by John Piesen
In all my years dealing with Todd Pletcher, from his days with Wayne Lukas to the present day, I've never had a problem with him.
So what does the man have against me?
Take the month of May for example.
No better place than to start than with the Kentucky Derby.
Turning into the stretch, I'm looking pretty good with Noble's Promise, the 25-1 shot I released on the John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283). But in the proverbial blink of the eye, Super Saver blows by him from the inside. Seconds later, Pletcher, who was 0-for-24 in the Derby, is 1-for-25.
Fast forward to last Saturday.
How many times in this venue have I warned that Pletcher wins stakes with the longer-priced horse? So what happened? He does it again.
I released the Pletcher-trained Malibu Prayer in the Vagrancy Handicap at Belmont Park. MP doesn't run a lick as the favorite, but look down on the fence. There is Hour Glass, trained by you-know-who, blasting throiugh to win the race at $9.60.
And on Monday, I confidently gave out Musket Man on the JPHL, confident that, with a seven-pound pull in the weights, and Quality Road four months from a race, Musket Man (8-1) would upset Quality Road (1-4), and I'd be up for bfor the male lead in Sex and the City III.
It looked for sure that Musket Man would blow by Quality Road in the lane, but who's kidding who? This is Todd Pletcher we're talking about. (Even though QR was Jimmy Jerkens' horse.)
Coming up Friday is the Brooklyn Handicap. And, sure 'nuf, Pletcher will be running another uncoupled entry, in this case American Dance and Tiger's Rock. Which one will win? Only The Toddster knows.
This brings us to the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.
Up until Monday, Pletcher was passing on the Belmont, but suddenly he decides he's going to run Interactif in the Belmont, rather than, as originally planned, in the Hill Prince on Friday.
We know that Pletch is on the level because he had already released Johnny V to ride major player Fly Down for Nick Zito. But Pletch lucks into an open Javier Castellano, who merely is the hottest rider in the land. If you have any doubts, just check out Castellano's rail-skimming ride on Wild Awake in the eighth race Monday.
Interactif is no bag of shells. He is a very talented 3-year-old in good hands, and he stands as good a chance as any to get the mile and a half. Leave him out at your own risk.
With the Belmont five days away, there really are only two ways to approach the race from a handicapping standpoint:
You want to bet Ice Box...or you want to bet against him!
On the plus side, Ice Box was much the best in the Derby...but the trip killed him.
On the minus side, that was one race. Saturday is another.
Since we spoke last, at least a half-dozen Belmont runners have turned in serious works. And of the 12 horses in the field, which will be drawn Wednesday, I can find no more than two throwouts.
Despite the absence of the Derby and Preakness winners, the Belmont will be quite a show. Naturally, you need to check out the red-hot JPHIL for our Belmont selections and the full-card.
With First Dude getting all the hype, and looking very much like the controlling speed, I won't be surprised if he comes up a very close second choice to Ice Box in the wagering. If the Derby and Preakness runners-up do happen to finish one-two, we're looking at a $12 exacta. But chances are that won't happen. There are just too many intangibles.
Changing gears, the Hall of Fame over the weekend announced its 2010 selections: Randy Romero, Azeri, Point Given and Best Pal.
Yes, it's impossible to quarrel with any of those names...but, no, how can I give the Hall of Fame any credability when Larry Snyder and Gasper Moschera are not in it?
Snyder was the dominant jockey in the Central Time Zone for 30 years, and Moschera was the dominant New York trainer for 15 years. The fact that neither is in the HOF is a disgrace.
Now here's the kicker.
Smarty Jones was eligible this year...and didn't get a sniff.
I believe, and millions surely agree, that Smarty is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Here are some others who belong in the Hall:
Billy Turner, Chris Antley, Craig Perret, Lure and Heavenly Prize.
And let's see what they do with Afleet Alex next year.
As for Romero, I'd like to relate two personal incidents.
In the year (1988) in which Romero was winning all those stakes on Personal Ensign for Shug McGaughey, he was also the regular rider of an extremely talented but long-forgotten filly named Sacahuista for Lukas.
One afternoon in the jocks' room at Belmont Park, I asked Romero if he could separate the two fillies.
"Yes, John, I can," Randy said. "Personal Ensign is the better filly."
And of course I ran Randy's quotes in the New York Post.
In four decades as a turf writer, I can't name another individual who stuck his neck out like Randy did that day. The man was never about politics. He was all about character.
Then there was the tragic 1990 Breeders' Cup Distaff when Go For Wand was put down after breaking her leg in the shadow of the wire. The filly was so beloved that no one paid much attention to her fallen rider, one Randy Romero.
A week later, I was starting my new job on the copy desk at Daily Racing Form, and I called Romero. During our conversation, he told me the extent of the injuries he sustained in the spill, and they were expensive. And I wrote the bylined story for DRF.
A week later, I was transferred to the New Jersey beat, and, soon after, the New York beat...thanks to Randy Romero.
Yes, Romero deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
But so does Smarty Jones.
Thanks for tuning in. Please continue to check out the red-hot John Piesen Hot Line, and we'll see you back here Friday for a detailed look at The Belmont.
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