They're Off At Saratoga


Hate to call on a tired old cliche, but the John Piesen Hot Line is hotter than the weather. Four picks last week on the final Belmont weekend, and four winners, including a $202 trifecta box. And the timing couldn't be better because Saratoga opens its 40-day stand (weather permitting) on Friday. Being on the roll that I'm on, I was kind of sorry to see a four-day break before Saratoga (until recently it was two). But it is and I'm confident I'll carry that hot streak into Saratoga. I've got several solid plays lined up for the opening weekend, and I hope that you'll join me here online or by calling toll-free at 1-888-612-2283

Hey, this weekend is so big that big, had NBC is devoting a live hour (5-6 p.m.) to the Spa on Saturday, featuring the Coaching Club American Oaks, a $250,000 Grade One for 3-year-old fillies at a mile and a furlong.

This 95th renewal of the CCAO (and, no, I have not seen them all), attracted a field of five (standard procedure in this day and age), and, as would be expected, all come from powerhouse trainers.

Form the rail out, they are: Buster's Ready (Todd Pletcher); Plum Pretty (Bob Baffert); Joyful Victory (Larry Jones); Royal Delta (Bill Mott), and It's Tricky (Kieran McLaughlin).

Mott is the hottest trainer in the land, Baffert saddles the speed of the race, Jones is still angry about getting beat last week with Havre de Grace, and only comes to New York when he absolutely needs to, and Pletcher and McLaughlin remain buddies from their Lukas days, where they obviously learned their craft well.

The oddsmaker makes Royal Delta the morning-line favorite at 2-1, but actually any one of the five fillies could go favored, and, more importantly, any one of the five can win it. They are that close in ability. The favorite certainly has the credentials, but she's coming off a foot bruise that caused her to miss six weeks of training. I can see clearly late Saturday afternoon trainer Mott telling the NBC cameras "My filly got beat because she missed all that training time..."

Meantime, another NBC camera will be focused on the winner and her connections. Who will that be?

Will it be Buster's Ready?

Owned by the Estate of Edward P. Evans, who passed away last winter, Buster's Ready was a closing second to Royal Delta in the Black-Eyed Susan, and then aired in the Mother Goose. Johnny V. rides for main-man Pletcher.

Or will it be Pretty Plum?

Owned by Peachtree Stable, Plum Pretty shipped from southern California to Sunland Park to win the Sunland Oaks by a mere 25 lengths, then sneaked in under the radar to upset the Kentucky Oaks.

Next time out, in the Hollywood Oaks, Plum Pretty was odds-on , but jockey Garcia gave up the rail in the stretch, and Zazu blew by from the inside to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Baffert, willing to forgive and forget, put PP on a plane to New York, and here she is as the main speed in the Oaks. You can be sure there will be no EZ pass from Garcia this time...or it would be bye bye Bullet Bob.

Or will it be Joyful Victory?

The Fox Hill Farm folks (owner Rick Porter and trainer Jones), still fuming over Havre De Grace's nose loss to Blind Luck last Saturday in the Delaware Handicap, hope to rebound with Joyful Victory.

After winning the Honeybee and Fantasy at Oaklawn Park, Joyful Victory went to the Kentucky Oaks as the favorite, but finished fourth to Plum Pretty. JV was favored again for the Mother Goose, but was no match for Buster's Ready.

So now Joyful Victory is the rank outsider (6-1) for the Oaks, and, as such, offers value under Ramon Dominguez.

Or will it be It's Tricky?

Owned by the Sheiks, It's Tricky, by '03 Horse of the Year Mineshaft, has won four of her five starts, including a thumping of Buster's Ready in an allowance, and, most recently a three-length plus blowout in the Acorn.

In olden days at Belmont, the Acorn, Mother Goose and Oaks were linked as the Triple Tiara.

But why run the Oaks before a sparse crowd at Belmont, when you could it move it to the first Saturday at Saratoga, and a get a full house?

If there was still a Triple Tiara, the story line for the Oaks would be a battle between the Acorn winner (It's Tricky) and Mother Goose winner (Buster's Ready).

But NYRA lucked into something better: a terrific wide-open race on the first Spa Saturday, and live on national TV at that.

Back to the Fox Hill boys for a moment.

The matchup of Havre de Grace and Blind Luck, the top two ranked horses in the NTRA poll, was predicted to be the Race of the Year, and that's exactly what happened. These two great fillies went head-to-head through the lane, and Blind Luck got up by a

I've never seen Larry Jones this angry. Like all trainers, he's had some tough beats, but nothing of this magnitude. When the NTRA poll came out this week, and all those first-place votes switched from Havre de Grace to Blind Luck, his filly dropped to a nose.

Jones' anger was addressed at Delaware racing secretary Pat Pope, who had weighted HDG at 124 pounds for the Del Cap, and Blind Luck 122.

"That was absurd," Jones would say. "Blind Luck had won six grade ones, my filly had won one grade one, and I'm giving her weight because her trainer (Jerry Hollendorfer) said he wouldn't come from California unless he was getting two pounds? I thought about not running...and I shouldn't have."

My view? Handicaps are as obsolete as the $2 window, and the two fillies should have run at levels.

There is the possibility that Blind Luck and Havre de Grace, which has become the best racing rivalry since Affirmed/Alydar, may hook up next in the Personal Ensign on Aug. 28, the day after the Travers, at Saratoga...which would make it the race of the meet.

But Porter is already playing politics. He's saying he won't come to the Spa unless NYRA doubles the PE purse to $600,000.

If Havre de Grace does go, it will be interesting to see if she gets a new rider.

Here are some other projected Spa matchups to watch:

Tizway vs. Sidney's Candy in the Whitney (Aug. 3).

Uncle Mo vs. Flashpoint in the King's Bishop (Aug. 27).

Big Drama vs. Trappe Shot in the Forego (Sept. 3).

As for the Travers, who knows?

One possibility: Coil wins the Haskell, and goes to the Travers as the favorite.

Thanks for tuning in. Make sure you get with me for my Opening Day Longshot on Friday, the start of what promises to be another summer money run.


CAP THE MOMENT -- Gelding showed improvement at Belmont.
HANGOVER KID -- Will find a comfortable spot on the grass.
HEARTED -- Was dead short in her return for new barn.
FIGHT FOR V L Ts -- Linda has the gray back in peak form.
DELASTMANSTANDING -- Makes the trip from Finger Lakes.
DISCO CAPOTE -- Wires grass field for Bruce Brown.
MISSILE MOTOR -- Watch for a possible speed bias.
RUDY RUDY RUDY -- Was second on Spa turf last year.
GOLDEN TORNADO -- Will run up a storm for Linda..
TUDOR KING -- Down the road for the Broadway boys.

LUCKY JAMES -- Golden oldie will strike at six furlongs.
PERFECT LOVER -- Has the speed and the pedigree.
IDLE DICE -- Showing life for Team Thompson.
KNOCKOUT PUNCH KID -- Prefer from outside post.
HUNG JURY -- Rounding to form off long lyaoff



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