The Return of First Dude


There are two ways to approach First Dude, one of the more prominent and talented 3-year-olds of the season.

You can love First Dude because he tries hard every time, and is always in the trifecta, or you can hate him because he is the mother of money-burning 3-year-olds. See his second in the Preakness, and thirds in the Belmont, Haskell and Travers, all at single digits, taking a lot smarter handicappers than yours truly down with him.

One thing about First Dude, win or lose (mostly lose) he does seem to dance very dance for trainer Dale Romans and lady friend Tammy Fox. So it comes as no surprise that  FD - named for Sarah Palin's husband -- turns up the favorite in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby this Saturday at Philadelphia Park.

Philly Park last month was officially re-named Parx Racing, but I've yet to hear anyone refer to the facility as such. I do know that when they needed 800 new employees for the casino table games, they got 20,000 applications. And nowhere in the ads did they mention the joint doubled as a racetrack.

One surprise is the change of rider for First Dude. Jockey Dominguez opts to stay at Belmont Park Saturday to ride four or five favorites, so jockey Albarado, who last week won the Woodbine Mile on Court Vision on his first day back from injury, inherits the mount on First Dude.

First Dude, who will break from the six-hole in the field of seven 3-year-olds going nine furlongs, no doubt will make the lead with the Pletcher-trained Exhi (Castellano),  Jim Dandy winner A Little Warm (Madrigal), and Afleet Again (Cornelio) chasing.

A look at recent charts at Philly Park shows that speed is holding very well so this may be the day that First Dude breaks the graded-strakes ice. Or maybe not.

This was the race that trainer Baffert was pointing for with Lookin at Lucky, but an Illness cost the Preakness/Haskell winner some time, and LAL now will use the Indiana Derby as his  prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic.

We'll have more on the Pennsylvania Derby in Friday's column, and our selections will be up and running on the red-hot John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283) and online.

For those scoring at home, the JPHL last weekend made three picks at Belmont, hitting Strike the Bell ($10.80), and getting seconds with first-starter Amusing (6-1) and Snow Top Mountain (7-1).

Oh, yes. The field for the Penn Derby will be completed by Severe Weather, Friend or Foe
and Morning Line from the Zito barn.

Speaking of Dominguez, he remains in lock-step with Johnny Velazquez.

You'll recall that at Saratoga Johnny V. snapped Ramon's nine-meet NYRA streak; they currently share the top spot at the current Belmont meet at 11 winners, and each will ride seven/eight on Wednesday and Thursday.

Beyond that, they start the week in a virtual dead heat -- at $11 million-and-change -- atop the national money standings, and tradition dictates that the jock who finishes No. 1 in earnings  gets the Eclipse Award.

I'm not saying that should be the way to go...but it seems to be the case every year.

Meantime, there is a $500,000 stake for 3-year-olds on the national calendar for Saturday. That would be the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs up the inter-state from Shreveport.

Despite all the income LAD is reaping these days from its casino action, management cut the Super Derby purse back from $1 million, which it was in the glory days when the likes of Alysheba, Sunday Silence and Editor's Note won the race.

The favorite for this renewal of the Super Derby will be an unbeaten colt from Panama named Golden Moka, discovered and owned-in-part by paralyzed jockey Rene Douglas. NHL
Hall of Famer Denis Savard also has a piece of the colt, who is trained by Brian Lynch, a high-percentage guy, mostly working for Frank Stronach.

Golden Moka, originally an $8,000 purchase, won his first three starts in Panama, and then shipped to Woodbine to win the Prince of Wales Stakes (their Preakness) off an eight-month layoff.

If Golden Moka should win the Super Derby for poor Rene Douglas, this would be racing's best human-interest story in years - Lisa's Booby Trap notwithstanding.

Mention of the Super Derby reminds yours truly about the pecking order in the turf-writing business.

I covered several Super Derbys for DRF back in the'90s.

One of those years, I got down to Bossier City as per custom the prior weekend, wrote a dozen advance pieces on the race, and, of course on Saturday, the race lead.

My good buddy, the late, great  Joe Hirsch, touched down the morning of the Super Derby, watched the race with track VIPs in the dining room, and subsequently received VIP treatment from LAD management for 24 hours...while I settled for the Holiday Inn bar, and a poker room or two.

As if I didn't know before, I learned my lesson that weekend about Who's Who and What's Not in the turf-writing business.

But Joe was great.  As always. I got a handshake, and a few kind words from The Man about my work.

Yep. Once upon a time there was a man named Joe Hirsch.

But only once.

Joe would have loved Thursday's nine-race card at Belmont since five of the nine, including a small stake, are for 2-year-olds.

You won't find the Red Sox in the playoffs this year, but you will find a filly named Yawkey Way in the eighth-race feature, the $60,000 Friendly Beauty Stakes for juvenile fillies at six furlongs.

The Grand Slam filly from trainer Brown, a blowout winner of her first two starts at the Spa, will be odds-on under Castellano from the eight-hole in a field of nine.

We are looking at a short-priced Castellano late double because Sea of Liquidity will be 2-5 in race nine.

Otherwise, one piece of good news this week, and one piece of very bad news.

The good news is that Monmnouth Park announced plans to conduct a second "elite meet" in 2011. The only problem is that MP won't be getting subsidized next year by the Atlantic City casinos. They'll need the support of the politicians...and the guess here is that they will get it.

The bad news was the passing of New York press box icon Jack Kelly at the age of 61.

Jack was as good and talented a guy as they come in the NYRA press boxes...and I didn't know until I read the obit that he was a Vietnam war hero.

With all the bragging that goes on this business, Jack never said a word about'nam.

Jack's passing comes on the heels of the recent losses of fellow local turf writers Vic Ziegel, Bob Summers and Bill Handleman.

It's been a tough go.

See you back here Friday for a more detailed look at the weekend action, and the JPHL selections will be just a phone call away.


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