Looking At The Lexington
LOOKING AT THE LEXINGTON
The chances are remote that the $300,000 Lexington Stakes Saturday at Keeneland will produce a Kentucky Derby starter, but the final stop on the Road to the Triple Crown will produce a terrific betting race.
Of the dozen 3-year-olds entered in the wide-open Grade 2 fixture, only one -- the Todd Pletcher-trained Connemara - is a graded stakes-winner, and that was a Grade 3, the El Camino Real Derby back in February at Golden Gate.
The ageless Russell Baze, the winningest jockey of all time, will make the trip from northern California to ride Connemara, who will go favored from post 10.
But beware, Pletcher also has the uncoupled Exhi, the front-end winner of the Rushaway Stakes at Turfway Park, in the Lexington...and need I remind you of The Toddster's remarkable history with uncoupled entries. Look no further than the Louisiana Derby last month, and the Brite Flight Stakes on Wednesday at Aqueduct.
Robby Albarado has the call on Exhi from post eight, and presumably will have a better trip this Saturday than he had on Noble's Promise in the Arkansas Derby last Saturday at Oaklawn Park.
Speaking of the Arkansas Derby, when Victor Espinoza arrived in the Oaklawn jocks' room to prepare for his ride on Northern Giant in the Arkansas Derby, he was kidded mercilessly by his colleagues for his brawl with Garrett Gomez the previous Saturday at Santa Anita.
"I don't see any marks," kidded one rider.
"And you won't," Espinoza replied.
"He fights like a girl!"
But Garrett Gomez rides like a potential Hall of Famer, and he'll get the chance to show why when he pilots Uptowncharlybrown for the first time in the Lexington.
We all know by now that Alan Seewald, the trainer of Uptowncharlybrown, passed away in his sleep last weekend at age 62 in his Middletown, N.J., home.
One of the most popular trainers for a quarter of a century on the tough Jersey-Florida circuit, Seewald had the horse of a lifetime in Uptowncharlybrown, and spent the winter at Tampa Bay Downs prepping Charly for a run at the Kentucky Derby.
Indeed, Charly, who races for Fantasy Lane Stable, a consortium of 60 Jersey businessmen, won his first two starts at Tampa, including a $53,000 stake, by a combined 15 lengths.
Sent off as the 3-2 second choice for start three in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, Charly lost no stature with a fast-closing third to the favored Rule.
A month later, Charly endured a terrible trip as the third choice in the Tampa Bay Derby, and settled for fifth, beaten two-plus lengths. Super Saver, a close-up third as the favorite that day, came back to finish second, beaten a neck, in the Arkansas Derby.
Jockey agents across the land were on the horn to Seewald in the aftermath of the Tampa Bay Derby, and Seewald chose Gomez as the replacement for jockey Centeno.
Seewald originally planned to run Charly next in the Withers at Belmont Park, but called an audible, and shipped the Limehouse colt to Kentucky for the Lexington.
And then came the phone call.
When I arrived at Newark Airport on Monday evening, following the flight home from Hot Springs, there was a phone message from one of the partners in Uptowncharlybrown.
"John, you're not going to believe this," the message began. "Alan passed away."
Talk about putting things in perspective.
Instead of being at Keeneland on Thursday to prepare his prized 3-year-old for the race of a lifetime, Alan Seewald, a Jewish boy from Brooklyn, was being laid to rest following a packed funeral service in his adopted hometown of Middletown, New Jersey.
Linda White, Seewald's longtime assistant, will saddle Charley for the Lexington.
"I don't think," she says, "I have ever wanted to win a race so hard in my life."
To do so, Uptowncharlybrown will have to beat 3-year-olds from the likes of Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen, Bill Mott, Kiaran McLaughlin, John Saddler, Jonathan Sheppard and Wayne Catalano.
"Thank goodness," says Linda White, "...Charly is unaware of all the emotions surrounding him right now, but maybe all the prayers will do some good."
Uptowncharlybrown isn't the only Limehouse colt making news this week at Keeneland.
On Thursday afternoon, a 2-year-old son of Limehouse named Lou Brissie, debuting for the Dogwood Stable of Cot Campbell, was up in the final jump to win at first asking under Albarado at $8.60.
And this was despite a slow start, and the jock blowing the whip.
Readers of a certain age will remember Lou Brissie.
Lou Brissie enjoyed a successful career as a southpaw starter for the old Philadelphia Athletics despite sustaining catastrophic leg injuries during the Italian campaign in 1944. His teammates on the A's included Ferris Fain, Eddie Joost, Pete Suder and Elmer Valo.
That was a great ballclub...and Lou Brissie was a great pitcher -- and on one good leg.
Campbell and Brissie struck up a friendship at a book party a few years back, and Cot promised to name a yearling for Brissie. The yearling turned out to be a $100,000 Fasig-Tipton colt who obviously has a world of talent. Campbell and trainer Neil Howard are looking at the Kentucky Juvenile on Friday, April 30th - Kentucky Oaks Day at Churchill Downs, for his next start.
No doubt that Lou Brissie, still going strong at 85 and spending much of his time visiting veterans' hospitals, will be there.
Limehouse, incidentally, was trained throughout his career by Todd Pletcher, and his many graded stakes victories included the Tampa Bay Derby.
Indeed, what a small world we live in...
Can't go much further without a word (or two) about Zenyatta.
During the post parade for the Apple Blossom last Friday at Oaklawn, Zenyatta broke off at the eighth pole, faced the stands, and bowed -- that's right, bowed -- to her adoring thousands of fans, none of whom presumably had a vote for Horse of the Year.
Afterwards, I asked Mike Smith if Zenyatta somehow was trained to do that.
"No," Mike told me, "...she does that on her own."
Moments later, following Zenyatta's workout-like romp, Smith galloped her past the winner's circle, back to the eighth pole, turned the mare to the crowd, and doffed his helmet as the masses cheered.
My first thought: Zenyatta yes it's true was twice shafted for Horse of the Year...so she'll have to settle for Horse of the Century.
Talked to old friend Kristin Crawford the next day.
As an assistant to Steve Asmussen in 2007, Kristen prepared Curlin for his blowout victories in the Rebel and Arkansas Derby. She moved on to become chief assistant to trainer Bret Calhoun, whose power-packed string includes Taptam, the Apple Blossom. runnerup.
"Winning the Arkansas Derby with Curlin was a thrill," Kristin told me, "but getting second to Zenyatta was a bigger one."
And what about this irony?
Zenyatta equalled the 16-race win streak of Cigar and Citation on the same day that Personal Ensign passed away in Kentucky. It was of course Personal Ensign, who held the filly record of 13-for-13 until Zenyatta came along.
Finally, a word about bridge-jumping...
You'll recall that the Mad Bomber, who has cashed hundreds of thousands in show plays over the years, and hasn't lost a bet since Afleet Alex in the '05 Rebel, has been a regular contributor to this column.
"Sad to say but I'm virtually out of the game," the Bomber was telling me, "because I can't get down anymore. Nobody wants to take my action."
In his place have come some Mad Bomber Wannabees, and of late they have been taking a licking, up to and including Thursday at Aqueduct when Doremifasollatido finished fourth of five at 1-2, burning 90K of the 100K show pool, and producing show payoffs of $24.60, $19.60 and $16.
The 4-year-old filly, the winner of the Matron in 2008, had been beaten a combined 54 lengths in her last three starts, and was barely .500 in the money in her career.
"Will they ever learn?," said the Bomber.
Thanks for tuning in. Check out my selections this weekend on-line and on the red-hot John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283), and see you back here Tuesday for, among other info, my updated Derby Top Ten.
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