A Big Finish At Belmont

A BIG FINISH AT BELMONT
And an even bigger Saratoga ahead!
by John Piesen 

Talk about omens!

The John Piesen Selection Service last weekend capped off an extremely successful Belmont Spring meeting by hitting the $276 trifecta box in race 10 on Saturday, and a two-for-two Sunday – blowout winners Margarita Friday and Crafty Gem at $6 and change.

Tiz unfortunate there is a four-day break before Saratoga kicks off its longest-ever 40-day meet on Friday. I – for one – can’t get to wait started.

Saratoga in the summertime is all about having a good time. Parties, restaurants, golf, the Art Center, the pools, the lake, but it helps if you’re cashing, which is why you need to stick with the JP Hotline.

Needless to say, I have enjoyed consistent success at the Spa in the past, and this year, as noted, I’ve got ol’ mo going for me.

In the meantime, I haven’t spent all my time this summer watching Mad Men re-runs. I’ve compiled a list of horses to wager…as follows:

JOHN PIESEN'S
SARATOGA HORSES TO WATCH
Banned
Well Connected
Ordained
Noble’s Promise
Biker Boy
My Baby Christine
Fit and Awesome
Miss Smarty Pants
Kantharos
Blame
Puzzling
Moralist
Exchange in Motion
Ducale
La Femme
Gold Collection
Specklebird
Risk A Chance
The Magic Bus
Southern Saint
Pluck
Rose Catherine
Zapper
Lou Brissie

Of these, Kantharos is the best 2-year-old show to show this season. Trained by Steve Asmussen, he won his first start at Churchill Downs by 10 lengths, and came back to take the Bashford Manor by nine under a hold by jockey Albarado.

Asmussen lists three Spa options for Kantharos: the Sanford on Sunday, the Saratoga Special on Aug. 16, and the Hopeful on closing day Sept. 6. Steve could be quite the little old newsmaker this weekend since he’s running Rachel Alexandra on Saturday at Monmouth Park in what amounts to a walkover.

Noble’s Promise, who was part of the Piesen Selection Service's $152.40 exacta at The Kentucky Derby, has returned from Epsom Downs in good shape, and will be pointed by trainer McPeek for the King’s Bishop on Travers Day Aug. 28. They’ll have him to beat.

Lou Brissie, named for the famed Philadelphia A’s lefthander/war hero from the ‘40s, was a remote second to Kantharos in the Bashford Manor, but may close the gap later with more distance.

A horse named Pluck, who filled an allowance last weekend at Belmont Park, is no relation to Cain Hoy’s multiple stakes-winner of the same name from the ‘60s.

In the meantime, here are some fascinating statistics from ’09 at the Spa to ponder:

Post one was 1-for-43 in grass sprints.

Post eight and beyond was 2-for-31 going long on dirt.

Trainer Pletcher was 1-for-23 on grass; 1-for-20 going two-turns.

Addressing these numbers…

Grass sprints start right on a turn so that when a horse breaks a step slow, a common occurrence, he’s going to get shuffled back, and out of contention. Most of the winners of these grass sprints leave from posts four, five and six.

The same rule of thumb applies to two-turn dirt races. There is a short run to the turn, leaving the riders on the outside horses two choices: 1) to use up his horse in an often vain attempt to make the lead and the rail, or 2) take a hold at the start, and ease his horse back to the rear.

Closers are at a distinct disadvantage at the Spa, especially at two-turns. It has always been thus.

As we know, Pletcher last year lost the training title to Linda Rice in a squeaker (20-19). The difference was in route races, where Rice went 5-for-5, while The Toddster went, as we said, 1-for-20.

It stands to reason that ’09 was an aberration. No way Rice will go 5-for-5 going long this year, and certainly no way Pletcher will go 1-for-20,

In fact, I make The Toddster 1-5 to win the Spa training title in 2010, as he did for five straight years – from ’03 through ’07. For starters, he will run the favorite in the Schuylerville on Friday, the Coaching Club American Oaks on Saturday, the Whitney on Aug. 7, and, down the road, iin the Travers on Aug. 28.

The longest of longshots to upset Pletcher is Rudy Rodriguez, a rookie who has shown a magic tough downstate. More claiming races – which has been the Saratoga trend in recent years – means more opportunities for Rudy to perform his magic

Which brings us to Gary Contessa.

Since hitting the big-time downstate five years back, Contessa traditionally has run the most horses, and won the most races.

But Saratoga is a different ballgame. Contessa has never cracked the top five at the Spa, and last year checked in 3-for-50 following an 0-for-34 start. His three winners came from 29 starters on the dirt; he went 0-for-21 on the grass.

Expect some improvement this time – but how much?

Just as Pletcher seems a cinch to dominate the trainers’ standings, so does Ramon Dominguez in the jockey colony. Despite missing several days to accept stakes mounts out-of-town, Dominguez handily won his ninth straight New York meet at the recently-concluded Belmont stand, and obviously will be odds-on to make it 10 straight at the Spa, a title he won for the first time last year with 45 winners.

Looking for a possible upsetter?

Try Javier Castellano, who last year finished in a three-way tie for fifth at the Spa with 26 winners, and who is currently riding in peak form.

Finally, this may be a breakout Saratoga summer for jockeys Borel and Albarado. These two world-class riders have not fared well at the Spa in the past, and indeed have burned a lot of cash on short-priced runners.

But this year their agents have been working 24/7, and they will be getting on some solid stock, mostly for their well-healed Kentucky-based clients.

Thanks for tuning in. Keep checking the JP Selection Service, and see you back here Friday to discuss the big doings this weekend at Saratoga and Monmouth.

19
Nov

Today’s Hot Plays