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With the filly Rags to Riches barely getting the best of Curlin through a scintillating Belmont Stakes stretch run, this year stood out as one of the best in memory for the sheer excitment of the Triple Crown races. I think you have to go back 10 years to the Silver Charm-Captain Bodgit-Free House rivalry to find a sequence of races equal to this year’s. As it turned out, the Derby was the blowout race, with Street Sense coming away from Hard Spun, who was well clear of Curlin. The Preakness was one for the ages, with Curlin coming back on to nail Street Sense on the wire. And yesterday’s Belmont was a classic, with two champion-quality 3-year-olds unwilling to give an inch as they dueled down to the wire.

Now that the monkey is off Todd Pletcher’s back, look for him to win many more of these Triple Crown events. As an NBA assistant coach once told me before Shaquille O’Neal had won his first NBA championship: “If he ever learns how to win one, look out, he’ll win a bunch of them.” Four rings later and those words look prophetic. Pletcher is a great trainer who gets great stock and has great help. Those ingredients will add up to numerous Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup wins before his Hall of Fame career is over.

The win by Rags to Riches had to be excruciatingly painful for Garrett Gomez and his agent Ron Anderson. Gomez had been aboard for all four of her wins but took the mount on Hard Spun when it appeared the filly may not run. And when trainer Larry Jones wouldn’t release him from his commitment, Gomez could only watch as the big chestnut filly ranged up outside of him and left him for dead at the top of stretch. Winning rider Johnny Velasquez was released from an earlier commitment on Slew’s Tizzy, who wound up nowhere. Now the interesting question becomes, who gets the the mount on ‘Riches next time? Gomez or Velasquez?

On Sunday: TOUGH TIZ’S SIS easily handled favorite SILVER SWALLOW in a very weak five-horse (after three program scratches) Hollywood Oaks field. Another year like this and the Oaks will drop to Grade 3 status…two wins each by Corey Nakatani, Victor Espinoza and Joe Talamo…Barry Abrams sent out a pair of winners, including impressive comebacker MEDZENDEEKRON, who was very sharp winning at a distance that’s way too short for him…lightly-raced 7-year-old BILO got back on the winning track with a front-running victory, his fifth from 13 lifetime starts…VAQUELIN dropped into the allowance ranks and outclassed his foes in the 4th.

With another dead-heat (9th race), we are once again shown the unfairness of the current rules for Pick 4 and Pick 6 payoffs. When SPRIGGZEE (8-1) and PLAN FOR FUN (37-1) hit the wire together, here’s what happened to pari-mutuel payoffs: the win prices, daily doubles and Pick 3 payoffs were correctly halved for both runners. However, here’s where it all goes haywire. In the Pick 4, the projected payoff for Spriggzee was $617, which dropped to $539 (13% reduction) after the dead-heat. However, the projected payoff on ‘FUN was $4,237, which means the winning payoff was reduced by a whopping 87%. And it gets worse in the Pick Six, where there was a single ticket holder alive to ‘FUN. Win the photo and collect a life-changing $192,000. But because of the dead-heat, that payoff was sliced to $24,058. This is sheer insanity. The correct way to handle these situations is to split the pool in half and treat each horse separately. Since there were seven live tickets to SPRIGGZEE then simply divide $96,000 by seven for a payout of $13,714. And the single ticket that was alive to ‘FUN gets the remaining $96,000.

On Saturday: Eleven races and four stakes made for a great betting card, with $21.2 million pushed through the windows. This represented the third-highest Belmont Day handle ever at Hollywood Park—and highest ever without the Triple Crown on the line. Business is way up over the corresponding 37 days from last year. The featured Whittingham Memorial was a terrific race, with AFTER MARKET outkicking LAVA MAN for the win. I loved AFTER MARKET going in, but I was equally impressed with ‘LAVA, who I felt would not fire his best shot coming back from the Dubai debacle. He fired all right, and this race should serve as a perfect prep as he tries to win the Gold Cup for the third straight year. I have to give Alex Solis credit for a couple of perfect rides yesterday aboard VALBENNY and ‘MARKET. Yes, he was on the best horses both times but he saved ground and rode perfectly. I have been very critical of Solis here over the past few months but you have to give credit where credit is due…SOMETHINABOUTLAURA and DANCING EDIE put on a good show in the Redondo Beach. Talk about a classy pair of Cal-breds. And how about 10-year gelding AGGRESSIVE coming back off a layoff to win the 7th? Great job by trainer Jeff Mullins, who is starting to come to life after a slow first half of the meet.

More pari-mutuel lunacy: Before the 10th race, it was announced that there were two late scratches in the final race. So those who wager without betting cards that allow alternate selections—like everyone with phone and online accounts—are stuck with the favorite, who they most likely already have. When a friend who was playing from out of state was confused about the rules on Pick 4 consolation payoffs (and who wouldn’t be? We have consolations for scratched horses in the Pick 3 but NOT the Pick 4), he called the Hollywood tote room for an explanation. He was told that, yes, there would be consolation payoffs. Not even they know the rules! The good news is that this situation is going to be addressed by the Pari-Mutuel Operations Committee in July and most likely will be changed in the near future. Amen.

To View Free Samples of Friday, Saturday and Sunday Premium Plays, click on the links below: Premium Plays for June 8Â Â Â Â Â Â Premium Plays for June 9Â Â Â Â Â Premium Plays for June 10

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