A Grand Slam

A GRAND SLAM
by John Piesen

The John Piesen Hot Line offers full-card selections on big-event days and this coming Saturday at Keeneland (Blue Grass Stakes) and Oaklawn (Arkansas Derby) is no different. Three picks per race in preference, plus best bet, best longshot, best exacta, best trifecta. And if it's anything like last Saturday, we have a big day of collecting ahead of us.

On Wood Memorial Day last Saturday at Aqueduct, we not only hit a home run, we hit the Grand Slam. The Hotline hit the late Pick-4, which paid four grand, if you followed the betting instructions given, which advised betting all three horses in each race as part of the Late Pick-4.

One of those winning second picks was Toby's Corner, and that only that was only because I had the bad judgment to drink the Uncle Mo Kool Ade for one more race. Oh, how I was looking forward to knocking Mo off at 3-5 in the Kentucky Derby. We all would have been better off playing Uncle Joe in the ninth at Gulfstream that day.

It just drives me nuts to hear or read that the Derby is now "wide open" in the wake of Mo's Wood disaster. Hell, this Derby has always been wide-open...and Dialed In has been my go-to Derby horse in this space since November, Faithfull followers alreday have converted two tickets on him, while presumably avoiding him at 1-5 in that odorous allowance practice race.

That said, I have yet to decide if Dialed In will be my Derby pick. There are so many late-developing 3-year-olds out there sitting on a big race. And that's what wins Derbys. I know that because I've had my share of success picking Derby winners throughout the years and intend to do so again this year. And the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby coming up Saturday are a key part of my evaluation process.

The $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park drew a field of 13, including The Factor, the Baffert-trained favorite, who will break from the three-hole under jockey Martin Garcia -- and two from trainer Pletcher. The $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, attracted an even dozen, including the favored Sativa -- and three from trainer Pletcher.

One thing about The Toddster. The man has no shame. After getting beat last weekend with Uncle Mo at 1-10, and with Life At Ten at 1-5, he's got five to throw at us in the following Saturday's two biggest races.

Since 2004, the nine-furlong Arkansas Derby has produced several serious Kentucky Derby players, foremost among them Smarty Jones, Curlin, Afleet Alex, and, just last year, Super Saver. All but SS are potential Hall of Famers, and all, save SS, are making their mark as stallions.

One of Afleet Alex's most promising sons is Elite Alex.

This colt has had one bad trip after another for trainer Ritchey...but if he finishes 1-2 in the Arkansas Derby, he'll be going to Louisville as jockey Borel's shot to win his fourth Derby in five years.

The signs look good for Elite Alex. Like his dad, he has trained lights-out for the Arkansas Derby, he's getting shades, and, for once, he drew respectably -- post two in the field of 13. Since the rail-horse, Nehru, is a closer, Borel should have no probmen getting to his favorite spot -- the rail.

Of course, that presents a problem. The outside has always been called the Married Man's Route, and now that Calvin has tied the knot with the lovely Lisa, will Bo-Rail suddenly morph into Bo-outside. Somehow knowing Calvin as well as I do, I doubt it. Pacewise, the Arkansas Derby will be run a lot differently and a lot faster than the Rebel, where The Factor wired the field in moderate fractions.

There will much more speed in the AD, starting with J Ps Gusto.

In the Rebel, JP was rated well off The Factor by jockey Dominguez, who, despite his Eclipse Award and 50 per cent winning percentage back east, sometimes gets a little lost when he ventures west of the Mississippi River.

Such was the case in the Rebel, after which Joe Petalino, the trainer and Kelly O'Hara's husband, fired Ramon, and replaced him for the AD with Berry, OP's top gunslinger. Expect JP to exit running from post 11, and never let The Factor out of his gunsight.

Nehru is an up-and-comer from Asmussen, and the one-hole won't hurt him. Donnie K. Von Hemel has a dangerous uncoupled entry in Caleb's Posse, who can use a good trip, and Alteration; D. Wayne is in the mix with Saratoga Red from the outside (would have loved to be a fly on the wall when DWL learned he drew the 13), and Dominguez winds up on Brethren, the half-brother of 2010 AD winner Super Saver. Brethren and Dance City will race uncoupled for the Toddster.

The bottom line is that, despite the fact that The Factor, will be a short price, this will be the most wide-open Arkansas Derby in memory.

One thing I don't get is the absence of jockey Saez from the race.

Saez, who, at 23, recently passed the 500-winner milestone, is by far the hottest rider on the grounds, bringing home one double-digit winner after another. But when it comes to the AD, the signature race of the meeting, he'll be watching from the jocks' room while several riders are being imported from California and New York for live mounts.

Saez does ride four on the 12-race card: Oops and a Half for Ken Favre (Bret's cousin) in race two; Supreme Ruler for Jinks Fires in race three; The Ole Gen for Larry Jones in race nine, and Bluegrass Bull for Fires in race 10.

Jones, incidentally, is set to complete a sweep of Oaklawn's four major filly stakes with Havre de Grace Friday in the Apple Blossom. Mike Smith will be in from the left coast for the ride, Champion Blind Luck is staying home rather than face Havre de Grace.

Unlike the Arkansas Derby, the Blue Grass, also to be run at nine furlongs, in recent years has fallen off the map as a Derby prep. The main reason is that the synthetic Keeneland strip turns off Derby-bound trainers.

Santiva, a Giant's Causeway colt, may go favored from the three-hole with Smith, who makes the quick hop from Hot Springs. In a race over the track last year, Santiva overcame a disastrous trip to finish second in the Breeders' Futurity.

Gomez will be on the lead with Joes Blazing Aaron. the Wall Street folks have a major player in King Congie, and trainer Motion, who already has two in the Derby (Toby's Corner and Animal Kingdom), will try for the hat trick with Crimson China, who last out made a huge close for second in the Rushaway at Turfway.

And, of course, there is the Todd Trio of Queen'splatekitten, Praetereo and Sensational Slam, none of whom would be a surprise in a race, like the AD, is wide-open, and a great betting race.

Speaking of 3-year-olds, I found it rather annoying last Saturday when a 3-year-old first-starter named Kingpost aired in a Keeneland maiden-special.

When approached before the race by a reporter, Bonnie Hamlilton, the colt's owner, explained: "I thought I was being original. I had no idea about the other horse from way back when."

Actually, "way back when" was the year 1988, when Kingpost, trained by former beauty-queen Dianne Carpenter, won the Jim Beam Stakes, and after a poor Derby effort, finished second to Risen Star in the Belmont Stakes.

Maybe Ms. Hamlilton never heard of the original Kingpost, but you would think that someone at The Jockey Club, which traditionally disapproves of re-naming famous horses, would have heard of "the other horse."

And you might as well add the modern-day Kingpost to your Horses to Watch list. He looks like the real deal.

Finally, our prayers go out to Larry Lederman, the colorful long-time voice of Freehold Raceway, and to Kim Carroll, the young wife of trainer David Carroll...both of whom are fighting serious health issues.

Here's our updated Derby Top Ten:

1. Dialed In: From 100-1 in the Futures to favorite.
2. The Factor: The AD will be tougher than the Rebel.
3. Toby's Corner: Very impressive winning the Wood.
4. Elite Alex: Needs 1-2 finish at Hot Springs.
5. Animal Kingdom: Gives Motion two solid contenders.
6. Shackleford: His Florida Derby was an eye-popper.
7. Mucho Macho Man: Had several excuses in New Orleans.
8. Midnight Interlude: A second major bullet from Baffert.
9. Comma on Top: Showed return to form in Arcadia.
10. Uncle Mo: What a difference a week makes.

Thank you for tuning in. And make sure to get with me for full card action on Saturday at Oaklawn and Keeneland.

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