Derby Action


By John Piesen:

Two $1 million Derbys will be run this weekend: the Florida Derby on Saturday at Gulfstream Park, and the Louisiana Derby on Sunday at Fair Grounds.

The two races couldn't be much different. There is an overwhelming favorite in the nine-horse Florida Derby, and that of course is Union Rags, the universal favorite for the Kentucky Derby five weeks down the road. The 14-horse Louisiana Derby, by sharp contrast, is wide open.

One thing the two Derbys do have in common is that the John Piesen selections will be up-and-running online, and on the John Piesen Hot Line (1-888-612-2283). I need to point out that the Hot Line has been on fire thus far during the Kentucky Derby prep campaign. Just Look At What I've Done The Last5 Weekends...11 Derby Prep Winners - At Least One Ticket Cashed In Each Race

Mar. 17: Private Terms - Laurel -Raconteur- WIN $5.60
Mar. 17: Rebel - Oaklawn - Secret Circle- WIN $4.00
Mar. 10:Tampa Bay Derby- Tampa Bay Downs - Prospective Win $8.20
Mar. 3: Gotham Stakes - Aqueduct - Hansen WIN $3.60...My Adonis 2nd - Exacta $17.60
Mar. 3: John Battaglia Stakes - Turfway - State Of Play - WIN $6.00...Ill Conceived 2nd Exacta $36.00...Dynamical 3rd Trifecta $137.40
Feb. 26: Fountain Of Youth Stakes - Gulfstream - Union Rags - WIN $4.40
Feb. 25: Risen Star Stakes - Fair Grounds - El Padrino - WIN $3.60...Mark Valesky 2nd - Exacta $12.00
Feb. 20: Southwest Stakes - (Division I) - Oaklawn - Castaway - WIN $15.40
Feb. 20: Southwest Stakes - (Division II) - Oaklawn - Secret Circle - WIN $3.20
Feb. 19: San Vicente Stakes - Santa Anita - Drill - WIN $9.60
Feb. 18: El Camino Real Derby - Golden Gate - Daddy Nose Best - WIN $10.20...Lucky Chappy 2nd - Exacta $38.80

If you haven't done so, CLICK's not too late to get on board and start winning now.

I of course has no peers when it comes to the big enchilada itself. During the '80s, I nailed eight of 11 Kentucky Derbys, several at princely prices (see Gato delo Sol, Ferdinand, Alysheba). More recently, I nailed the two-grand plus trifecta in '08 on this venue, and the riple-digit exact box the last two years.

I generally try to beat the favorite, but it's obvious this year that will take some doing. Union Rags is the best-looking 3-year-old I've seen since Smarty Jones in '04. And as we all recall so painfully, Smarty got beat in the Belmont...a victim no doubt of foul play.

There's a connection between Smarty and Union Rags that has thus far escaped the national media.

Smarty's trainer was John Servis. Servis' primary owner was Rick Porter. Porter named his ill-fated Eight Belles for a Maine mansion built and owned by the artistic Wyeth family. The same Wyeth family bred and owns Union Rags.

Maybe during Derby week some one will pick up on this amazing coincidence.

As for the Florida Derby, it will be run as the 11th of 13 races at 5:40pm (EDT),. a half-hour before the Kentucky-Louisville tip. I will have full-card selections up on the web, a card that includes six other stakes. Don't think there's ever been a racing program of similar quality at a Florida racetrack.

And half a world away, it's Dubai World Cup Day in Dubai-- eight million-dollar races topped by the $10 million World Cup at 1:40 p.m. (EDT), featuring Game on Dude, trained by Bob Baffert, who is making a miraculous recovery from a heart attack last weekend, and the Bill Mott-trained filly champion Royal Delta. They are the only two United States-based runners in the field of 14, and both will be among the favorites.

This could be quite a million-dollar weekend for the two foremost lady jockeys of our era. Chantal Sutherland has the call on Game on Dude (from post 14), and Rosie Napravnik will ride Mark Valeski, the likely favorite for the Louisiana Derby.

Attention: Jay Leno!

No lady riders in the Florida Derby. But that doesn't mean there's no major jockey story line in the race.

Two months back, jockey Castellano and agent Musikar, forced to choose between Union Rags and Algorithm for the Fountain of Youth, chose the latter. Not because Castellano considered him the superior colt but because he's trained by Todd Pletcher, for whom JC rides serious horses every day.

So Julian Lerparoux gets the mount on Union Rags for the Fountain of Youth, and wins by five, while Algorithm breaks down.

Leparoux of course stays on Unions Rags for the Florida Derby (and presumably forever), while Castellano will pilot the second choice, El Padrino, for the Toddster.

El Padrino does have a bit of a Beyers edge on Union Rags, and since he has more tactical speed over the speed-favoring Gulfstream strip than Union Rags, he has a bit of an edge there as well.

Then there the fact that Matz has gone public with the fact that he has no intention of having Union Rags at 100 per cent for the Florida Derby, the million-dollar purse be damned.

"I just want this race to move him forward," he says.

Yes, I know this is right out of chapter one of the trainer's handbook, but Matz is that rare exception among trainers: he's downright honest. He says what he means, and means what he says.

You'll recall we're speaking of the same Michael Matz who once charged back into a burning airplane to rescue children.

If ever a man deserved a Barbaro -- and a Union Rags -- in a lifetime, it is Mike Matz.

Union Rags is four for five, his only defeat a head loss to Hanson in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, when he lost a ton of ground from his outside post as the even-money favorite (a nice score for the JPHL followers who had Hanson at 7-1).

I imagine that Union Rags will be playing some catch-up as well in the Florida Derby. You know Matz wants no part of a speed duel, and Leparoux patterns the off-the-pace style of his hero and mentor Pat Day.

The bottom line is that Union Rags is the best horse, but the best horse doesn't always win....especially when it's a prep for the Kentucky Derby.

Meantime, the major player in the Louisiana Derby is old friend Larry Jones.

Jones trains Mark Valeski, who earned the favorite's role with a nose-bob loss to El Padrino in the Risen Star, as well as Mr. Bowling, who had a nasty trip for last in the same race.

A victory by either puts Jones smack dab back in the Kentucky Derby picture (see Eight Belles and Hard Spun), completing a potential celebrity trainers' pick six in Louisville -- see Baffert, Pletcher, Lukas, Matz, Asmussen.

Fair Grounds management really got lucky with the Louisiana Derby, its marquee event. They wanted desperately to get Kentucky or Louisville in the Final Four -- and got both! No doubt the FG will get a huge spike in business Sunday, the off day in the Final Four, from the basketball and racing/frenzied Blue Grass folks.

Win or lose, you'll find Rick Pitino, a prominent horse owner for 30 years, at the Run for the Roses, and later this summer at Saratoga.

And while Aqueduct is dark on Sunday, as New York remains the only racing state in the land to observe Palm Sunday, Fair Grounds will have a super program Sunday with a half-dozen stakes race supporting the Louisiana Derby. Again, check out the Hot Line.

Moving on, as a lifetime racetracker, I confess to enjoying the Luck series on TV. Never missed an episode, sorry to see it expire so prematurely.

That said, I was amazed during the last episode when they flashed a mutuel ticket on camera with the name of the horse (Mon Gateau) clearly printed squarely in the center of the ticket.

Now who among us has ever seen the name of a horse printed on a mutuel ticket?

The guys who produced and directed Luck are track lifers...and yes I can understand they were trying to reach racing neophytes with the program.

But to take the audience for fools! I don't get it.

And I also don't get while racing continues to take its audience for fools with uncoupled entries.

The latest frauds occurred minutes apart on Friday afternoon.

Exhibit A: Oaklawn Park (Race 2):

Trainer Stanley Roberts ran an uncoupled entry of Primetime Kiss at 3-5, and Half A Kiss at 9-1 in an eight-horse field of maiden Arkansas-breds.

You guessed it...Primetime Kiss finished a distant third to Half a Kiss ($21.40). While Mr. Roberts was celebrating in the winner's circle, thousands of tickets were being tossed from coast to coast on his odds-on horse. And, coincidentally, the double came back short.

Exhibit B: Golden Gate (Race 1):

After scratches, three (count 'em three) horses were left. Two of the three -- Light Up the Sky, 1-9 for most of the betting, and Milania, 5-1, 6-1 throughout -- are trained by Jerry Hollendorfer. At the break, Light Up the Sky was 1-2 and Milania even-money.

Light Up the Sky led most of the way, fending off pressure from the non-Hollendorfer horse, while Milania trailed five-six lengths back. At the head of the stretch, Milania galloped past Light Up the Sky and won by a pole at $4.20.

Hollendorfer is not to blame. The system is.

Here is my Derby Top Ten:





1. Union Rags



Following Barbaro's path to Derby.

2. Gemologist



Chased Hansen from the Wood.

3. Creative Cause



Looks the best of the west.

4. Bodemeister



Takes detour through Hot Springs.

5. Went the Day Well



The next Animal Kingdom?

6. Oxidizer



D. Wayne back in the Derby picture.

7. Daddy Nose Best



Steve will need another jock.

8. Mark Valeski



Louisiana Derby a major test.

9. El Padrino



Florida Derby will tell us more.

10. Secret Circle



His speed makes him dangerous.

Thanks for tuning in. Don't forget the Hot Line, and see you back here next week.

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