Close Cal

by John Piesen 

Talk about a close call.

Let us return to the Belmont Stakes. In case you forgot, a horse named Drosselmeyer won the race at $28 going away under Mike Smith, the first stakes win for the horse, the first Belmont winner for his Hall of Fame rider, and the first Triple Crown winner for Hall of Fame trainer Mott.

But then all hell broke loose.

It seems that somehow eight pounds of lead weights fell from the saddle bag of one of the dozen horses at or about the seven-eighths pole.

But which horse?

One by one, each rider weighed in without a problem – until there were only two riders remaining to weigh in: Smith and Maragh, the rider of Uptowncharleybrown, who finished fifth after a dead-rail trip.

“I have to admit,” Doc Hill, one of the three stewards, told me, “we were scared to death. We were looking at a 50-50 chance of having to disqualify the winner of the Belmont Stakes. This would have been the worst thing to happen in the history of New York racing.”

But the stewards (and racing) got lucky. Very lucky. Turned out It was Maragh who was eight pounds light, not Smith.

So instead of the Belmont Stakes becoming the racing story of the year, and for all the wrong reasons, the missing eight pounds became merely a footnote, a sidebar for media purposes.

“I’ve been a steward 30 years,” Doc Hill said, “and I’ve never seen anything like this. And if it had been Smith, I would have wished I had stayed a veterinarian.”

Incidentally, the syndicate which owns Uptowncharlybrown currently is suing the New York Racing Assn, for the $30,000 fifth-place money.

Can any of us recall a harder-luck horse than Uptowncharlybrown?

Since February, 1) a bad ride cost Charly a victory in the Tampa Bay Derby, a race in which Super Saver, the third place finisher, went on to win the Kentucky Derby; a win by Charly in the TBD would have got him into the Kentucky Derby; 2) tragically, his trainer, Alan Seewald, who had waited a lifetime for a horse of this quality, passed away in his sleep on April 12 from a heart attack at the age of 62; 3) a bad ride cost Charley a victory in the Lexington Stakes, and 4) he was trapped down on the fence in the Belmont Stakes…while becoming the first horse in history to lose his lead weights.

4) he’s the focus of a law suit.

And 5) Trappe Shot, a 3-year-old stablemate whom Charly consistently outworked in the morning prior to the Belmont, Is now the potential star of the McLaughlin barn.

Another 3-year-old worth watching is Afleet Express, who last Saturday, as the best bet on the red-hot John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283), was the perfect-trip winner of the $200,000 Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park. In his wake was Jackson Bend, who was exiting a close-up third to division leader Lookin at Lucky in the Preakness.

(For those scoring at home, Jackson Bend is now 5-for-6 for trainer Stanley Gold; 0-for-6 for trainer Nick Zito).

But the better story is James Jerkens, the son of the legendary Alan Jerkens, and the trainer of Afleet Express.

In the spring of 2009, young Jerkens trained a promising 3-year-old colt named Quality Road, the Florida Derby winner, and potential favorite for the Kentucky Derby. But to Jerkens’ shock, the owner of Quality Road, a friend and client of JJ for 30 years, turned QR over to Todd Pletcher.

And, as we all know, Quality Road has developed into the top older male in training.

Jerkens won’t be getting back Quality Road, but maybe – just maybe – he has found a replacement for him in Afleet Express. And that would be a good thing.

Of course, you never know with 3-year-olds.

Just two months ago, a colt named Line of David came out of California to win the Arkansas Derby, a race that has produced one champion after another in recent years.

David was an afterthought for the Kentucky Derby, in which he finished 18th…and now comes word that he has been retired to stud.

You just never know.

Need another example?

A 3-year-old filly named Flawless won her Belmont debut a month back by 13 lengths, prompting comparisons to Ruffian.

“I’m in no hurry to run her in a stake,” owner Peter Blum told me at the time, “I’ll look for a nice “non-winners of one” for her.”

I told Peter the chances were slim and none that such a race would fill.

Little did I know.

Blum did find an allowance race for Flawless – race one last Wednesday at Belmont. And, wouldn’t you know, Flawless got beat at 1-5!

Good thing she was too short to pick her on the Piesen Hot Line. If not, she would have been the best bet of the year,

You just never know.

But the one great thing about this game is that you never stop trying.

So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the Wednesday Pick Six at Hollywood Park…and its $136,973 carryover…


Lucky Mr. K looks to be the best of three firsters in the five and a half-furlong race for California-bred 2-year-old maidens, but you’ll have an edge of being able to watch the board.

Mr. Gennaro had tough trips in both starts; switches from Amador to Martin Garcia.

Trainer Solis runs uncoupled entry of Certainly Certain and Buddha Belly, who was 3-1 in a 10-horse field in his June 5 debut.

Hector was twice second for a tag, the last time as the stick.


Only five go in this 54K allowance for 3-and-up at five furlongs.

Triumphant Flight, a two-time stakes-winner, is training lights-out for his first race In 12 months. He’ll have to leave running from the one-hole.

Locksley Hall is first-time Smith, and the only 3-year-old in the group.

A Lil Dumaani goes turf to dirt for O’Neill, who is only trainer running more than two horses on the card – all three in the Pick Six.


Garcia jumps off Sky Chant to ride Glass of Red in this filly/mare allowance at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

Why is Westwood Pride shipping from Calder to new trainer Mulhall?

Daniella Roth is 1-for-42, and jock is 3-for-59, but may be the controlling speed.


Mind the Minister gets a trainer change to Mullins for the dime-claimer for 3-and-up at seven furlongs.

This is rock bottom for Remus, who blew the break last time.

Tony the Pony is a nine-time winner. No other horse in the field of nine has won more than three times.


No toss-outs in field of eight in the rich claimer for fillies and mares at six furlongs on the turf.

Via Venuto, drawn widest, is trainer Baffert’s only runner on the program, and goes back to main man Garcia. Three back, she was beaten mere four lengths in the Sunshine Millions.

Apt to Be Amazing makes second start off the layoff for Mullins, and switches to Bejarano.

Ultra Blend is the class from Sherman, and worked three-quarters in 1:11 for first start since Del Mar. Why grass? And why the drop?


If you’re alive to this quarter-claimer for maidens, 3 and up, at six furlongs, hope you have Mister Jazz, second both starts this company, and/or Tequila Blues, who Is improving with each start.

Thanks for tuning in. Good luck this week, check out the Hot Line, and see you back here Friday for a look at the weekend stakes fare, notably the Mother of All Gooses.


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