On To The Belmont

by John Piesen

Racing is getting bashed this week since neither the Derby or Preakness winner will show for the Belmont Stakes, leaving the third jewel in the Triple Crown to stand alone as a "great betting race."

So I ask...what's wrong with that?

Isn't this what racing should all be about?


Hey, you won't hear any complaints from the followers of the John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283). The JPHL nailed the $152 exacta box at the Derby, and was right on with Lookin at Lucky as the $6.80 second choice in the Preakness.

So -- for the 32nd straight year -- there will be no Triple Crown winner.

So what?

My good friend D. Wayne Lukas is in full agreement. DWL said Sunday that racing needs more than a Triple Crown winner to save the game.

"Three weeks after a horse wins the Triple Crown," he said, "the feat would be just a memory, and folks will go on with their lives."

Or something like that.

I also read that the absence of the Derby and Preakness winners in the Belmont Stakes will result in the death knell for New York racing.

I'll believe that when I see it.

Back to the Belmont being a great betting race.

It will be...and, as far as most horseplayers are concerned, that's the way it should be.

And, for marketing purposes, there is a natural hook:

"The Battle of the Dudes!"

In one corner -- First Dude, the Preakness runnerup named for the husband of a certain ex-Alaska governor. His handlers are Dale Romans and Ramon Dominguez, merely the biggest star on the New York circuit.

And, in the opposite corner -- Game on Dude, the winner of the Lone Star Derby, which is a big deal down in Bush Country. His handlers are more familiar to racing purists. Fellows named Bob Baffert and Martin Garcia, who got a big play in Sunday's papers.

And if the Dude Battle doesn't get your juices flowing, there is the Nick Zito angle. In previous years, Zito knocked off Smarty Jones and Big Brown in the Belmont at big balloons.

No such balloons for Saint Nick this time around. He will run the favorite -- Ice Box -- and the likely second choice -- Fly Down -- as an uncoupled entry in the biggest if not the baddest Belmont field in memory.

Lukas will be there with Dublin, whom historians will recall as the only horse to make all three legs of the Triple Crown....as well as being the only Grade One winner in the field.

And Drosselmeyer will be there, with or without regular rider Kent Desormeaux.

Todd Pletcher won't run Super Saver, but he will run the filly Devil May Care.

Bob Baffert won't run Lookin at Lucky, but he will run Game On Dude.

And, speaking of trainers, there will be Tim Ice, who will try to become the first trainer since Lukas in the mid-'90s to win back-to-back Belmonts. Ice will try to do so with New Madrid, no relation to Art Madrid.

Another great story line will be Uptowncharlybrown, the legacy of blue-collar trainer Alan Seewald. who died so tragically last month as he was preparing Charly for the Belmont.

The Fantasy Lane Stable, the conglomerate of small-time Jersey businessmen who race Charly, turned the colt over to trainer McLaughlin -- like Pletcher, a fabulously successful Lukas disciple.

Then there are Setsuko and Make Music for Me, a pair of west coast late-runners who have been competitive with Lookin at Lucky.

Rafael Bejarano, the top dog on the southern California circuit, will make one of his rare trips East to to ride Setsuko for Dick Mandella, while Mike Smith is a prime candidate to pilot Make Music for Me, a fast-closing fourth in the Derby.

Like we said...a great betting race.

Looking down the road, there is the possibility that the winners of the Triple Crown races will hook up on Aug. 1 in the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.

Baffert, a three-time Haskell winner, already is talking Haskell for Lookin at Lucky, and The Toddster, a two-time Haskell winner and a Monmouth regular for years, has a full allotment of 36 stalls this year for Monmouth, which opens for business on Friday.

And neither trainer is put off by the million-dollar purse.

If the Derby and Preakness winner both come to the Haskell, and are joined by the Belmont winner, whomever he or she may be, we will be looking at a big-deal event down the Shore on the first day of August.

As for Lookin at Lucky, although I was delighted that he capped a huge week for the Hot Line with his Preakness victory, I was not all that impressed by his performance. Let's face it. He was life-and-death to beat a nice allowance horse in First Dude.

And who knows what would have happened if Smith had found a hole for Jackson Bend at the eighth pole?

Smith said he rode the best horse, which is what jockey Lezcano said about Ice Box after the Derby.

Hey, with a little luck, Nick Zito would be going for his personal Triple Crown in the Belmont.

As for Baffert, Bullet Bob said he could barely see what was happening from his clubhouse box...which puts him right up there with the millions who tried to watch on TV.

Will the networks ever learn that the best way to show a race is with one single pan shot, and, yes, save the sexy angles for the re-runs?

At least NBC showed the Preakness. That's more than you can say for the Dixie and Maryland Sprint Handicap, which were run during the two-hour plus telecast.

Memo to NBC:

There are actually some folks in its audience who have a rooting (and betting) interest in those races.

Actually, NBC gave us a clue that Strike A Deal won the Dixie because, when introducing Dominguez on First Dude, they let it slip that he had already won three races on the program.

Finally, after a long night of celebrating, Lucky's connections confessed to cashing big-time on the Preakness.

Thanks no doubt to dialing the Hot Line.

Thanks for checking in. Good luck this week, and see you back here Friday for a look at the weekend action. Lots of good betting races on tap.


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