John Piesen: A Year to Remember

A YEAR TO REMEMBER

                                      

By John Piesen

Like any year, racing had its moments in 2013 -- the good and the bad.

Maybe the good outweighed the bad.

The good: 

The old geezers splitting up the Triple Crown -- the Shugster, D. Wayne, and Gary. For that matter, the return to prominence of Wayno, up to and including the victory by Will Take Charge in the Travers, partially because we nailed the $300-plus cold exacta on these pages. The thrilling Breeders' Cup Classic victory of Mucho Macho Man, and the subplot -- the inspiring comeback story of his trainer, Kathy Ritvo.

And the very  fact that racing has managed to survive -- if outright prosper -- in the face of alternate forms of gambling, and a stumbling economy. 

Plus the compelling human interest story of New York trainer David Jacobson.

Then there was the dark side:

The demise of Hollywood Park. The continuing problems in great racing states New York, New Jersey, Florida,  Kentucky. The premature loss of so many two-legged and four-legged racing immortals,  Paul Moran and Rockport Harbor for starters.

And in a game that needs stars, we lost our greatest Jockey.  Ramon Dominguez was forced to retire in June after sustaining crippling injuries in a winter spill at Aqueduct, and Animal Kingdom, our best horse, was exported  to the breeding sheds of Australia shortly after he won the world's richest race, the Dubai Cup. 

But the one issue that continues and always will bother me is that, for a second straight year, Wise Dan, a turf miler, will be named Horse of the Year.

What kind of a message is this? Confine your horse to minor stakes against inferior competition,  avoid the big boys --- and you get Horse of the Year!

If Wise Dan had entered and won the BC Classic, more power to him. He's Horse of the Year by acclamation. But instead he ran in the BC Mile, and did well to win, beating at best a Grade 3 runner in Za Approval, who got beat on a regular basis in Saturday grass stakes in New York.

M y personal choice for Horse of the Year is Will Take Charge, and I can understand colleague Andy Beyer casting his vote for Mucho Macho Man.

But I can not understand a Horse of the Year vote for Wise Dan, and WD is going to win in a landslide.

I'll go against the grain in the Eclipse voting for jockey and trainer as well. 

Todd Pletcher will get top trainer. After all, he has the most horses, and the most cash at his disposal. Good for Todd. He's a great businessman, and he hires the best people.

But you might as well hand the Toddster the Eclipse every year. He'll win more races, and more big races than anyone else, and gets the most face time on TV.

On the other hand, I don't think I've ever seen David Jacobson on TV, and I doubt two per cent of the public could identify him if they fell over him.

But the 59-year-old son of the late great trainer Howard ( Buddy) Jacobson, by playing the claiming game better than anyone else, dominated the NYRA circuit in 2013, and should be rewarded with an Eclipse -- although you and I well know he won't – and never will -- make the cut.

In case you missed it, on Thursday at Aqueduct, David Jacobson won three races to tie Gary Contessa's single year NYRA record of 159 winners with four race days to go.

Jacobson has only one horse entered Friday -- Tiz Gianna in the seventh -- and another, Hailstone, an AE in the eighth, so the odds are against him breaking the record on Friday.

But Saturday is a different story.

Jacobson entered 11 horses on Saturday's nine-race card, missing only the sixth and eighth races.

Check them out:

Grand Force and Be Bullish in race one; Warning Track in race two; Uncle Smokey in race three; Happy Recap in race four; Uncle Review and Kanturk Kid in race five; Tenango and Haverhill in race seven, and Silent Thunder and Minnie Punt in race nine.

The over-under is four. And we'll take the over.

Not since Gasper Moschera dominated New York racing in the '80s has one trainer made such an impact in racing's No. 1 state.

For reasons known to no one, Moschera never won an Eclipse Award, nor is he in the Hall of Fame. It's a travesty. When Moschera was the top dog in New York, the Empire State was the capital of racing.

Now,  maybe not so much.

On Thursday, the Pick Six carryover at the Big A was 15K.  At Santa Anita, it was 118K!

That one-day carryover will no doubt morph into a half-mill on Friday, so let’s take a look:

Race 3:

Cool Samurai, from the folks who gave us Zenyatta, blew the break in his Belmont debut at this mile distance, and should nail the speed with Smith.

Of the two in Bob Baffert’s uncoupled entry, The Admiral looks stronger than Icy Ride. Rough Passage indeed had a rough passage in local bow.

Race 4:

Half Home Dude was a three-back winner for this price over the track. Outside and Cajun Joe, Trulee Scrappin has never raced this cheap, and likes the track. Talamo chooses top pick over Afleet Cowboy.

Race 5:

Velvet Mesquite training bullets for belated debut. Heavens Stairway improved in last; gets good post.  Sea John’s Spirit no doubt needed last.

Race 6:

Papa Turf is the speed and class. Baffert has solid uncoupled entry in Chitu and Beach Hut

Race 7:

Kathleen Rose wins right back with Bejarano.  Mangita gets the stalking trip from outside post. Akiss Forarose is the speed from the wood. 

Race 8: 

Reps and Warrants blew the break both starts for O’Neill. Bluegrass Fox Trot drops into claimer.  Papa’s Paisley likes to run third.

Thanks for tuning in. The December madness continued Thursday with an $84 exacta online at www.johnpiesen.com and on the John Piesen Hot Line at 1-888-612-2283, so jump aboard. In the meantime, here’s to a healthy, prosperous New Year, and see you back here next Friday.

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