Where's The Respect?

by John Piesen

In case you missed it, and I’d say that’s a distinct possibility, the NTRA this week released Its latest Top Ten poll, and the results are --to put it mildly -- staggering.

Twelve of the 18 voters had the good judgment to put Zenyatta on top, while the other six found reason to put Quality Road in the one-spot. (Rachel, Blame and Rail Bird complete the top five).

So fully one-third of the NTRA voters (whomever they may be) find reason to list Quality Road over Zenyatta. I just wish these six would identify themselves, then be forced to a) sit non-stop through Sex and the City 2 six times, or blow their horns non-stop through six entire World Cup matches.

As I recall, Zenyatta won the Breeders’ Cup Classic as the favorite last November, while Quality Road, who was 10-1 at post time, balked at the gate, and was ordered scratched by the stewards.

Maybe those six voters never got the memo.

Both horses are 3-for-3 this year, and Zenyatta set a world record last Sunday when she extended her unbeaten record to 17-for-17 while spotting eight pounds to the formidable St. Trinians.

On the other hand, the best horse Quality Road has beaten is Musket Man.

Like Rodney Dangerfield, the greatest racemare in history gets no respect.

No respect at all.

Speaking of Quality Road, we all know that James Jerkens was the original trainer of Quality Road., and that one starry night, some folks wearing TP logo walked into the Jerkens barn, and walked out with Quality Road. It was the greatest sports heist since the Baltimore Colts left for Cleveland.

Fast forward to Saturday, and trainer Jerkens is alive and well with a 3-year-old colt named Afleet Express, who will be favored against a tough group in the $200,000 Pegasus Stakes for 3-year-olds at Monmouth P ark, the most significant race on the national racing calendar.

What’s that? Doesn’t the Pegasus belong at The Meadowlands, where it has been run annually since 1981?

But in case you missed it, while Monmouth Park was developing into the Taj Mahal of thoroughbred racing, The Meadowlands has been relegated to a 24/7 harness facility.

And so on Saturday, the Pegasus will be run as the featured tenth race on the 12-race card at Monmouth Park.

The biggest name in the field of six is the smallest horse – Jackson Bend, who exits a hard-luck third in the Preakness for Nick Zito.

With any luck, Zito could have won all three legs of the Triple Crown with three different horses, but Ice Box (Derby), Jackson Bend (Preakness) and Fly Down (Belmont), all had troubled trips, and settled for second or third.

Wonder how Stanley Gold feels.

With Gold training Jackson Bend at 2, JB went five-for six – including four stakes. Owner LaPenta thereupon thanked Gold, thank you very much, and sent JB to Zito, where the colt has since gone 0-for-5.

At 121 pounds, Jackson Bend (first-time Lezcano) will be asked to concede four pounds to Afleet Express, who is fresh, fit and the controlling speed.

After poor starts in three races under Johnny Velazquez, Afleet Express got a rider change to Castellano for a seven-furlong allowance at Belmont, and the 245K son of Afleet Alex ran off the TV screen, coasting home by seven-plus lengths with a 105 Beyer number, by far the best number in the Pegasus field.

Incidentally, I make the over-under on combined victories by Lezcano and Castellano at 7 ½ on the Monmouth card Saturday…especially since big-name jocks Gomez and Johnny V are out-of-town.

Gomez is at Colonial Downs to ride Doubles Partner for the Toddster, while JV is at Belmont for Lady Shakespeare.

Lezcano took no heat for Ice Box’s dreadful performance in the Belmont, which is very unusual. When was the last time the rider of the beaten favorite in a Triple Crown race wasn’t chastised by the racing media? (See Desormeaux, Borel, Elliott, Albarado).

That said, Lezcano will ride at least five favorites Saturday at Monmouth, including the first three – K’s Revenge, Overseas Market and Our Dark Knight.

Available as always is the red-hot John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283), which continues to sail along at a .500 clip at the Jersey Shore track.

Then there is the S factor in the Pegasus,

Schoolyard Dreams, who suffered the Beat of the Year when he lost by half a nostril to Odysseus in the Tampa Bay Derby, beating subsequent Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, was since beaten double-digits in then Wood and Preakness, but figures to get well with the return to his home track. Coa has the return call.

And Soaring Empire, exiting a fourth in the Dwyer, which has turned out to be the mother of all key Triple Crown races, also is back home, and has worked a pair of :59 bullets for the Pegasus. His sire is Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, his trainer is Kentucky Derby winner Cam Gambolati, and his principal owner is Rick Pitino, a man for all seasons.

Headin’ south, the only “name” runner in the $500,000 Colonial Turf Cup – race 10 at Colonial Downs – is Paddy O’Prado, the third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby. Kent Desormeaux gives up several live mounts at Belmont Park to ride Paddy for Dale Romans.

Paddy will take action, if for no other reason that his only win in eight career starts came on the grass – a two-length victory in the Palm Beach at Gulfstream Park.

Curiously, Dean’s Kitten, who was second at a shorter price in the Palm Beach, returns for the Colonial Cup – and with first-time Alan Garcia.

Doubles Partner, no match for Dean’s Kitten in the Lane’s End, bounced back with a sharp score in the American Derby at Arlington Park. Gomez gives up a potential big day at Monmouth to ride DP for Pletcher, who is running only his second horse at the Colonial meet. No doubt, the Toddster would be the leading trainer at Colonial if he wanted to be.

An interesting outsider is Two Notch Road, who has won three of his last four starts, going back to the Continental Mile last summer at Monmouth – at $214.40.

Trainer Glenn Thompson is the son of J. Willard Thompson, a one-time premier jump-up rider, and for the last 50 years, a regular in the Monmouth training colony, going back to his days with Sonny Werblin.

Speaking of jocks, Ramon Dominguez, who this week has increased his lead over Johnny V and Castellano in the Belmont race, is sitting on a big day Saturday with eight live mounts, mostly live.

Ramon’s chalks include Masata (race three), Money’s Sweet (race four), Coach Gravy (race five), La Belle Gabrielle (race seven), Katy’s Office Girl (race eight), and Gozzip Girl in the ninth-race feature, the $150,000 New York Handicap for fillies and mares, 3 and up, at a mile and a quarter on the green.

The DRF lists Lady Shakespeare, an in-form Grade Two filly from trainer Attfield, as the 5-2 favorite, with Gozzip Girl, a Grade One filly unsighted since October as the 4-1 second choice from Albertrani.

Dominguez, who will be riding Gozzip Girl for the first time, does her best work from off the pace, but no doubt he’ll put GG, the absolute lone speed, on the lead.

One handicapping fact worth noting is the fact that although the two 4-year-olds have virtually identical records, Lady Shakespeare (11-6-2-1)and Gozzip Girl )10-5-1). GG has twice the bankroll as Lady Shakespeare.

One word of caution. Trainer Attfield, a Canadian superstar trainer who rarely ventures into New York, will run an coupled stablemate with Lady Shakespeare. Her name Ave, and she’s a stone closer with a fine resume of her own.

Just asking.

Thanks for tuning in. Good luck this weekend, don’t forget to check out the JPHL, and see you back Tuesday as the racing calendar moves ever closer to Saratoga.


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