One Problem


With the Big Dance four days down the road, I have settled on my Derby Horse.

That would be Setsuko, a fast-finishing second last out in the Santa Anita Derby.

Only one problem: Setsuko won't be leaving his Churchill Downs stall Saturday afternoon. Seems that under the archaic ground rules in effect, the field for the Derby is limited to the Top 20 in graded stakes-winnings...and, at last look, Setsuko is No. 23 on the list.

I will not bore the reader with the reasons I like Setsuko, except for pointing out that the Dick Mandella-trained colt split Sidney's Candy and Lookin at Lucky making that huge close from last to second (much like Gato Del So and Giacom) in the Santa Anita Derby

Obviously, in view of the Sunday defection of Eskendereya, Lookin at Lucky will go favored, possibly as low as 2-1, in the Derby, while Sidney's Candy will be second choice.

Needless to say, the Santa Anita Derby -- the single most important Kentucky Derby prep of our lifetime -- is conducted at a mile and a furlong over a speed-favoring track, while the Kentucky Derby is run a mile and a quarter over a racetrack that, at least where the KD is concerned, favors closers.

Alas, Setsuko isn't the only serious Derby horse barred from competing Sunday because of stupid pet tricks. Pleasant Prince and A Little Warm, beaten inches when second in the Florida Derby and Louisiana Derby, respectively, also are excluded from the Derby because they just missed the money cut, and Jackson Bend, the Fountain of Youth and Wood runner-up, makes the cut only because of the unfortunate 11th-hour defection of Eskendereya.

My personal take?

The 20-horse limit is a farce. As far as I'm concerned, the Derby field should be maxed out at 25 or even 30. You're going to have just as many bad trips with 20 horses as you would have with 30.

I remember way back when they would run 28 two-year-maidens down the Belmont Park chute on a virtual daily basis...and I don't ever recall seeing a problem.

The defection of Eskendereya, who would have been 6-5, is the latest and most serious loss to the '10 Derby.

Where have you gone Winslow Homer, Buddy's Saint, Uptowncharlybrown, Eightyfiveinafifty, Alphie's Bet, Odysseus, Schoolyard Dreams, Rule, Exhi, Caracortado, Ron the Greek, and Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Vale of York? I would rank any or all of these horses over the likes of Dean's Kitten, Homeboykris and Backtalk, who somehow made the Derby cut.

I would hazard a guess that the majority of the 20 horses who made the Derby this year will never be heard from again. Much like last year when only three of the 20 horses entered (including late scratch I Want Revenge) won another race in '09.

One way you might want to look at the Derby 20 is to box the California horses -- namely Lookin at Lucky, Sidney's Candy, Conveyance, Line of David and American Lion. After all, California 3-year-olds -- despite making their reputations on synthetic strips -- have kicked butt pretty much everywhere they've gone this year.

You need examples?

Check out Conveyance, Lookin at Lucky and Line of David at Oaklawn Park, Exhi in the Lexington, American Lion in the Illinois Derby, and just last Saturday, Hurricane Ike in the Derby Trial.

Hope you were paying attention hen I noted in this space last Friday that Hurricane Ike was the only California shipper in the 13-horse Derby Trial. Unfortunately, I was too infatuated with Uptowncharlybrown, who once again had a nightmare trip and settled for third, beaten a length and a half.

Another angle to watch is the jockey switch. Ever since Eddie Arcaro took off Shut Out to ride entrymate Devil Diver in the '42 Derby, jocks have been taking off Derby winners. Shut Out won by two-plus lengths under Warren Wright while Devil Diver checked in sixth. In '95, Gary Stevens nailed his second Derby winner on Thunder Gulch when Mike Smith opted to ride Private Man, who finished 10th.

Fast forward to 2010, and we see Bejarano bumping Court off Line of David, Albarado choosing Endorsement over Noble's Promise, Leparaoux choosing Awesome Act over Homeboykris, and Borel choosing Super Saver over Jackson Bend.

Kudos for trainer McPeek for going back to Willie Martinez for Noble's Promise, and to trainer Lukas for sticking with Terry Thompson when so many big names were available.

But the bottom line is Lookin' At Lucky. The Baffert-trained colt is 6-1-1 in eight starts, and if he was lookin' at any luck at all, he'd be 8-0, and we'd be talking about him in the same breath as unbeaten Derby winners Seattle Slew and Smarty Jones. In all eight starts, Lucky has been the favorite, at odds ranging from 1-5 to 2-1, and with The Big E out of the picture, Lucky will make it 9-for-9 as the favorite on Saturday afternoon, weather permitting.

Lucky has never raced or worked over a sloppy track, but he buzzed five-eighths in 1:00 on Monday over a wet track, which is a possibility for Saturday.

On the Fourth of July weekend last year, I got a call from a friend named Roger Neubauer, a racing insider/businessman who supplements his income by drawing fat checks in various racing contests.

The conversation went like this:

RN: "John, I want you to be the first to know. I've got the 2010 Derby winner for you. They love this guy. He'll be making his first start next. Garrett rides for Baffert. Is name is Lookin at Lucky.

JP: "Thanks for the tip, Roger, even though we are not looking at John Piesen Hot Line material. Not at 3-5."

RN: "Understand...but I just want to let you know."

Sure enough, On July 11, a Smart Strike colt named Lookin at Lucky, came from off the pace at Holly Park to win first pop by three-quarters of a 3-5.

You know the rest of the story. After five graded stakes wins, and two near-misses, Lookin at Lucky will indeed check in Saturday as the Derby favorite, perhaps as low at 6-5.

No question LAL will be the most accomplished horse in the field, but as we all know, there are hundreds of ways to love a Kentucky Derby, and one way to win one.

Who will I have on-line and/or the JP Hot Line (888 612 2283)? Impossible to say at this point. A lot of things can go wrong between Tuesday and Saturday, including the draw.

Speaking of draws, as we speak they just drew the field for Friday's running of the Kentucky Oaks. The first thing you notice is that Todd Pletcher did not enter Devil May that means he will run the filly against the boys in the Derby.

Again a Californian, the multiple graded stakes-winner Blind Luck, will be the filly to beat, but this one-run superstar will have to find a way through and around a full 14-horse field from post five to get the money in race won last year by Rachel Alexandra by 20 lengths.

If Blind Luck gets the job done, does this mean that Jess Jackson opens his checkbook again?

And what are the chances of an "all-Luck" Oaks/Derby coming back $15?

Here is the field for the 2010 Kentucky Derby Oaks:

1 It's Tea Time
2 Jody Slew
3 Quiet Temper
4 Age of Humor
5 Blind Luck
6 Beautician
7 Crisp
8 Tidal Pool
9 Bella Diamante
10 Champagne d'Oro
11 Evening Jewel
12 Ailalea
13 Amen Hallelujah
14 Joanie' Catch

Thanks for tuning in. See you again ion this space on Friday, and don't forget to check out my full-card selections on the John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283) for Oaks Day Friday (12 races) and for Derby Day Saturday (13 races).


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