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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Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Racing Gods Owe Plesa One

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla., January 26, 2013—In the rush to become the first kid on your block to predict the winner of the Kentucky Derby, it seems to me that the 2012 juvenile champion, Shanghai Bobby, is getting disrespected some. It’s all predicated on his relatively short pedigree.

Whether or not he ultimately gets all 10 furlongs is a question for another day--just like the record turnout for Hillary vs. Chris Christie in 2016. Lost in the shuffle is an important note; this undefeated colt is a very good horse. He’s got gears.

But the champ’s good fortune ran out, and so did his undefeated slate, when Itsmyluckyday came alongside at headstretch. Instead of finding another gear, Bobby had no answer for the Gulfstream Derby winner who thrust himself into the Kentucky Derby picture with gusto; track record gusto.

“The winner was very good today,” said Pletcher, we were second best. We got a good trip and didn’t expect to break the track record by 3/5s of a second in order to win. I was happy with him.” An hour earlier, Pletcher saddled the dominating winner of the 7-furlong, G2 Forward Gal, the very fast Kauai Katie.

“We went into this race hoping that the best horse would win,” said trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. “I believed that’s what happened today. He couldn’t have been training any better, doing any better.”

Plesa comes from a South Florida racing family and has had only one horse good enough to compete at the highest levels, the filly Three Ring, owned by former NYRA President Barry Schwartz.

In fact, so talented was the filly that the connections ran her in the 1999 Kentucky Derby after winning three of five starts at 2 and taking the Davona Dale and Bonnie Miss Stakes impressively that winter.

Three Ring ran uncharacteristically poorly in Charismatic’s Derby but came back to win the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park. But while being equipped with a set of blinkers for the Mother Goose Stakes, she reared up, fell over backward and hit her head twice, fracturing her skull.

She was euthanized right on the spot where Plesa, cradling the filly head as he tried to comfort her before NYRA’s attending veterinarian could put her out of her misery. The image of Plesa holding her, his clothes soaked in blood, was horrifying.

That was one of the worst paddock scenes in the history of Thoroughbred racing, but not so yesterday where Plesa stood for picture taking ceremonies with his wife Laurie, a part owner of the colt, as well as other partners, David and Olga Melin and Marion Montanari.

“We’ll see about [the Kentucky Derby]. Everybody’s excited and the race is on their bucket list,” Plesa said of clients that have been with him for 20 years. “With the points system we’ll sit down, talk it over and see what happens.”

The points Plesa was referring to is the new tiered system based on graded stakes wins for Derby eligibility. Itsmyluckyday earned only 10 points for winning the Holy Bull and the consensus of opinion, one that changes every day, is that it likely will take a minimum of 50 points to qualify.

Which means Itsmyluckyday must win either a second stage race such as Gulfstream’s Fountain of Youth Stakes, worth 50 points, or the Florida Derby with 100 going to the winner. Plesa is leaving his options open at the moment is leaning toward the Florida Derby, March 30.

What appears certain is that the next start will be at Gulfstream Park where the Lawyer Ron colt, from the Doneraille Court mare, Viva La Slew, is now 2-for-2, taking the ungraded Gulfstream Derby at a flat mile by nearly 7 lengths, and yesterday’s 2 length score in 1:41.81 for 1-1/16 miles.


THAT’S THE TICKET: The 2012 Travers winner Golden Ticket got start his 4-year-old season started in today’s fourth race and began it in a big way.

Aided by sharp, contested fractions, he showed his freshness nicely tucked behind the speed inside for the backstretch run.

As the pace began to take its toll approaching headstretch, David Cohen sent him into the breach and Speightstown colt did the rest, winning by open lengths in a glib 1:42.62 while in full stride at the wire.

Come-backing O’Prado Again, who missed most of his 3-year-old year with an injury, hasn’t won since taking Aqueduct’s ;Remsen Stakes in the fall of his juvenile season. He rallied strongly and, while never a threat to Golden Ticket, it was a great race to build on.

KAUAI KATE BACK ON VACATION: Well, that was easy, but it won’t matter. Kauai Katie, who added the 2 Forward Gal to her G3 score in the shorter Old Hat—no less impressively—but will not be seen again in Hallandale Beach this winter, even after her 5-1/2 romp in 1:22.13.

With “nothing really” for her at Churchill Downs this spring, said Pletcher, it will be the Prioress and Test as her next major goals. Both are Grade 1 and both in New York, the latter in Saratoga. Sounds like a plan, a good one.

BETS N’ PIECES: Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps is part of the Team Valor International that owns Cerro, winner of the third race for 3-year-old allowance runners…Bill Mott, not known for having success with debut types, unveiled his second uber impressive sophomore filly at the meet, Juddmonte’s Close Hatches, who joined Calistoga as females of the future. Meanwhile his Bold Dance in the next race, 3-5 off her impressive come-from-behind maiden score, found herself on the pace, put away three challengers, but could not hold off Holiday Star, Graham Motion’s second win of the day. Stable mail, please.

Written by John Pricci

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