This Weekend's Derby Preps

 A LOOK DOWN THIS WEEKEND'S DERBY TRAIL
by John Piesen

Ken McPeek thought he had his Derby last year when Noble Victory made the lead at the quarter-pole without being asked. Things were also looking pretty good for the followers of the John Piesen Hot Line and the Season of Piesen, because Noble Victory was my top choice. At 25-1!

But, just as the experts predicted, and I feared, Noble Victory did not want to go a mile and a quarter, and alas tired through the lane as Super Saver swept by on the inside to give jockey Borel his third Derby in four years.

Fast forward one year, and McPeek has another bonafide Derby contender in Rogue Romance, who closed five-wide for third to Uncle Mo in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last October.

That performance was good enough to get RR third in my first Derby Top Ten -- behind Dialed In and Uncle Mo.

Uncle Mo, unbeaten in three starts as a 2-year-old, was anointed this week by The New York Times as a Derby lock. Maybe so. But I still have to see Uncle Mo transfer his form to 3, and I still have to see an Indian Charlie get 10 furlongs.

In the meantime, Rogue Romance has been training splendidly in south Florida, caught a plane Wednesday to New Orleans, and will go postward no worse than second choice under jockey Leparoux in the Risen Star late Saturday afternoon at Fair Grounds.

Saturday will be a busy day at FG for McPeek. He also will run Kathamblu as the favorite in the first running of the Rachel Alexandra Stakes, and Beautician in the Pan Zareta.

The Risen Star will be the first -- and most significant -- of three Derby preps this weekend. The others are the San Vicente on Sunday at Santa Anita, and the Southwest on Monday at Oaklawn Park.

The Factor and Jaycito, both from the Baffert barn, look to be major players in the San Vicente, while Borel will jet back from a week in Dubai to ride Elite Alex in the Southwest.

The Southwest will always hold a special place in my heart because, back in 2004, trainer John Servis asked me to use my cellphone to enter Smarty in the Southwest, which of course I did, and he won.

On to a good thing. I went on to enter Smarty in the Rebel, Arkansas Derby, Kentucky Derby -- all wins -- and the Belmont, which The Old Boys Club succeeded in knocking him off.

I just remembered. I never saw a whiff of that $5 million bonus that Smarty earned by winning the Rebel and Arkansas and Kentucky Derbys. Maybe the check's in the mail.

So isn't it ironic that, here we are, seven years later, and a son of Smarty Jones is a prominent player on the Road to the Triple Crown?

I don't expect McPeek to have Rogue Romance at his peak for the Risen Star. After all, it is the colt's first race in three months. But I'm sure that McPeek (and I) will like to see some late action from him.

On the other hand, there were doubts about trainer Zito having Dialed In ready at first pop. And we know how that turned out. Dialed In spotted his field 15 lengths in the Holy Bull, and won going away.

Looking ahead, Leparoux may have to make a decision: Dialed In or Rogue Romance. But let's play this show one act a time.

After all, although you try, you can't really predict the future.Thoroughbreds are fragile animals. This week alone, Tapizar
amd Boys at Toscanova, graded stakes-winners prominent on most Derby Top Tens, were removed from the Derby trail. I would presume this weekend's action will eliminate more.

Tapizar and Boys at Toscanova last week were sixth and seventh, respectively, in my original Derby Top Ten so we know there will be some major changes next week for Chapter Two.

Incidentally, this weekend will kick off the Churchill Downs' Future Book for the Derby. The morning line for the
May 7 first leg of the Triple Crown has the field the 5-2 favorite, followed by Uncle Mo at 9-2, and Dialed In at 10-1.

Trainer Pletcher has been saying all along that Uncle Mo will run twice before the KD -- in the Tampa Bay Derby on March 12 and the Wood Memorial on April 9. But the Toddster is wavering because Gulfstream is planning to run a race for 3-year-olds with no restrictions on March 12.

The Toddster, who broke his Derby schneid last year with Super Saver, is loaded this time -- with Uncle Mo, Brethren and Stay Thirsty. Brethren, so impressive winning the Sam Davis last Saturday, is headed to the Florida Derby, and Stay Thirsty to the Gotham. Needless to say, all three Pletcherites will be favored.

Leparoux may not be the only rider with a decision to make. Johnny V is the regular rider for Uncle Mo and To Honor and Serve, who sits second in mnost Derby polls. To Honor and Serve is scheduled to meet Dialed In in the Fountain of Youth a week from Saturday.

Meantime, I've never seen such dominant chalk as we are currently seeing at Aqueduct -- and that's with or without jockey Dominguez. When he's at the Big A, Ramon rides 60 per cent favorites, and on an average day, three or four will win. Even when RD is out-of-town, for instance on Wednesday, a half-dozen favorites won -- in mostly short fields.

I need to tell you that a writer friend last week e-mailed me a photo of the Aqueduct apron, and you would not believe. The area is covered top-to-bottom with garbage, mostly broken cement, a product of the casino erection, and there isn't a warm body in sight. Such is why I am concentrating on Gulfstream at the present time...and the results have been outstanding.

Averaging three selections per day at the Gulf for the Piesen Hot Line, I have, in the past six racing days, hit: Fashionable Elsa ($12) - and the $142 trifecta; Superior Selection ($7.60); Free Entry ($6); Sweet N Sour Nina ($7.20), and Miss Muffin ($8.40). (Plus Boy G., who finished second to the favorite, and paid $12.80 to place). These selections are the Daily Power Plays that comprise The Season Of Piesen. Click here to learn how you can get on board.

None of these winners went favored. Moreover, I'm off to a fast start in the Season of Piesen's Derby Prep package, nailing Dialed In ($7.40) , Toby's Corner ($11.60), and the $76.40 exacta box in the El Camino Real Derby.

As is the case in most Triple Crown preps, the chalk is getting buried. An example? Last Saturday, Tapizar and Comma to the Top failed to hit the board at odds-on, causing much consternation for bridge-jumpers...although my friend The Mad Bomber assures me that he was not
involved.

Even with all the chalk winning, it's been a bad year for bridge-jumpers. But sometimes you get the feeling that this is Steve Asmussen's world...and we're just living in it. Last Saturday, for example, Tapizar, his main Derby hope, chipped and ankle while finishing up the track at odds-on in the Robert F. Lewis.

Asmussen's despair lasted 30 minutes. A half-hour later, Steve won the El Camino Real with Silver Medallion,
his first winner ever at Golden Gate. And this guy rallied widest over a speed-biased strip. The rider was Russell Baze, who is pushing 60, and has ridden more winners than any jockey in history -- 10,000 and counting. Baze has never won a Derby...nor a Triple Crown race.

What a media splash Baze would make in Louisville the first week of May. And, finally, speaking of jocks, good luck to Rich Migliore in his new role as all-around utility man at NYRA.

A good hire...even though it's going to set back the "tell-all" book that The Mig and I had planned to write.

Thanks for tuning in. Good luck this weekend. Don't forget to check out the JPHL and the Season of Piesen, and see you back here next week.

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