. Eskendereya Pletcher Florida
4. Uh Oh Bango Owens New Mexico
5. Uptowncharlybrown Seewald Florida
6. Lookin at Lucky Baffert California
7. Conveyance Baffert California
8. Rule Pletcher Florida
9. Super Saver Pletcher Florida
10. Wow Wow Wow Lukas Arkansas

Q: So what's wrong with this picture?

A: Seven of the 10 are from Pletcher, Lukas and Baffert.

And, speaking of trainers, it's worth noting that Gary Contessa, trying to catch Pletcher for the Aqueduct winter training title, will run seven in the rain Wednesday afternoon at the Big A.

Thanks for tuning in. Don't forget to check out the sizzling-hot John Piesen Hot Line, and see you back here Friday for a look at the weekend action.

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