Last year, we had the good fortune to nail the $320 exacta cold (Will Take Charge/Moreno) in the Travers at Saratoga.
Last week, Delaware Park shipper Hardest Core, the rank outsider in the field, got up in the final jump to beat the odds-on Breeders' Cup Turf winner Magician in the Arlington Million.
This Saturday, Wicked Strong—like Hardest Core, a son of Hard Spun—will be the second choice in the Travers. Raising the question: When was the last time sons of the same stallion won million-dollar races on back-to-back weekends?
And this weekend, Martin Garcia—not to be confused with the Corderos, Pimcays and Pat Days of the world—will make a 6,000-mile round trip to ride front-running favorites for trainer Bob Baffert in million-dollar races on both coasts: Bayern in the Travers, and Game On Dude in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar, the signature races at the two major summer racetracks in the land.
And Garcia gets to ride Game On Dude only because Mike Smith, given the choice, chooses to ride the unbeaten (five-for-five) 3-year-old Shared Belief rather than Game On Dude, the defending champion, and the dominant west coast horse for years.
Talk about hard choices.
Or maybe not.
Shared Belief just may be the best horse in North America. Certainly if he was healthy last spring, we may never have heard of California Chrome. That's my guess anyway. We'll know for sure if and when Shared Belief takes down Game On Dude on Sunday.
As for California Chrome, plans are to bring him back next month at Parx in the Pennysylvania Derby. That might lure some folks from the tables for a few minutes.
I know that, in a world devoid of horse racing media, that's a lot of news to digest in one breath, but this is a busy and exciting time of the year in racing, and this is the biggest weekend.
We have to thank the sheiks for putting down the 320K at a yearling sale to purchase Bayern. If they hadn't, the son of Office Wild would be racing for Mike Francesa, the know-it-all dean of New York sports-talk hosts.
Francesa was the underbidder for Bayern.
Of course, one only knows if Bayern would have enjoyed such success under say Gary Sciacca as he has for Bob Baffert.
Bayern has had more than his share of ups and downs for Bullet Bob.
Unraced at two due to various health issues, Bayern exploded on the scene with two wins at Santa Anita by a combined 18 lengths to vault right to the top in the Derby rankings. But the bubble burst in Hot Springs, Ark., when he faded to third as the 8-5 favorite in the Arkansas Derby…raising the question: whatever happed to Danza, the winner of that race?
So instead of the Derby, Bayern raced in the Derby Trial, won the race by a nose, only to be DQd for a borderline foul. We then thought we heard the last of Bayern when he ran ninth in the Preakness, beaten the length of the stretch at 13-1, but he rebounded to win the seven-furlong Woody Stephens by a pole on the Belmont Stakes undercard.
Then it was on to the Haskell, a race Baffert has dominated for a decade.
With Garcia up for the first time, Barn was the lone speed on a speed-favoring strip, and coasted wire to wire by seven—at 4-1 no less.
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Just as in the Haskell, Bayern finds himself as the lone speed in the Travers, and it is doubtful that any of the opposing 10 riders will even think about challenging him early with $1,250,000 million on the line.
Funny how it goes sometimes. Bayern was 12-1, 9-1 and 4-1 in his last three starts— and on Saturday will be 4-5. If he gets beat, honestly I would be shocked. Then again, if he doesn't bring his "A" race (see Hot Springs) all bets are off. Well not literally.
Have to admire Baffert's loyalty.
With Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez available, Bob chooses to bring Garcia from California for the return call. Win or lose, Garcia will van back to Albany in all that Northway traffic, then hopefully catch a flight back to Del Mar where he no doubt will try the same catch-me-if-you-can strategy with Game On Dude in the Classic.
But Wicked Strong can make his own history by giving sire Hard Spun back-to-back million dollar winners.
The Boston-based owners originally submitted the name Boston Strong for the colt, but the name was taken, and they settled for Wicked Honor as a means for
paying tribute to the city which responded so valiantly to the 2013 Patriots Day bombings. Ironically, Wicked Strong has enjoyed all of his success in New York, Boston'a main rival.
Wicked Strong's three victories (from nine starts) all came in New York—a maiden-special at Belmont last fall, the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, and, last out, a blowout victory in the Jim Dandy, in which he beat four of his Travers foes.
His stalking strategy in the Jim Dandy obviously worked, so it figures that he will try to stay within hailing distance of Bayern in the early stages.
As for Tonalist, who knows?
His Peter Pan and Belmont were terrific, but he was blown out by Wicked Strong in the Jim Dandy. But trainer Chris Clement was basically using the Jim Dandy as a prep for the Travers, and he figues to improve for the Midsummer Derby.
But, like the others, he'll have to contend with a loose-on-the-lead Bayern.
Barn, Wicked Strong and Tonalist likely will be the only three singe-digit runners. Of the others, Commanding Curve, despite his last two flops, is liable to run back to his Derby placing, and deserves a place in your gimmicks.
As usual, my picks will be up and running online at www.johnpiesen.com and on the John Piesen Hot Line 1-888-612-2283. Can't promise another $320 cold exacta, but I'll do my best.
The Travers, to be run as race 12 of 14 at 5:45 p.m. Eastern, caps a $1 million Guaranteed All Graded Stakes Pick 4.
In race nine, Abaco and Filimbi may duke it out in the grassy Balston Spa.
In race 10, the King's Bishop (the race in which super sire Tale of the Cat scored his lone Grade I success). the outside posts dominate, leaving Coup de Grace, the favorite, the formidable task of running down Fast Anna (despite the name a colt) and The Big Beast.
And in race 11, the Ballerina, you could think about boxing the four New York-breds: Aetemis Agrotera, Willet, La Verdad and Hot Stones.
Then there's Geeky Gorgeous, a Jersey-bred speedball from the barn from the ageless Danny Lopez.
GG is a nine-time winner who is making her Grade One debut. Lopez has been kicking around in this game since the Carter administration, and this might be his first Grade One starter..
At the very least, Geeky Gorgeous had the good fortune to draw the outside post in the field of nine going seven furlongs.
With good weather forecast for Saratoga and Del Mar this weekend, we are looking for some great racing on both coasts, topped by a Game On Dude-Shared Belief duel to the wire in the Pacific Classic.
Thanks for tuning in,hope you had the chalk that went 8-1 on Thursday, check out my selections, go Marlins, and see you back here next Friday.