By John Piesen
When will folks (the media) realize the best 3-year-olds this year are coming out of California?
Starting at Oaklawn, California horses won the Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby. In the Triple crown, California horses finished one-two in the Kentucky Derby; one-two-three in the Preakness, and Paynter missed by a nostril in the Belmont Stakes only because jockey Smith let the winner through inside.
And, then, of course we had the Haskell last Sunday when again California horses finished
Does anyone see a pattern here? I know I for sure will not be belittling west coast 3-year-olds down the road. leaving Gemologist (New York) and Dullahan (Kentucky) in their wake. (presumably, we will soon see a Gemologist retirement release).
There is one major 3-year-old stake coming up Saturday -- the $750,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park, 30 miles from Pittsburgh, home of the future NL champs.
Hansen, blue tail and all, will be 1-5 in the race...but heed the following warning: there is one California horse in the race. His name is Called to Serve, and he'll be 30-1.
Maybe an exacta box?
Meantime, Saratoga will simultaneosly be running the day's other 750K -- a nice race called the Whitney Handicap, a race so tough that the rank outsider in the field of nine will be a horse (Hunters Bay), who merely has won his last three, including a pair of Grade Threes in Canada.
,,,a field so strong that jockey Dominguez is staying home to ride a 15-1 shot (Trickmeister) rather than fly to Mountaineer to ride Hansen at 1-5 for the same purse. Smith gets the call on Hansen.
Actually, the Mountaineer race will be worth $1 million if Hansen wins because of a bonus attached to last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Normally, Trickmeister would be my pick in the Whitney for the John Piesen Saratoga Summer Service (1-888-612-2283). But the Spa main strip has not been especially kind to speed this far this season. And there is plenty of speed in the field, notably Rule, Endorsement and Fort Larned, the only 4-year-old in the race -- one of my favorite betting angles.
Rule will be joined by Caixa Eletronica as an uncoupled entry from trainer Pletcher, and closers Ron the Greek and Flat Out will run as an uncoupled entry from trainer Mott -- and may go off the first and second choices in a wide-open race.
Flat Out was one of the feel good stories of last year, coming out of nowhere to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Suburban, and place in the Whitney and Woodward (to Horse of the Year Havre de Grace) for long-time claiming trainer (read starving) Scooter Dickey.
At the time, the owners deservedly were being praised for sticking with senior-citizen Dickey when the Pletchers and Motts of the world were breaking down the proverbial front door to get the horse.
But, after the Breeders' Cup Classic, when Flat Out was beaten three lengths as the favorite (he would have been the HOY hands-down if he had won), the owners thanked Dickey by canning him, and sending the horse to Hall of Famer Mott.
For the Whitney, Flat Out exits a second at Monmouth off a layoff, and well could give Rosie her first Grade One at the Spa. Rosie already made history this year when she became the first female rider to win the Kentucky Oaks on Believe You Can for trainer Jones.
Ironically, in both cases Rosie benefits from another rider's misfortune. She got the mount on Believe You Can because jockey Saez clashed with trainer Jones. And she got the mount on Flat Out because jockey Solis was tossed out in the dishwater when Dickey was canned.
And you never know. Women could be riding the first two choices in the BC Classic down the road at Santa Anita. Jockey Sutherland is the regular rider of Game On Dude, currently the top-ranked older horse in the land and presumptive Classic chalk.
Meantime, obviously there is no shortage of quality maidens based at Saratoga inasmuch as five of the first seven races on Saturday's 12-race program are carded for maiden-specials.
Interesting that only the seventh is in the pick six.
Let's take a look:
RACE TWO: ($80,000; 3-year-olds; seven furlongs) Everybody likes to see Marylou win a race on Whitney Day, and here's her best shot with first-timer Cape Glory, fresh off two sharp Churchill placings for trainer Wilkes. Darley answers with coupled entry of Grand Rapids and Joking. If either wins, presumably he gets promoted to Godolphin next time. Ramon rides fast-working 200K firster Guilt Trip for Chad Brown. Tritap, a 450K Tapit colt from Donut King's people, the likely chalk.
RACE THREE: (($80,000; 2-year-olds; 6 1/2 furlongs) Seven of the eight are first-timers, the exception Boss Man Rocket, an $800,000 War Front colt, the most money ever spent at auction by Frank Fletcher, an Arkansas auto dealer. His original trainer was Bob Holthus, who passed last November. BMR got left debuting in best 2-year-old maiden-special at Belmont. The rest in the field are homebreds, except Fear Factor, a fast-working 110K Harlan's Holiday colt from Chad Brown. Trainer Lukas hopes to get off Spa donut with Channel Isle, a son of grass champ English Channel.
RACE FIVE: ($85,000; 2-year-olds; 1 1/16 miles, Mellon turf) After a 2-for-29 start at Spa, Pletcher has gone nine-for-17, and double-teams this race with uncoupled entry of Winning Cause and Matagot, both of whom are showing speed in the a.m. Craving Carats one to beat off his closing second at seven on Belmont turf. From same connections as Dullahan. Soulsinging, Balance the Books and Fredericks (named for owner's home town) all have license to run.
RACE SIX: ($65,000; New York-bred 3-year-olds and up one mile on inner turf) Honest Johnny blew the break in well-meant Belmont debut for the lovely Linda. No published works since. Poliziotto training well for Chad Brown for first race in 13 months. One to catch and beat. Prime Devil and Riverdance Rock finished fast in debuts. Hope Still Springs needed his last. Belongs in gimmicks.
RACE SEVEN: ($80,000; 2-year-olds; six furlongs) We may not see a better 2-year-old maiden-special at the meet. There's buzz that Palace Malice, a closing second in fastest baby race at Belmont, is the best in the Pletcher barn. Gulfport, royally-bred colt from the Steinbrenner family, was scratched last Saturday due to wet track. Must scratch in from the alsos. Thane, a 525G firster by Medaglio d'Oro, is working bullets for the sheiks. Marylou has promising colt in Flying Bird.
Looking ahead to Saturday, Shackleford returns to action in the Amsterdam Stakes. The bad news is that he drew the one-hole.
Here are some horses to watch at the Spa:
MONEY IN MOTION: Went good trip for third to Sinorice. A rare claim by Team Iselin. Look for him in a 20K two-turn claimer.
MISS VALENTINE: Lost a ton of ground closing for third in the Fleet Indian Stakes. Look for a drop in class and distance.
LADY KIERKEGAARD: Went troubled trip for second to Darley monster. Won't be long breaking maiden going long.
EVER SO LUCKY: Sheppard stakes-winner made premature move settling for third in the Curlin Stakes. Nails the speed next time.
STREET LIFE: Earned top figure winning the Curlin. Looks like the sleeper in Travers, especially if Paynter doesn't go.
HOLIDAY FOR KITTEN: Had rougher trip than the Titanic closing for second to 20-1 bomber in the Caress Stakes. Better trip with Ramon next time.
FEDERATION: Broke slowly, then shut off numerous times closing for fourth to La Pernelle. Look for rider change.
KARLOVY VARY: Terrible journey closing for third in the Nani Rose Stakes. Deserves another chance.
AWESOME WEEKEND: Broke maiden with plenty left in the tank. This could be the horse of a lifetime for Contessa.
DREAM PEACE: Euro shipper was very impressive closing for second to Winter Memories in the Diana.
LIAISON: Closed sneaky-fast for third to Alpha in the Jim Dandy. Back in 2-year-old form for Baffert.
Thanks for tuning in. Good luck this weekend, check out my online selections, and see you back here next Friday.
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