John Piesen: Thru the Binoculars

THRU THE BINOCULARS

By John Piesen

Hey, there's plenty of time to change my mind, but at this writing, it's looking like this year's Kentucky Derby winner is coming out of California, and to be specific, the winner of the Santa Anita Derby on April 5 will be the favorite for the Roses.

That could be California Chrome, who was so impressive wiring the San Felipe; Bayern, the unbeaten but untested colt from Bob Baffert; Candy Boy, the Robert B. Lewis winner; Hopportunity, who overcame a wide trip and a ton of trouble to win the Rebel, or Tamarando, the El Camino Real Derby winner and likely favorite for the Spiral Stakes on Saturday at Turfway Park.

In a crazy 3-year-old season like this one, in which one well-meant horse after another has been sidelined by illness or injury, who's to say the Spiral, a $500,000 Grade 3, won't produce the Derby winner...especially if the Spiral winner turns out to be Tamarando.

One advantage that Tamarando has is that, unlike most of his contemporaries, he's a closer -- and closers win Derbys. See Orb last year. And the second thing are his connections -- trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and jockey Russell Baze, both Hall of Famers who rarely venture out of northern California.

I know Tamarando wasn't beating much in the El Camino Real at Golden Gate, but he sure was impressive circling the field from last over a speed-biased strip. Whether he can do it again at Turfway, which also favors speed, will be answered late Saturday.

With no big names making the trip to Florence, Ky., Tamarando will be favored from post four in a full field of 12. Four other horses were excluded.

What the Spiral lacks in big-time horses, it more than makes up for in prime-time jockeys. A half-mill pot would do that.

You'll find John Velazquez on We Miss Artie for Todd Pletcher; Rosie Napravnik on Harry's Holiday; motion picture star Calvin Borel on Almost Famous; Joel Rosario on Tourist, and Stew Elliott, on the 10th anniversary of Smarty Jones, on Coastline.

Somewhere in that paragraph (plus Tamarando) you'll find the exacta, trifecta, and superfecta.

You'll find my selections for the Spiral among other Saturday races in the usual places -- online at www.johnpiesen.com and on the John Piesen Hot Line 1-888-612-2283. It's worth noting that my roll continues. Last Saturday, I had Tapiture and Hopportunity one-two in the Rebel at Oaklawn Park. 

After the dust settled, they finished Hopportunity/Tapiture (for a $54.40 exacta box).

That was a tough beat for Steve Asmussen, but nothing compared to the accusations leveled at him and his staff this week by PETA. You can find the details on the New York Times and Daily Racing Form websites as well as the "equidaily."

The authorities are investigating.

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Wayne Catalano, who wins races AND stays out of trouble, is running a dangerous uncoupled entry in the Spiral -- Solitary Ranger, a blowout winner of the Battaglia over the track, and late addition Poker Player.

Catalano admits that Solitary Ranger "has distance limitations" and that's always a scary thought...especially when said horse is rolling five in front down the backside. 

(Remember last week's column which detailed how all the winners of the major stakes the previous Saturday went wire to wire.)

Speaking of Elliott, he surprised me -- among many -- when he decided to spend the spring riding full-time in Kentucky, at Keeneland and Churchill.

Methinks Stew is making a mistake. He has been riding winners at a 20 per cent clip at Pax (formerly Philly Park) since the Carter administration, and for years has been 1-2-3 in the standings. Plus you'll never know when John Servis will send him on the next Smarty Jones, the greatest horse in history not to get Horse of the Year.

The conditions of the Spiral do not require the trainers to show up for the Wednesday press lunch at a downtown Cincinnati casino buffet. If you took 1 1.2 as the over/under you lose.

The only trainer to show was Katerina Vassilleva, the only known Russian national now training horses in North America. Katerina, who is based in Canada, has Big Bazinga, exiting a grass allowance scre at Gulfstream, from the one-hole.

Turfway is crying poverty so what are they doing? Simple. They are dumping the usual free-admission policy and charging $10 a head.

But for this reporter, there never will be another Spiral weekend like 1985.

On Saturday, while at the New Tork Post,  covered the Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah (Proud Truth won but got DQd for fouling Chief's Crown); on Saturday Pat Day won the Spiral (actually it was the Jim Beam) for George Steinbrenner, and then it was a quick hop to Philly for the Villanova-Georgetown epic.

And my in-laws wanted me to be a shoe salesman...

For the second straight week, we lost a valued member of the New York Racing community. Last week Richard Bomze; this week Dom Galluscio to cancer. He was 55. A very young 55.

Thanks for tuning. Have a good weekend with the horses and the hoops, go Virginia, and see you back next week for looks at the Florida Derby and Dubai World Cup.

In the meantime, here's our updated Derby Dozen:

HORSE          TRAINER JOCKEY
1. California Chrome  Sherman  Espinoza
2. Tapiture   Asmussen   Santana
3. Hopportunity  Baffert  Smith
4. Albano Jones Clark
5. Candy Man   Sadler Stevens
6. Social Inclusion   Azpura Contreras
7. Cairo Prince  McLaughlin Saez
8. Intense Holiday Pletcher Smith
9. In Trouble Dutrow Rocco
10. Tamarando Hollendorfer Baze
11. Uncle Sigh Contessa Nakatani
12. Honor Code McGahee Castellano
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