Take Five

by John Piesen

Five major stakes races were run throughout the land last Saturday, and, in each case, the favorite opened 1-9, and drifted to the 2-5 and 3-5 range at post time.

FWith any luck, the five chalks could have gone 5-for-5. By the same token, they could have gone 0-for-5.

FIt was that kind of day.

FLet’s take a look…

RACE ONE: CARRY BACK STAKES (Calder) At 4:45 p.m. Eastern, D’Funnybone led all the way in the the four-horse field, but when Prado left the rail open in deep stretch, Coffee Boy nailed him on the wire.

Result: ouch!

RACE TWO: Delaware Oaks (Delaware Park)

At 4:51 p.m., Blind Luck circled powerfully from dead last to win by a nose over Havre de Grace – after a five-minute photo.

Result: whew!

RACE THREE: Man o'War Stakes (Belmont)

At 5:17 p.m., Gio Ponti was dead last throughout, some 15 lengths off a snail’s pace set by Mission Improved, the 53-1 rank outsider. The Red Sea parted for Dominguez at the top of the stretch, and Gio Ponti was super-fortunate to nail the bomber in the final 20 yards.

(Thirty minutes later, in a New York-bred maiden-special, Dominguez tried the same tactics on Dougie, the 8-5 favorite, but got stopped cold, and settled for second.)

Result: whew!

RACE FOUR: Long Branch Stakes (Monmouth Park)

At 5:50 p.m., Trappe Shot three faced. He raced fourth down on the rail, and jockey Garcia was reluctant to swing him out four-wide. But leaving the backstretch, the pace-setting Southern Image drifted out under Marquez, Garcia gunned Trappe Shot through the hole -- and on to the Haskell.

Result: whew:


At 7:40 p.m., all hell broke loose in the Hollywood Gold Cup at Hollywood Park.

First, Tres Borachos was scratched at the gate, leaving Compari the inside speed in a field of six, including the odds-on and very fast Rail Trip, in a field of six.

Compari led for nine furlongs through slow fractions under Mike Smith, while Bejarano incredibly had Rail Trip and-and-four wide, some five lengths back.

Leaving the furlong grounds, Compari drifted off the rail, and Awesome Gem blasted through under Flores for a narrow victory over Rail Trip, who was flying at the end.

“I want to thank Mike Smith,” Flores said afterward. “Mike was about ready to shut off the hole, but he looked like he ran out of horse, so it was very nice of him to leave me that spot.”

Gentleman Mike is one of the few high-profile riders who would do such a thing. You would never see a Cordero, a Pincay or a Bailey do it.

Was Mike a hero or a villain for letting Flores through? It all depends on which side of the bankroll you are coming from.

As for Ron Ellis, the trainer of Rail Trip, he took the easy way out, and blamed the weight. Rail Trip (123) was giving nine pounds to Awesome Gem.

Result: ouch.

Final score: The chalk finished 3-2.

Rail Trip and Awesome Gem likely will hook up gain in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar, and it will be interesting to see if Bejarano (if indeed it is Bejarano) employs different strategy.

In the meantime, kudos to Major Finley of Mt. Laurel, N.J., the head honcho of West Point Thoroughbreds.

Otherwise, the most significant performance of the day was the blowout victory by Trickmeister in the Barbaro Stakes on the Delaware undercard.

Bred and owned by Brereton Jones, and trained by Cindy (and Larry) Jones, Trickmeister, a 3-year-old bay son of Proud Citizen, blew away Colizeo, the second choice from the Pletcher arsenal. Pletcher obviously had thought the Barbaro was a softer spot than the Long Branch, where Colizeo was cross-entered.

“This may be a special horse,” Larry was saying by phone Tuesday morning. We’re not ruling anything out right now, but the West Virginia Derby and Pennsylvania Derby are looking good. Then, if all goes right, we’ll take him to Hot Springs.”

Speaking of Pletcher, he has Phola and Aikenite primed to win at Saratoga, as well as of course Quality Road in the Whitney.

Majestic Perfection, a winner of his last four starts, will be a sprint force for Asmussen, as will Gambling Geraldine in the 2-year-old filly stakes for Rick Dutrow.

Also mark down Sara Louise and Nordic Truce on your Horses to Watch list as well as The Noz, who got left from the one-hole, and closed widest for fourth in his debut last week.


As this is being written, I just got word of George Steinbrenner’s passing, just 10 days after his 80th birthday.

I’m proud to call George a friend for 30-odd years. We became friendly back in the ‘70s through our mutual love of horse racing, we competed against each other in celebrity harness races in the ‘80s, and I can never forget the private conversations we had, mostly about racing and baseball, especially at Saratoga, which he loved so much.

We stayed good friends through the years…and I just found his last correspondence. It is a letter I will treasure forever.

Here are some excerpts:

Dear John:

It’s great to hear from you. I remember so fondly all the good times we shared together. I’ve always had a great deal of respect for you, and your knowledge about horses, Hell, you’ve forgotten more about horses than ten people will ever know.

Although the aches and pains are annoying, I consider a day above ground a very good day.

“I’ve always considered you a great pal - let’s try to keep in touch.

Best regards,

George S

P.S. I’m remembering an incident at LaGuardia Airport back in the ‘80s when George chewed me out publicly because he took offense to a piece I had written about him in the New York Post.

Five minutes later, all was forgiven.

God bless…


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