By John Piesen
The city of Philadelphia without doubt is the place to be for any sports fan this weekend.
With the Phils and Eagles going so good, can you imagine the sports-radio talk shows going nuts? The Eagles are unbeaten and in first place, your fightin' Phils are winning games by 16-1, and will have their usual sellout crowds this weekend as they host Chipper and the Braves, and way up in the north end of town, at an outpost now called Parx Racetrack, they merely will stage the biggest day in Philly racing history.
Hell, who knows, they might even take a racing call or two on those talk shows.
I must confess that I've been going to the Philly racing facility since my college days. And, truth be told, whether they were calling themselves Liberty Bell, Keystone or Philadelphia Park, the place always has been pretty much of a dump.
Watching the traffic buzz past on the Pennsylvania Turnpike was the highlight of the day.
But then came the casinos, another racetrack name change (Parx), and suddenly the joint is rocking. The purses have gone through the roof, there are actually people watching the races -- admittedly most of them the handful of folks on smoke breaks from the tables.
And all this excitement culminates Saturday with absolutely the biggest day in Philadelphia racing history -- and we're going back to Ben Franklin here.
Just think, a 12-race card featuring two million-dollar stakes, a 300K stake, a 100K stake, allowance races going for 90K, and winding up just in time to score tickets for Phillies-Braves, with breaks for Rutgers-Arkansas and a cheesesteak.
The Parx card is so glorious that superjock Dominguez, who has ridden all of two horses in nine months this year at the Parx, shoots down the 'pike Sunday to ride five -- including Alpha in the featured Pennsylvania Derby.
(Mention of Dominguez reminds me that last week in this space I made the over/under 8 on his combined Saturday/Sunday winners at Belmont. If you went over you lost. He had seven.)
Moving on, I would imagine the sheiks (shakes?) will be arriving in force at Philadelphia International in South Philly for the big event.
In addition to running Alpha in the Pa. Derby, the Godolphin Gang will run Questing in the Cotillion, million-dollar race number two. Both will be odds-on, and both are likely to win. After all, betting against the sheiks more often than not is a shortcut to the poorhouse.
That said, I'm going to try.
Let's take a look at the three biggies...
GALLANT BOB STAKES (Race 9)
Trinniberg, with regular rider Martinez, is the main speed and the favorite from post seven in a field of nine in this $300,000 test for 3-year-olds at six furlongs.
The outside is where you want to be going six at the Parx.
Trinniberg worked a bullet :47 half at home track Calder after finding seven furlongs too far in the Kings Bishop on Travers Day at Saratoga.
Parx favors speed.
Il Villano, trained by Susan Crowell, the daughter of Monmouth-based trainer Harvatt, has not missed the board in nine starts (4-3-2) and has the speed to occupy Trinniberg. He has two blowout wins over the track, which gives him something of a home field advantage. Belongs in gimmicks.
Currency Swap exits a tough trip as the favorite in the Kings Bishop, gets a better post (eight) this time. Strangely, this will be the first six-furlong race in his nine career starts, which includes a victory in last year's running of the Grade 1 Hopeful, beating Trinniberg.
Laurie's Rocket, the first Parx starter of 2012 for D. Wayne, is first-time Dominguez. Stretch threat at a price.
Jockey Fragoso gives up the favorite for main man Sacco in the Monmouth feature to ride Well Spelled, a grandson of Tale of the Cat from the Perkins barn.
COTILLION (Race 10)
This $1 million event for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles is a fascinating showdown between Questing (the sheiks) and My Miss Aurelia (Steve Asmussen).
My Miss Aurelia is unbeaten in five starts, and a Breeders' Cup and Eclipse winner, and yet won't be favored, which tells us just how good Questing is.
Fresh off blowout scores in the Coaching Club and Alabama, Qyesting has the tactical advantage because of her early speed over a speed-favoring strip, but she's spotting MMA seven pounds.
If somehow the top two cook each other, Dominguez can pick up the pieces on Dixie Streak, who has been chasing and beating the boys for trainer Casse in her native Canada. In fact, I'll take a shot with Dixie at double-digits.
The other Dixie, the lightly-raced Moment in Dixie, looks outclassed.
Racing secretary Sinatra (no relation) could not beg or borrow a fifth starter.
PENNSYLVANIA DERBY (Race 11)
The story line is a rematch between Travers dead-heaters Alpha and Golden Ticket in the Pennsylvania Derby for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles, 3/16ths less than the Travers.
Alpha, well-placed in post four, is the clear speed of the eight-horse field, and trained a bullet :59 for this. Golden Ticket, who ran in the Travers only because trainer McPeek couldn't find a"non-winners of one..." ran freaky-good in the Travers. Might be this good.
I'll take a stab with Macho Macho, who exits a victory over subsequent Super Derby winner Bourbon Courage in the West Virginia Derby. Maybe jockey Nakatani can work out an outside stalking trip from his far-out post eight.
Junebugred has the distinction of running in two different Smarty Jones Stakes, winning the one at Oaklawn...and this of course is the house that Smarty Jones built.
Casual Trick is a worthy longshot from trainer Zito, who owns this racetrack -- by any name. Dominguez's other mounts are Livingston Street (race six), and Normal Practice (race seven).
With RD out of town, Johnny V is sitting on a big day at Belmont. JV will ride at least five chalks, including Turbulent Descent for the Toddster in the 200K Gallant Bloom Handicap, named for the King Ranch champion.
My picks will be available online, and on the red-hot John Piesen Hot Line 1-888-612-2283.
Thanks for tuning in. Enjoy the weekend, keep the Hot Line on speed dial, and see you back here next Friday for a look at Super Saturday at Belmont.
P.S.: Good luck to Dan Silver, who leaves his position as NYRA marketing honcho to become Penn National director of racing operations, and a sad farewell to the Thoroughbred Times...and rooting extra-hard for Pohla Smith, the famed Pittsburgh-based turf writer and two-time president of the National Turf Writers Association.
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