John Piesen: Two For the Road


By John Piesen

Normally, I try to avoid using outdated movie titles as the headline for my column in this venue. Besides I doubt very much that Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn would object.

In this case, the two for the road are races a continent apart — the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, and the Santa Anita Derby at, you guessed it, Santa Anita. Both are $1 million races for Triple Crown-hopeful 3-year-olds at nine furlongs.

And, each race showcases a potential superstar. The key word is potential.

In New York, Social Inclusion, two-for-two at Gulfstream Park by a combined 17 lengths, gets tested for class, distance and an outside post in a field of 11.

In California, the aptly-named California Chrome, who has done all his work in that state (5-1-0 in nine starts) and exiting three stakes wins by a combined 20 lengths, makes the 3,000-mile flight to face far better horses than he has been whacking on the left coast.

And as a speed horse, he's facing a world of speed from the five-hole in a field of eight.

Your mission is simple enough. If both horses perform up to their notices, we are looking at the favorite and second choice for the Kentucky Derby… if one sizzles, but the other fizzles, we'll be looking at the shortest-priced Derby favorite since 1979 (Spectacular Bid).

As we said, simple enough. If you need some help, you are invited to go online at or ring the red-hot John Piesen Hot Line at 1-888-612-2283. The Hot Line kept going last Saturday with Vicar's in Trouble in the Louisiana Derby by seven lengths. 

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Interesting to note that two months back the connections of California Chrome and Social Inclusion were virtual unknowns. Today they are rock stars. Tomorrow, who knows?

All I know is stop with the Final Four for a few minutes, and catch these two races — in person, on NBC, or at your favorite simulcast palace.

The Baffert-trained Hoppertunity and R.B. Lewis winner Candy Boy appear the most serious contenders in the Santa Anita Derby. Rprettyboyfloyd and Dublin Up, both maidens, were dragged into the race to avoid a six-horse field, and may land in the superfecta.

Samraat and Uncle Sigh, currently engaged in the poor man's Affirmed-Alydar rivalry, and Noble Moon certainly are the main dangers to Social Inclusion in the Wood, but you always need to fear Todd Pletcher (Harpoon)  and Linda Rice (Kid Cruz), whom she claimed from Bill Mott three back for 50K.

The Kid's last (a third at Laurel) was a beaut.

The supporting cards at both tracks are compelling.

At Aqueduct, most of the talent in the 300K Bay Shore for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs is drawn outside in the field of eight — Favorite Tale, a gelded son of Tale of the Cat, who ships from Parx where he was three-for-three by a combined 17 lengths, and California shippers The Admiral (Bob Baffert) and Kobe's Back (John Sadler).

Rick Porter's Coup de Grace drops in class and distance, and goes back to Javier Castellano.

In the 300K Gazelle, for 3-year-old fillies, the Toddster sends out an uncoupled entry of Got Lucky and My Miss Sophia against  Spinaway winner My Reason.

And in the finale, the 500K Carter for three-and-up at seven-eighths, Sahara Sky will be closing  fastest and widest in search for a repeat.

Clearly Now has been working lights out at  Palm Meadows for his first start in three months, and Golden Ticket is first-time Castellano. Incidentally, Castellano won five last Saturday at Gulfstream, and I make him even-money to win five Saturday.

And at Santa Anita, ex-claimers Explain and Seeking the Sherif square off in a 58K allowance. Consider that Too Fast to Pass is first-time Smith.

Finally, here's my latest Derby Ten, which is very much subject to change.

1. California Chrome  Sherman    Espinoza
2. Social Inclusion Azpurua   Contreras
3. Vicar's in Trouble  Maker Napravnik
4. Tapiture Asmussen Rosario
5. Consititution   Pletcher   Castellano
6. Candy Boy Sadler Stevens
7. Wildcat Red Garrofolo Velazquez
8. Cairo Prince    McLaughlin  Saez
9. Hopportunity Baffert  Smith
10. Chitu Baffert Garcia

P.S. Notice the jockey change on Tapiture, from Ricardo Santana to Joel Rosario, last year's Derby winner. Steve Asmussen has never been much for loyalty.

Thanks for tuning in. Check back next week for an inside look at the Arkansas Derby.


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