A Grand Opening?

 A GRAND OPENING?
by John Piesen

In the Tuesday column on this venue, we mentioned that it will be interesting to see how the closers, who generally fared so poorly over the speed-favoring Saratoga grass courses, fare when they return to Belmont Park.

Five of the 10 races on Belmont’s opening-day card Saturday are scheduled for the grass. And they will remain on the grass since the forecast for Saturday calls for Grade One sunshine with temps in the mid-‘70s.

Among the many stretch-running turfers making the move back to Belmont, the most interesting is old buddy Grand Couturier,

During his long grass career, Grand Couterier has enjoyed his most success at Belmont, winning two Grade Ones, plus the Grade Two Bowling Green last year in which he beat Winchester, another closer, by two lengths.

Those same two horses will be back Saturday in the 2010 running of the Bowling Green, a $150,000 stake at 11 furlongs over the inner turf.

Eleven are entered, and there’s hardly a throwout In the bunch. For my Bowling Green selection, and other opening-day picks, you can get with me online or call my office toll-free at 888 612 2283.

I closed Saratoga on a good strong note, going 1-for-3 on both Sunday & Monday and at nice prices. I won the Saranac Stakes with Lethal Combination $8.60 and the Glen Falls Handicap with Keertana $12.80. I'm excited about the opportunities that we have at Belmont, both on Saturday and throughout the meet, and I look forward to sharing them you, both in these columns and through my daily best bet service.

As for Grand Couterier, he ran only once at the recently-concluded Saratoga meet, and it was not pretty.

As is his custom, GC was dead last for the first mile of the Sword Dancer (Grade One) , which is pretty much where he was when he was winning those Grade Ones in ’07 and ‘08.

But this time, the pace was painfully slow (1:13 1/5), and GC was running at fresh horses in the last quarter-mile, and settled for a closing sixth, beaten six lengths.

This was pretty much the same race he ran in the ‘09 Sword Dancer. And in ’09, he rebounded to win the Bowling Green (as the favorite).

Will the 7-year-old pull it off again…this time at a price? After all he has the same trainer (Ribaudo); the same rider (Garcia); he carries three pounds less (110), and he’s well-drawn in post two.

The bottom line for GC is that all the elements are there for a last-to-first victory in the Saturday feature. But, on the other hand, is he the Same horse he was last year. After all, he’s not getting any younger. But who is?

Dry Martini, a millionaire like Grand Couterier, is in the same situation as his fellow 7-year-old.

The Barclay Tagg-trained gray closed a huge gap in his lone Saratoga turf try, and checked in seventh to Always First, beaten five lengths.

That was the first start for Dry Martini since Gulfstream, and he gets in light Saturday with a career-low 115 pounds. But DM had made his mark on dirt; he has only a second to show for four starts on the green.

Winchester has won only four of 17 starts, but the fourth was the Manhattan (Grade 1) on Belmont Stakes day at the direct expense of uncoupled stablemate Gio Ponti.

Winchester was 21-1 that day; Gio Ponti 3-5.

(Ah, the joy and sorrow of uncoupled entries. While tens of thousands of folks were ripping up their Gio Ponti tickets, old colleague Ray Kerrison, second to none at smelling a rat, was cashing).

Cornelio Velasquez, who was aboard in the Manhattan, rides Winchester back for trainer Clement.

If the green and white silks look familiar, it’s because they should. This is the 30th anniversary of Genuine Risk’s victory in the ’80 Kentucky Derby.

If you’re looking for a bomber in the Bowling Green, check out Simmard, the speed from the fence.

This will be the first start for Simmard since January, but his recent Woodbine grass works for trainer Roger Attfield are off the charts – five-eighths in :59 3/5, and three-quarters In 1:11.

And look who’s riding this 5-year-old?

None other than Johnny Velazquez.

Across the river, we all were expecting a letdown in the quality of racing at Monmouth Park, but I don’t know Who was ‘specting this.

Of the 12 races on the Saturday opening of the Fall meet, which replaces The Meadowlands, 10 are for claimers. The exceptions are a $50,000 allowance race on the grass for fillies and mares, and the $100,000 feature, the Revidere for the girls at 1 1/16 miles on the grass, the favorite for which, Unbridled Essence, is fresh off winning the Matchmaker on Haskell Day at 41-1.

Incidentally, Hialeah Park owner John Brunetti the owner of Unbridled Essence, has narrowed his choice for stallion to Northern Afleet and Wildcat Heir.

Unbridled Essence is one of six trainer Greg Sacco, who’s looking at a productive Fall meet, has in on Saturday.

The filly to catch and beat in the Revirdere is Giant Mover, a seven-length winner two back of a Colonial stake. DeCarlo rides for main man Pletcher, who also has MTO McVictory in the race.

In case you missed it, Pat Valenzuela – the subject of our Tuesday column -- rode J P’s Gusto to a blowout victory the next day in the closing-day Del Mar Futurity, P Val’s first Grade One victory on his comeback trail.

J P, with P Val up, no doubt will be the one to catch and beat in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on No. 6 at Churchill Downs.

Thanks for tuning in. Good luck this weekend, keep the JP Hot Line in mind, and we’ll see you back here on Wednesday.

16
Aug
17
Aug
18
Aug
19
Aug

Today’s Hot Plays