John Pricci 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, 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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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

When Maker’s Horses Talk, Fans Listen

HALLANDALE BEACH, January 22, 2012—To talk with trainer Mike Maker, who will start the first champion he ever trained, Hansen, in Sunday’s Holy Bull Stakes, you’d never guess he attended Wayne Lukas University for aspiring horsemen.
Hansen on his way to the five-eighths pole
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Hansen on his way to the five-eighths pole
Put another way, loquacious wouldn’t be the first word that leaps to mind after meeting him for the first time.

While apparently not the touchy-feely type, what Maker is, aside from being one of the game’s top young horsemen and a rising star, is a good man with an easy smile, sense of humor and, apparently, a devoted dad.

Asked whether he enjoyed the post-Eclipse ceremonial dinner, Maker explained: “I took my son with me and he crashed, so we just went up to our room.” If that sounds old school, here’s more A-B-C type information about Maker.

Leaning up against Gulfstream’s Barn 16 wall watching Hansen cool out--which didn’t take long, the colt stopping only once to visit the water bucket—the trainer had no idea how fast Hansen had worked.

Either he’s one of those ‘time only counts in jail’ types or, more likely, is from the school of ‘it’s not how fast you run, it’s how you run fast’.

Sunday’s Grade 3 will be the champ’s first test on the road back to Louisville, the site of his title clinching victory and as it turned out, the work was pretty damn fast.
Job done in fifty-nine and four
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Job done in fifty-nine and four
In company with a fast, stakes winning stablemate, Lou Brissie, the clockers’ watch read 59.81 with Hansen finishing about two lengths in front. Exercise rider Joel Berrientos, who “weighs less than 140,” was aboard.

Hansen’s work was the third fastest of 39 recorded at the distance. “Nothing out of character,” Maker told Gulfstream Park publicist Ed Gray.

Unable to resist the temptation, I asked Maker to gauge his colt’s fitness level for Sunday’s flat mile where he will meet, among others, the highly regarded and talented Algorithms and Consortium. Both benefit from recent races over the track.

“I expect him to run his race,” is how Maker put it.
Maker likes what he saw
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Maker likes what he saw
Well, if that’s the case, then he’ll win. Why? Because, so far, he doesn’t know how to do anything else. Maker explained that the gray hasn’t lost much training time, freshened only “30 days” after his Breeders’ Cup score. “We’ve had no bumps in the road, hopefully that trend continues,” Maker said last week.

Hansen wound up winning the championship by a much wider victory margin than the one he had on Union Rags at the finish of the Juvenile.

Maker was asked about that rival’s tough Breeders’ Cup journey, one that had trip handicappers believing that the best colt lost the race. Maker offered a different perspective.

“[Union Rags] started out two months earlier. That should have compensated for the bad trip.” And then added: “He was the only horse to go wire to wire those two days at Churchill.”

Maker is not concerned that Hansen’s speedy style is a hindrance in either his training or in his future races. “It’s no different than a closer; you’re dependent on the pace. You just hope that no one makes him go quicker earlier than he has to.”

How many preps he will have before May’s big dance will depend on what happens in the Holy Bull. When asked if the Florida Derby was the logical final prep race, he nodded affirmatively without really confirming anything.

Maker knows that he can prep anywhere, especially since Hansen’s first two starts came on a synthetic surface, winning both by a combined margin of more than 25 lengths.
Get that cuppy stuff off me!
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Get that cuppy stuff off me!
That makes Turfway Park and Keeneland viable options. Given his training program, Maker seems likely to consider the Wood Memorial’s four-week Kentucky Derby spacing as too short.

Besides, Maker calls Kentucky home and when he returns to Churchill Downs it will be to a venue at which he set a record for victories at the 2011 fall meet.

Hansen is Maker’s first Eclipse champion but he won’t allow himself to get all emotional about that, either. “It means we did something right,” he said.

On Maker’s website, there’s a quote from Lukas about one of his star pupils: "Like all these young guys that are successful, he's grown up with it. He [was] a success in our program at every level. He's a very astute trainer with good horsemanship skills.”

Here’s another famous line from mentor Lukas: “People have opinions; horses have the facts.”

Maker seems to have learned that lesson, too. He allows his horses to speak for him and, since going out on his own nine years ago, they have done precisely that, loudly and clearly.

Written by John Pricci

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