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  • The Big One: Far Hills Picks & Preview

    Here we are. After not happening in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and keeping tens of thousands of tailgaters at home, the Far Hills Races return Saturday. It’s the 100th running, so Happy Birthday or something but welcome back to the biggest meet on the National Steeplechase Association circuit.
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  • Round 2: The Mean Queen, Snap Decision meet again

    Look at The Mean Queen and Snap Decision, favorites for Saturday’s Grade 1 American Grand National hurdle stakes at the Far Hills Races, really look at them and just start scribbling observations.
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One may never confuse Eric Guillot with being an overly religious man. The quick-quipping Cajun is frequently crass, ever ebullient and unapologetically irreverent, but get to know him a bit and one will occasionally uncover a man of unique substance, intelligence and even a touch of humility.

On a quiet morning in late April at Keeneland, as the days counted down and it was looking more and more like Laoban wasn't going to make the Kentucky Derby field due to insufficient points, Guillot showed some of that reflection and faith in the higher being.

"It's in God's hands now," Guillot said that April morning. "Maybe it'll be for the best anyway; I won't put the horse through everything for the Derby and I'll have a fresh horse for the Preakness."

Guillot spoke quietly from a spot in the Keeneland grandstand behind the box seats as he watched another member of his stable train on the main track.

Two days before the Kentucky Derby as the hours before scratch time ticked down, and with a small group of reporters around him behind the backside media center at Churchill Downs, Guillot was back in, well, full Guillot mode.

"I know one thing, the ratings for the show are going to be low without Guillot, who's on his way to Pimlico," he said, laughing at his own rhyme.

Scratch time for the Derby came and went. Laoban didn't draw in off the also-eligible list, took a short van ride back to Lexington and Guillot set his sights on Baltimore.

Laoban, one of four sons of Uncle Mo in the 11-member Preakness field, is 30-1 for the second jewel of the Triple Crown but Guillot isn't backing down. Nor is he holding back the one-liners, despite being a no-show at Thursday's annual Alibi Breakfast that was an enjoyable affair with Black-Eyed Susans flowing freely but a bit lacking in comedy.

Guillot was on hand for Wednesday's post-position draw and gave a positive review to the raw bar spread for the attendees.

"Everything was fresh," Guillot said. "The shrimp were good, prepared right, the salmon, the crab were good. The tuna was the best, people are scared of it, but it's the best."

What about the oysters, a writer inquired, a plate of a half dozen empty shells sitting on a nearby table.

"Don't you know you can't eat oysters anywhere outside Louisiana," Guillot quipped.

Laoban, who placed in the Grade 3 Sham and Gotham but is still a maiden after five starts, hopes to crash the party and spoil the Triple Crown chances of Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist. He set the pace in Keeneland's Toyota Blue Grass Stakes before grudgingly giving way in the stretch to finish fourth, beaten 4 3/4 lengths by Brody's Cause.

Guillot likes to point out that the first three finishers in the Blue Grass - Brody's Cause, My Man Sam and Preakness entrant Cherry Wine - closed from 14th, 13th and 12th in that Grade 1 Derby prep. Laoban beat the bias, Guillot says, and he nearly stole the Gotham back in March at Aqueduct on the front end, finishing second by 1 1/4 lengths to Shagaf after leading at the eighth pole.

Guillot will take blinkers off Laoban for the Preakness. He's run in them for four of his five starts, the lone time he raced without blinkers he finished seventh in his debut back in November at Del Mar.

"We've been second, third and fourth in graded stakes," Guillot said. "They've all got four legs and a tail. It's never a two-horse race. Go back and look at Guillot's history in big races. I've won 23 graded stakes and 11 of them paid over a $25 mutuel. Apparently I didn't have a chance in those 11 either, right?

"I'm coming for two reasons: he needs a race for one, and two, I need a race that's loaded with speed to educate him. With a horse it's all about breathing. It's not about fractions, it's about him being rank with the blinkers and him pulling and breathing. I'm trying to get him to relax. If everything goes just right and Nyquist falters, the rest of them are not head and shoulders over me."