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Monday, May 09, 2005

Jersey Hits!

- Nice crowds at NY area tracks on Derby Day, with over 16,000 at Belmont, and a record 13,102 at the Meadowlands, where there wasn’t any live racing until the evening. And the Jersey bettors were particularly sharp: both $1 [superfecta] tickets worth $864,253.50 were bet in New Jersey, one each at the Meadowlands and Freehold. [Meadowlands Press Release]. Whatsmore, Bill Handleman of the Asbury Park Press reports that a bettor at the Big M had $2000 to win on Giacomo! To those who consider Giacomo an automatic throwout at the Preakness, Handleman reminds us: We don't remember, for instance, that Real Quiet and Charismatic were not exactly feared and revered before they won the Preakness.

Yesterday was back to normal at Belmont with a bit over 6,000 on hand, and I made a brief, pre-Mother’s Day dinner appearance. Perhaps my luck bottomed out in the Derby. It couldn’t get any worse, one would think. I’d already had a bad day when I was split in the 9th exacta at Belmont by a 48-1 shot with a 9-1 on top shortly before the big race; and I couldn’t have been more wrong in the Derby. Besides having the favorite, I wrote over and over in these pages that Bellamy Road would be able to sit comfortably behind Spanish Chestnut and that the pace wouldn’t be as nutty as people thought. The Head Chef doesn’t understand why anyone is still reading this thing. But as I mentioned, I hit the 12th exacta at Churchill Saturday for $123, surviving a stewards’ inquiry, and then yesterday, I nailed the 1st race exacta at Belmont ($40.80), when the “wrong” horse in an entry bailed my out. That’s gotta be a good sign.

Patrick Biancone was on hand in the paddock to saddle Michael Tabor’s $3.3 million 3 yo Chekov (Pulpit), who unfortunately won. I didn't hear any "rabbit" comments directed at Biancone, and I managed to hold my tongue myself. Closing Argument’s jockey Cornelio Velasquez was also back to work and in the 3rd, and as the horses made their way from the paddock, a fan yelled to him, “You had us all excited for a minute; nice job, rider!” Velasquez gave a little half-smile that you could tell was tinged with regret. While it was a big payday to be sure and a close call with a horse nobody gave a shot to, I imagine the Derby was a bittersweet experience for a successful, but unheralded jockey who has no guarantee of being back in a Derby any time soon.

And what are we to make of Closing Argument? It’s easy to dismiss Giacomo’s win as pace-aided, but Closing Argument was as wide as anyone going into the first turn, and wasn't far behind Bellamy Road and High Fly down the backstretch; yet as everyone else who was close faded, he almost won the race as the longest shot in the field.

As for Bellamy Road, the conventional wisdom now is that he was too close to a hot pace. But he was only two lengths in front of Closing Argument at the half-mile pole; does that two lengths account for the former almost winning the race while the favorite faded in the stretch? The question before the race was whether Bellamy Road could rate; and he seemed to do just that – the chart says that he was away in good order to track the leaders under light rating five wide. He then made a move, and stuck his head in front in the stretch before tiring. If he had gone on to win, we’d be saying “Well, I guess he can rate.” So perhaps the explanation for his defeat has more to do with his not being able to get the distance, the fact that he only had two preps, or perhaps he did bounce after all. With his Wood still fresh in our minds, what he does from here should be one of more intriguing stories of the year.

That’s assuming he does race again. Another failure or two would only decrease his potential value as a stallion further, and this might be an opportune time for one of those undisclosed injuries that leads to the breeding shed. Would any of you be shocked?

- In that third race yesterday won by Chekov, Cornelio Velasquez rode a 10-1 first timer by Unbridled named Gauguin for Shug McGauhey; nice pedigree, he’s from the same family as Flower Alley. He finished 5th of 6, lagging behind throughout, but finished full of run, and pulled an Andromeda’s Hero, passing the runaway winner in the gallop-out by the time they reached the clubhouse turn. If I had a Left at the Gate watch list, he’d be on it.