The Big Three

THE BIG THREE

By John Piesen

After all these years, 15 to be precise, I still can't get used to not seeing Joe Hirsch in his daily spot on page two of Daily Racing Form.

But the national statistics, which replaced Joe on the first inside page, are also a good read.

For example, did you know that Mario Guiterrez, who this week was voted an ESPY as the top jockey in the Americas, doesn't even make the Top 15 by earnings? Not that further proof was needed, but it's obvious that the national media -- notably ESPN, a long-time racing partner, with or without Hank Goldberg -- doesn't have a clue beyond the Triple Crown.

Of the six top jocks on the national money list, five (all but Bejarano) are currently based in New York, but none of the five will actually be riding in New York (Belmont Park) this Saturday.

From the top down, Castellano will be at Delaware Park to ride Grace Hall in the Delaware Oaks; Dominguez will be at PARX to ride Redeemed in the Greenwood; Velazquez is on the disabled list (return unknown); Leparoux will be at Arlington ride Daddy Nose Best for trainer Asmussen in the American Derby, and Rosario will be at Arlington to ride Sky Ring for trainer Lukas in the same race. Maragh, another New York A-Lister, will be at Hollywood Park to ride Colonial Flag for trainer Matz in the Hollywood Oaks.

Except for the Derby, Preakness and Breeders' Cup, I've never seen a Saturday on which New York's top five riders are out of town. And, as we saw last week, when we tipped you that Mike Smith, who hates to fly, was making the 6,000-mile round trip to ride Mucho Macho Man in the Suburban, always beware the two-legged shippers. It will be interesting to see how the Big Apple riders perform on the road this Saturday.

With the stars out of town, jockey Bravo is giving up his usual three-or-four Monmouth winners to ride Hudson Steele for trainer Pletcher in the Man O'War at Belmont. Note that Jersey Joe already has won three graded stakes this summer for the Toddster, and that Hudson Steele will be the main speed in a very soft Grade One.

For my Saturday picks at Belmont, click here to go online or ring the John Piesen Hot Line (1-888-612-2283), which continues to be as hot as the weather.

Speaking of Pletcher, despite his dry spots, he still tops the money standings, with old friends Baffert and Asmussen running two-three.

All owe (or will owe) much of their success to Monmouth Park.

Pletcher swept both Monmouth stakes last Saturday - the U.N. with Turbo Compressor, and the Monmouth Stakes with Rule. Oh, yes. Both went wire-to-wire, and both with Bravo. The Toddster's next big Jersey target will be the Haskell with Wood winner Gemologist. (Remember him?)

Ah, yes. The Haskell.

Baffert has won the Haskell a mere five times, including the last two with Lookin at Lucky and Coil. On each and every occasion, Bob would red-eye from the coast, catch Max's Hot Dogs for a quickie, and celebrate later in the directors' room.

This year Baffert will eyeball a Haskell six-pack with Bodemeister, the Derby and Preakness runnerup. Up until Wednesday, we were looking at 4-5 for Bodemeister in the Haskell. Then, on Wednesday, came a press release that Belmont winner Union Rags was down for the year and likely forever (tendon)...and just like that Bodey drops to 1-5.

As for Asmussen, he will be one to watch the second half of the Monmouth meet.

Over the first two months of the Monmouth stand, Super Steve only ran six horses -- all shippers for stakes -- and went 0-3-1.

But on Thursday, Steve shipped a barnful to Monmouth, was stabled in a facility on the wrong side of the tracks, and all presumably are ready to run -- starting Saturday with Isn't He Clever, with Luzzi down from Long Island, in the Jersey Shore Stakes.

Two other Monmouth trainers to watch are Calhoun, off to a slow start in his rookie year down the Shore, and Sacco, who had a huge second half last year. Look for Bravo to ride most of the Sacco winners.

With regular rider Castellano spending the day at Delaware, Bravo, despite a paltry 1-for-21 Belmont resume, is the perfect partner for Hudson Steele, who numbers the Dixie (Grade Two) and the Jersey Derby and Henry Clark Stakes (both ungraded) among his six victories in 11 starts.

The gelding came off the pace in all those races, but, in his last race, he showed a new dimension by going right to the top in the Grade 1 Manhattan on the Belmont Stakes undercard, and yielding only in the final 50 yards.

With the paucity of speed in the Man O'War, we can expect (as Todd does) Bravo to try to steal the race as the speed in a field of eight in the 600K grass
stake for 3 and up at a mile and three furlongs.

As the lone Grade One winner in the field, Irish shipper Treasure Island will be a short-priced favorite.

But the negatives must be respected. The 4-year-old has never raced at Belmont Park, he's 11 months from his last victory, he'll be spotting Hudson Steele among others a head-start, and, as the 120-pound highweight, he'll be spotting the field from two-to-four pounds.

The contention includes Philly Ace and Point of Entry, riding two-race winning streaks for trainers Clement and McGaughey, respectively.

Naipaul Chatterpaul doesn't seem worried. He claimed Game Ball, a winner of 10 of his 20 starts, a month back for 50k, and is running the 4-year-old right back in a Grade One. Does he think he's Oscar Barrera?

Speaking of Baffert, he'll stay home at Hollywood Park Saturday to run a filly named Executiveprivilege in the $150,000 Landaluce Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at six furlongs with Bejarano up.

Sent off at 4-5 in her debut two weeks back, the filly got left at the post, circled the field to win going away by four-plus lengths in 1:04 3/5 for five and a half furlongs.

Her owners, the same guys who had/have Lookin at Lucky, Secret Circle and Drill, paid 650K for this filly at Ocala, and, if she runs back to her debut, she'll probably head to Saratoga for the Spinaway.

Drill recently joined Secret Circle on the DL, but Bob should worry with the likes of Game On Dude, Bodemeister, Paynter...and Executiveprivilege in the barn.

Speaking of the Spa, which opens next Friday, here are some more horses to watch at the game's most compelling venue.

NONIOS -- If the Swaps runnerup gets a piece of the Haskell, trainer Hollendorfer may go Travers-hunting. After all, this is a big year for California 3-year-olds.

BOISTEROUS -- The Saratoga grass program should appeal to this long-winded turf specialist.

IN LINGERIE -- Trainer Pletcher has given the Black-Eyed Susan winner some R&R with an eye toward the Spa.

WINTER MEMORIES -- Deserves another chance in the Diana after falling victim to loose-on-the-lead winner at Belmont.

ONE SOCK DOWN -- Long wait at the gate, and a wide trip cost him in return. Try again going six or seven upstate.

BELIEVE YOU CAN -- Trainer Jones is pointing her for the Alabama. May be the only Spa starter for the Cowboy, who's spending the summer at Ellis Park.

GOSSIP COLUMN -- Road problems closing for second at Belmont. Sitting on big win.

POST PATTERN -- Second to even-money favorite in Long Island finale. Catch with Dominguez.

SIX FLINGS -- Closed fastest for third in cavalry charge. Will land a piece of the super.

YARA -- Blows hot and cold. Look for her "A" race for new trainer Guerrero.

SOKITUMI SAMURAI -- Lost a lot of ground as the chalk at Belmont. Look for a rider change from McPeek.

SINDAAN -- Expensive maiden was caught napping late as the favorite in fast-run debut. Try again with Garcia.

FLAT OUT -- Came running late at Monmouth off the layoff, and in his first start for Mott. A Woodward prospect.

Thanks for tuning in. Have a good Friday the 13th, check out the JP Hot Line, Go Buccos, and see you back here next Friday for the Spa opener.

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