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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Saturday, January 19, 2013


Dan’s the Man


HALLANDALE BEACH, January 19, 2013—With a mere quibble here and there about margin of victory in a few Eclipse Award categories notwithstanding, there were no surprises when the bronze statuettes, and one gold figurine for Horse of the Year 2012, Wise Dan, were presented at the 42nd Annual Saturday night at Gulfstream Park.

Held at a racetrack for the first time, the ceremonies were preceded by an excellent day of racing provided by Florida-bred race horses on the Sunshine Millions program as Ron The Greek, the only horse to defeat the 2012 Horse of the Year, got his six-year-old season started on the good foot by taking the Millions Classic by an impressive 11-1/4 lengths over a sealed sloppy track.

Mucho Macho Man, the 2-5 favorite and defending Millions Classic champion, was pulled up by jockey Mike Smith approaching headstretch and finished last of seven. “He put his head in the air and stopped. I have no idea,” Smith said when he was asked what went wrong.

“He didn’t fire or there’s some problem,” said owner Dean Reeves, before going back to the barn to check on last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic runnerup. There he met with trainer Kathy Ritvo, who told the media afterwards, “I couldn’t find anything wrong with him. I guess he didn’t like the track.” The five-year-old suffered his worst lifetime defeat when he was defeated by over 27 lengths in the 2011 Belmont Stakes.

As for the Eclipses, there were no upsets and there wasn’t much as much split-voting among voters as anticipated. While Wise Dan was a consensus Horse of the Year champion since the moment he crossed the Santa Anita (turf) Mile finish line in course record time, he vaulted to the championship on the strength of also being voted Champion Older Male and Champion Turf Horse, the first horse since John Henry to score that trifecta.

Wise Dan out-polled Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and Older Male runnerup by a 139 to 109 edge, but surprisingly more than doubled up his main rival for Turf honors, Little Mike, by a 170 to 78 margin.

Voters from the National Thoroughbred Racing Assn., Daily Racing Form staff, and members of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Assn. chose three finalists on their ballots but the award is won by the horse or individual getting the most first-place votes.

Other championship results are worth noting. Undefeated Juvenile Champion, Shanghai Bobby, was not a unanimous winner. Certain-to-be Canada’s Sovereign Award winner Uncaptured captured the lone dissenting vote.

Dual Classic winner I’ll Have Another garnered 247 first place votes while the dual runnerup, Bodemeister, received three. Executiveprivilege’s defeat in the Hollywood Starlet was costly for her as she was trounced by the filly that narrowly defeated her in the Juvenile Fillies, Beholder, by a 225 to 27 margin.

Zagora (Turf Female), Trinniberg (Sprinter) and Groupie Doll (Female Sprinter) won by significant margins, as did defending Filly & Mare champion, Royal Delta. But the Three-Year-Old Filly category was a real horse race, just like the Cotillion Stakes at Parx, only this time Questing got the nod in a photo over My Miss Aurelia, 106 to 102.

Godolphin Stables was the Eclipse winning owner, the Eclipse breeder their own Darley nursery. Dale Romans won his first Eclipse Award as champion trainer, out-polling Todd Pletcher and Bob Baffert by a tally of 119 to 87 to 35, respectively. Jose Montano was voted champion apprentice and Pierre Lunaire champion steeplechaser.

Champion jockey for the third consecutive year went to Ramon Dominguez by a wide margin. Dominguez missed the ceremony and remains in Jamaica Hospital after suffering a partial skull fracture when unseated from his mount in a race at Aqueduct on Friday. Presently, his condition remains stable. His Eclipse Award was co-accepted by runners-up Johnny Velazquez and Gulfstream’s leading rider, Javier Castellano. Jockey Rosie Napravnik finished third in the Eclipse balloting.

Media Eclipses were awarded to Tom Keyser (photography), Ryan Goldberg (Feature/Commentary writing), Mary Simon (News/Enterprise writing), Rob Hyland (Live Racing-Television) and Heather Lombardo (Feature-Television) and Glenye Cain Oakford (Audio-Multi-Media Internet).

The Eclipse Awards are named after the great 18th-Century racehorse and foundation sire Eclipse, who began racing at age five and was undefeated in 18 starts, including eight walkovers. Eclipse sired the winners of 344 races, including three Epsom Derbies. In all, over 93 percent of eligible voters, 254 among 272 eligible constituents, cast ballots.

***

GOING HOME A WINNER: Over a sealed wet track that was kind to horses with early speed, Golden Mystery took advantage of conditions, withstood lead challenges from multiple rivals, opened a clear lead in midstretch and won the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Sprint by daylight for Marty Wolfson beneath Luis Saez.

“When they were going head and head, I knew she would finish strong,” said Wolfson. “She will be sold [on February 11] she’s retiring.”

Emma’s Encore rallied wide and finished strongly in her season’s debut, overtaking the tiring returnee, Holiday Mood, for the place. Emma’s Encore should greatly benefit from her effort and figures to have another productive season for Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens. “We wanted to win but were second best,” said ‘the Chief’. "We hope next time our number will come up."

BIG DAY; BIGGER NIGHT: About five hours before he would accept an Eclipse Award for Trinniberg, the 2012 Sprint champion, trainer Shivananda Parboo saddled Off The Jack to an upset victory over favored Bahamian Squall in the Sunshine Millions Sprint.

“Some horses fit the track and he’s just getting better and better,” said Parboo. “He’s more relaxed, but when he goes to the gate he’s a totally different horse. We’ll find another spot for him.” Parboo also said that Trinniberg is now at Gulfstream and we’ll “try to do it again.”

ANOTHER FILLY GOES HOME A WINNER: Successful Song could not have timed her swansong better. In her 27th and final career start, the six year old mare won the biggest purse of her career, winning the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff by 3-1/4 lengths.

Every year we’ve had her since she was two,” said trainer Eddie Plesa, “we’ve sent her to the farm. Ordinarily, she’d be there right now. The plans are to breed her, but no matter what, she’ll be leaving after this race to go the farm, for one reason or another.”

RICKY DON’T LOSE THAT NUMBER: Prepared by Rick Dutrow but running now for long time assistant Michelle Nevin, Teaks North renewed his love affair with the Gulfstream Park turf course by setting a soft pace beneath Johnny Velazquez to upset the Sunshine Millions Turf over odds-on the favorite, late running Doubles Partner.

“It’s been a long road back and I’m very happy for this horse,” said Nevin. “It’s been a tough week. I’m overwhelmed. Her former boss Rick Dutrow began serving a 10-year suspension of his license on Thursday for numerous drug offenses.

MICHELLE WINS AGAIN: Not Michelle Nevin, Michelle Nihei, that is, who saddled newly turned four year old Regalo Mio to a minor upset in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf as odds favorite, the course loving Romacaca, tired after setting the early pace and had to settle for third behind runnerup Hooh Why, second to Romacaca in the 2012 renewal.

“Other than the {Mrs. Revere at Churchill Downs], she’s never failed to run her race,” Nihei said. “There was never any question that we had a good filly the first time she came to us as a two year old. We have to allow for her [small] size in her training but she more than makes up for it.”


Written by John Pricci

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