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It was right there in front of us. SALUTE THE SARGE, named after patriotic trainer Nick “Sarge” Hines, got the best of the photo to win the Hollywood Juvenile Championship on July 4th at $15.20. Talk about the hunch bet of all time. Hines, who brings the flag into the winner’s circle with him and whose horses wear red, white and blue blankets, is good friends with winning trainer Eric Guillot. Guillot named the horse for his buddy and the two celebrated together in the winner’s cirlce, with Hines posing in a salute and hamming it up for the cameras. The narrow victory brings me back to the Exciting vs. Great debate that I wrote about after Lava Man’s victory in the Gold Cup on Saturday. The Juvenile was exciting, with just a nose separating ‘SARGE from LEONIDES. But could anyone say it was a great race? With a final time of 1:12 (final 1/4-mile in harness horse time of :26.4, final 1/8th in :13.3), it was frankly a terrible race. Whatever numerical (or visual) rating system one uses, the number will come back very weak.

Michael Baze won three on the card, all in close photo finishes, including the feature race win over his nearest rival Joe Talamo. Watching these two battle down the lane is something you’re going to see for years to come, folks…another ultra impressive win by New Zealand import CROSSING THE LINE. Stretching out to a mile, ‘LINE overcame some traffic trouble to fly home for the victory. Not to dwell too much on these finishing times, but the lightly-raced gelding came the last furlong in about 11 seconds, which is terrific…trainer Dan Hendricks got off the schneid when CARSON’S COPPER (claimed by Peter Miller) won the third…two claims in for SOUL CITY SLEW, who went to Paul Aguirre for $100,000…how about the person who hit Monday’s Pick Six on $2 and $4 tickets? Combined return on the $6 investment was $1,152,128, including a consolation for $2,240 on the “big” ticket. That’s the problem with hitting on a $2 ticket—no consolation payoff. I’ll take that kind of problem any day.

On Thursday, DECLAN’S MOON got back on the winning track, scoring for the first time since March ’05. The former juvenile champion had looked like a shell of his old self in many of the defeats but he looked pretty darn good today…two wins for Talamo and another training win for Jack Van Berg, whose barn has heated up lately. His TEEMAN re-rallied to beat my top choice PROWLING CAT (8-1), which pretty much epitomized my day. My top selection finished second in the last six races on the card.

Cash Call Mile tomorrow night, 11 races on Saturday with a noon post.

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