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John Pricci

HorseRaceInsider.com executive editor John Pricci has over three decades of experience as a thoroughbred racing public handicapper and was an award-winning journalist while at New York Newsday for 18 years.

John has covered 14 Kentucky Derbies and Preaknesses, all but three Breeders' Cups since its inception in 1984, and has seen all but two Belmont Stakes live since 1969.

Currently John is a contributing racing writer to MSNBC.com, an analyst on the Capital Off-Track Betting television network, and co-hosts numerous handicapping seminars. He resides in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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Friday, January 06, 2012


Game On


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, January 3, 2012—One Derby down, only 41* more prep races to go. Hope I didn’t forget any. Want to know what they are?

OK, we’re talking the Sham, the Smarty Jones, the Lecomte, Holy Bull, Black Gold, Whirlaway, Withers, UAE 2,000 Guineas, El Camino Real Derby, Sam F. Davis, Robert B. Lewis, Risen Star, San Vicente, Southwest, Meydan Classic, Fountain of Youth and the ever popular Borderland Derby.

After that it’s the Al Bastakiya--at least it counted last year—the John Battaglia Memorial, Gotham, Palm Beach (T), San Felipe, Timely Writer—at least it counted last year, sort of—the Tampa Bay Derby, Rebel, UAE Derby, Vinery Racing Spiral and Louisiana Derby.

Next comes the Rushaway, Sunland Derby, Swale, Florida Derby, Transylvania (T), Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby, Illinois Derby, Arkansas Derby, Toyota Blue Grass, Coolmore Lexington, Jerome and, the final stop on the Louisville train, the Cliffs Edge Derby Trial, because even Preakness horses need a prep race.

And you know the chase is on in earnest. Forget that the newly created Gulfstream Derby is ungraded and featured a number of lightly raced birthday three-year-olds, the Calder Derby in another life, some nice sprinter/milers and a few distance runners not ready for prime time.

But let it be known that Agustin Beraza, trainer of Reveron, the first Derby winner of 2012, fired the opening salvo across the bow of those who think that spending a weekend in Louisville in the spring sounds like a good idea: “We think he is the best three year old in Florida right now.”

Really?

Reveron was one of three winners he saddled last Sunday so while the statement seems a little hyperbolic on its face, this comes from a man who’s been leading trainer in his native Venezuela 10 times. By his own admission, this was the best day he’s had in America since arriving two years ago.

And I’m sure he knows that the waters are going to get a lot deeper, and quickly. Right across from the finished line on the Gulfstream backstretch, the presumed juvenile champion Hansen is preparing for his season’s debut. His main rival for that honor, Union Rags, is stabled an hour up the road at the wondrous Palm Meadows training facility, where he has plenty of company.

The Pletcher squad, including the exciting Algorithms and Gemologist lay in wait, as do three from the 2010 Preakness winning barn of Dale Romans; O’Prado Again, Dullahan, and King Kid, the third finisher in the Gulfstream Derby. Pletcher has the very fast prospect Discreet Dancer in today's seventh at Gulfstream going a mile, a race in which he will face another promising maiden breaker, One Sock Down.

Motor City, the Iroquois winner at Churchill Downs and a son of Street Sense, the colt that coaxed Calvin Borel to come to South Florida instead of either Oaklawn Park or the Fair Grounds, is also at Palm Meadows with Ian Wilkes, Carl Nafzger’s longtime assistant. Sound familiar?

The accomplished Currency Swap is also in town with Theresa Pompay; Alpha, who was at Palm Meadows but is now in New York to run in Saturday’s Count Fleet Stake, especially since his talented stablemate Consortium, second to Algorithms on December 16 at Gulfstream, will represent Kiaran McLaughlin in South Florida.

As for the Count Fleet, Graham Motion is seeking to find out where he’s at or the ultimate worth of Stephanoatsee, or both. Last time, Stephanoatsee’s two year old finale was a debacle, finished seventh but beaten less than five lengths by O’Prado again after being shuffled very wide at head-stretch.

Parenthetically, the interesting horse may be Il Villano, whose form closely resembles that of Beraza’s Derby winner. This is a Pollard’s Vision colt with experience and a winner of three of his four lifetime starts, albeit sprinting, his last two in overnight stakes company.

Take Charge Indy could run here for Patrick Byrne and Ever So Lucky could race either at Gulfstream or Tampa Bay Downs. But the colt Beraza will have to confront again was the horse he was hard pressed to defeat last weekend, Casual Trick.

Here’s what rider John Velazquez had to say: “The winner was more experienced than mine and my horse was still a little green. He just broke his maiden and was going two turns for the first time. He actually handled two turns very well. If he continues to mature and get better, I think he’s going to be very good.” I’m sure Nick Zito agrees.

And, so, it’s on; the Triple Crown chase of 2012. After Saturday, it will be two down, only 39 more to go.

*Correction made 010612

Written by John Pricci

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