A Jim Dandy Weekend



If you can tear yourself away from the Olympics this weekend, there's some pretty good racing - and betting opportunities -- on tap, particularly at Saratoga and Monmouth.

One look at the entries for the Jim Dandy Saturday at the Spa, and the Haskell Sunday at the shore makes it quite evident that the stars of the 3-year-old division have left the stage (see I'll Have Another, Union Rags, Bodemeister, Secret Circle, Drill), so we are looking at the second tier.

Eight go in the Jim Dandy, six in the Haskell, and that's about normal for stakes racing coast-to-coast these days. The good thing is that both races are wide-open -- unless you want to concede both races to trainer Baffert: Laiason in the Jim Dandy, Paynter in the Haskell.

Bullet Bob, cutting back on his travel since surviving a heart attack back in March, isn't even making the trip East, preferring to watch on TV back home at Hollywood Park, allowing his assistants to do the saddling chores.

Interesting to note that jockey Smith paid the price for blowing the Belmont Stakes on Paynter. He gets sacked by Baffert for the Haskell, and Bejarano makes the 6,000-mile trip to Oceanport for the call.

Of course you never know, Mike might get Paynter back. Just check out jockey Martin Garcia. Baffert fired him after his brutal trip on Lookin at Lucky in the 2010 Derby, but, following the appropriate cooling-off period, Garcia is back riding Liaison for Baffert in the Jim Dandy.

Laison is the only Grade One winner in the Jim Dandy, and that was was last December in the Cash Call Futurity at Hollywood Park. Yep, that Cash Call.

Then there is the Pletcher-Johnny V situation. The Toddster, a woeful 2-for-30 the first week at the Spa, is running six on the 14-race Haskell card, including Gemologist in the Haskell. But Johnny V, recovering from injuries sustained in a spill at Churchill Downs, will stay put at the Spa on Sunday while Javier Castellano rides all six.

They are -- in addition to Gemologist (race 13) -- Ciao Bello (race four); Crazy Party (race eight); Travelin Man (race nine); R Gypsy Gold (race 11), and Queen'splatekitten (race 12). Needless to say, all are major players, and should play a prominent role in your gimmicks.

This is will be a busy weekend indeed for Castellano. JC has calls in all 11 races Saturday at Saratoga, and in 10 of the 14 races on Monmouth's dawn-to-dusk card Sunday.

Aside: there was an article in a New York tabloid the other day noting that lefty Johnny Franco was selling his Staten Island mansion. What the writer didn't know was that Franco originally purchased the place from the late Anthony Sciametta, a prominent New York horse-owner and Wall Street tycoon, and the father of Anthony Sciametta Jr., who has has been running Pletcher's Jersey operation for a dozen years. Those hundreds of winners credited to the Toddster actually belong to Sciametta...and they could add a bunch Sunday.

Although all eight horses in the Jim Dandy have a shot, Alpha will go favored. You need reasons? Here are reasons:

1) He won his lone start at the Spa by six.
2) He gets back Dominguez, who is 2-1-0 in three rides.
3) He gets the rail...just like stablemate Questing did in the Coaching Club last Saturday.
4) He drops seven pounts from his trouble-plagued Derby.
5) He worked a bullet :58 over the track.

The only knock is that Alpha doesn't always get ouf the gate on time. If he should break poorly from the one-hole in the Jim Dandy, he can find himself dead-last at the first turn of the nine-furlong race, and have to play catch-up from there. Not easy to do at the Spa.

The Beyer boys are going to jump all over Neck 'n Neck. This Churchill shipper, trained by Ian Wilkes, Carl Nafzger's main man for years, exits a pair of triple-digit blowouts at the home office, and his jockey Goncalves, is a rising midwest superstar who is 3-for-3 on this guy.

Then there's Atigun, a close-up third in the Belmont, and Teeth of the Dog, looking to make it three straight stakes for trainer Matz.

The respective riders are Leparoux and Rosario, whom, you'll notice, are winning at a considerably better rate than they did at Belmont.

And waiting in the wings is old friend Nick Zito with Fast Falcon, a fast-closing second to Teeth of the Dog in the Dwyer. Rosie rides him back. It's worth noting that his sire, Awesome Again, was a Grade One winner at the Spa.

For my selection in the Jim Dandy, and in the other major weekend stakes, you need to CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP ONLINE or ring the John Piesen Hot Line toll free at 1-888-612-2283.

At Saratoga, you need to be lucky as well as good, and the Hot Line has been lucky thus far. See Mr. Baffle, life-and-death at $11.80, and Centre Court, who won the Lake George at $7.50 only because the favored Stephanie's Kitten got stopped cold mid-stretch as a day and a half the best.

Unlike the Jim Dandy, which should produce a cavalry charge, the nine-furlong, $1 million Haskell could be decided in the first quarter-mile. At least that's Bafffert's plan.

Bullet Bob won the last two Haskells (five overall) with Lookin at Lucky and Coil from out of the clouds. But in this case, his Paynter is the absolute speed --
always a major plus over the speed-biased Monmouth strip, especially going two-turns.

If Bejarano has the Belmont runnerup loose on the lead in :24 and :48, school is out, and Mike Smith is ruing the 600K that got away.

I find it interesting that none of the six Haskell horses are Jersey-based, and none of the six will be ridden by Jersey-based jocks. These guys work hard all summer to make a buck only to sit out the one big-money race of the meet.

I'm surprised that trainer Romans chooses to run Dullahan at the shore rather than at the Spa. Chasing lone speed over a speed track seems like a stretch. Maybe the bigger purse is the deciding factor. It certainly is with Pletcher, who admitted as much to the Form.

Is all really forgiven?

Yes, Desormeaux gets the mount back on Dullahan...but in race three on Saturday at the Spa, Romans is running a bright 2-year-old maiden prospect named Gulfport for the Steinbrenner family, and the rider is Rosario!

I don't see how there can be a better-bred horse on the grounds than Gulfport. His sire is Unbridled's Song; his dam Dream Supreme, a multiple Grade One stakes-winner bred and owned by George Steinbrenner.

Gulfport was foaled the year we lost the Boss.

Will Gulfport be his legacy?

Don't think about getting rich with Gulfport. He will be a short price off his fast-closing second as the chalk in his Churchill debut a month back.

Pass the Pico, a closing fourth for Asmussen in the same race, looks the one to beat with Leparoux.

In addition to Dullahan and Gulfport, Romans has a major shot with Tapitsfly in the 600K Diana Saturday at the Spa. The five-year-old mare is the absolute lone speed of the six-horse Diana, to be run at nine furlongs on the inner turf course, which favors speed.

Dominguez and Castellano had tough choices for the Diana. Ramon chooses Zagora over Tapitsfly, and Javier chooses Winter Memories over Zagora.

Meantime, the Shugster, who won two races on Thursday, is looking to blow 'em all out of the water with Hungry Island.

The Diana is exhibit A of what's happening to purse money. Ten years back, the Diana purse was 150 K.

Finally, here's a list of Horses to Watch at Saratoga:

CURVE BALL -- Came flying for third local bow. Won't be a maiden long.

CATALONIA -- Nailed at the wire in well-run race. Gets 'em next time.

STEPHANIE'S KITTEN -- Shut off making winning move in Lake George.

TEEN PAULINE -- May be the next Rachel for Team Asmussen.

COLONEL BILL -- Looked like Count Fleet closing for second.

WILD GRACE -- Hit all kinds of early traffic as the favorite.

DISPOSABLEPLEASURE -- Look for a cutback to mile or seven.

LEA -- Won first pop like a good thing for Blame's trainer.

TIZ YANKEE -- Perennial bridesmaid gets th money with Lezcano.

HARD LIFE -- Exits huge second to Baffle Me. Next time's the charm.

Thanks for tuning in. Good luck this weekend, go Buccos, and see you next Friday.


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