Speed Kills

by John Piesen 

Interesting weekend at the Spa.

The first thing that jumps out at this columnist is the fact that they ran four dirt stakes in three days…and, in each case, the winner was no worse than second at any point in the race.True, all four – A Little Warm (Jim Dandy); Winslow Homer (Curlin); Malibu Prayer (Ruffian), and Discreetly Mine (Amsterdam) – were much the best in their respective races, but that’s a trend worth following in the big-money races, starting maybe with Quality Road coming up Saturday in the Whitney.

Blame, Haynesfield and Mine That Bird – major Grade One winners – certainly will be worthy opponents, but looking ahead, you have to wonder who is going to run with Quality Road, who will be the lone speed.

Speaking of Lukas, he sure pulled off a D. Wayne Special in the 11th-race finale on Saturday. Lukas, who was 0-for-13 at the meet, put Wow Wow Wow on the grass following five straight bum races on dirt…and WWW, as warned in this space last Friday, demonstrated remarkable improvement with the surface switch, and held off the cavalry to win at a $19.80 mutuel.You need to know that Wayne likes to cash a bet as much as any of us, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he collected big-time on the gimnmicks – a $191 exacta, a five-grand tri, and maybe even the 33K super.

Another septuagenarian pulled one off earlier in the day in race two. That would be old Leon Blusiewicz with a 3-year-old firster named Admiral Alex, natch an Afleet Alex colt – and a very expensive one at that.Blue, who never saw a betting window he didn’t like, made the score of his life when Alex, 10-1 on the line, got home by a length at $7.40. It didn’t hurt that Bakhoor, the 7-5 chalk from the Sheiks, never got into that race, and checked in sixth of eight under Gomez, who is having an awful Spa meet (4-for-37), and had only three calls on Monday. And now Blue, a Baltimore longshoreman before he found the wonders of the racetrack, is talking Travers for Admiral Alex.

Speaking of awful, how ‘bout race one on Saturday? I have always hated uncoupled entries, and, for a reason why, look no further than this race. Trainer Badgett saddled two of the seven mares in this small grass stake – Chestoria, the 3-2 favorite, and Exclusive Scheme, the 25-1 rank outsider. Johnny V, on Exclusive Scheme, did a masterful job of closing the rail on Chestoria, resulting in a dramatic nose victory, and a $52.50 payoff. So while Badgett celebrated in the winner’s circle, thousands of players took a licking. Badgett also had a $15 winner (Stargleam) on Monday so keep a wary eye out on Billy B, the same Billy B who, precisely 20 years ago, had a nice filly named Go For Wand.

Meantime, it didn’t take long for Castellano to lose his lead in the jocks’ race. With a double on Monday, Johnny V. overtook JC for the top spot (14-12). But beware of Dominguez. After a slow first week, RD got rolling, and, with his three-bagger on Monday, sits third with 10 winners.

On the trainers’ side, Pletcher, with a double on Monday, has taken an 8-6 lead over hometown hero Chad Brown, and surely will build on it.

Linda Rice isn’t going to beat out The Toddster for the title this year, but her stock are going well (3-2-2 from a mere 10 starters in 10 days). In case you missed it, Linda got ticketed by the Saratoga city police one morning last week for driving her golf cart on the public street from her barn off Nelson Avenue to the main track – something she has done with no problem perhaps a thousand times. The story got more play in the local media than A-Rod.

Speaking of trainers, will this be the first time that Asmussen develops a Triple Crown runner? Right now, Super Steve has shown us three super-fast 2-year-olds, with one looking better than the next. They are Kantharos – 2-for-2 in Kentucky, and the likely favorite in the Saratoga Special on Aug. 16, and Wine Police and Abide, first-out blowout winners at the Spa. And you can be sure Steve will have more to come.

On the other hand, trainer Contessa is off to yet another poor start at the Spa, although not nearly as bad as last year when he started 0-for-39.Through the first 10 days of the meet, GC is 2-1-3 from 22 starters.

The third week of the Spa meet kicks off Wednesday with the $70,000 De La Rose for fillies and mares, 4 and up, at a mile on the inner turf, going as the ninth-race feature on a 10- race card. My selection will be available here online, as will daily best bet action.

The De La Rose, named for the Woody Stephens-trained, multiple stakes-winner from the ‘80s, is open only for fillies and mares who have not won a graded stake on the turf.

The race is tough to get a handle on because two of the better mares in the field of 10 – Silver Reunion (Motion/Dominguez) and Miss Catalyst (Pletcher/Velazquez) – have been away since October.

Silver Reunion, who wired the Riskaverse at a $30 mutuel last year in her one race over the course, has been training lights-out at Fair Hill, and is 2-for-3 with Dominguez up.

Miss Catalyst also won over the course in ’09, beating multiple stakes-winner Dynaslew in an allowance, and then was second to Silver Reunion in the Riskaverse.

Be Fair (Lukas/Borel) will be the one to catch. Speaking of Borel, we want to send our prayers to his long-time agent Jerry Hissam, who on Monday underwent surgery for prostate cancer in Louisville. Borel is booked on Mine That Bird in the Whitney, and Rachel Alexandra in the Personal Ensign on Aug. 29, the day after the Travers.

The biggest question regarding the Travers is the status of Lookin at Lucky, who on Sunday soared to the top of the 3-year-old division with his four-length blowout in the Haskell at Monmouth Park. My best guess would be no. Otherwise, it stands to reason that if trainer Baffert was serious about the Travers, he would have vanned Lucky to Saratoga rather than putting him on a plane Monday back to the Left Coast.

In the Haskell, we saw the best example ever of a rider (Martin Garcia) following orders. Obviously, Garcia was following Baffert’s instructions to get to the outside early, and that explains why Lucky was already out in the middle of the track going to the first turn, and stayed clear outside horses from that point on.The Haskell was as formful a Grade One as we’ll ever see. The first four in the field of seven finished in the exact order of their odds.

And have you ever seen a horse deader on the board than Derby winner Super Saver, who was 9-1 for most of the betting, and closed at 6-1? Pletcher, citing the fact that SS was beaten less than a length for second by Trappe Shot and First Dude, While conceding both four pounds, was delighted in his colt’s race, which has to come as great news for the thousands of folks who played him.

As for Baffert, you have to love the guy for the mind games he plays. More than any one, Bob knows that the one-hole is the place to be going two-turns at Monmouth, yet he whined about his bad luck at the draw, and the media ate it up.

Thanks for tuning in. Don’t forget, you can get all my best bet action right here online, and on Friday we'll take a look at the weekend action.


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