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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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Saturday, January 28, 2012


The House Always Wins


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., January 28, 2012—For a defending champion, albeit one year removed, you don’t hear much about Awesome Feather. She’s an kind of inside baseball kind of Thoroughbred.

That is until she reached the finish line of the Sunshine Millions Distaff in 1:49.17, 5¾ lengths in front of Delightful Mary.

It was the kind of wow performance that left fans breathless and the bay filly by Awesome of Course from the Gone West mare Precious Feather undefeated at 9-for-9.

“Tell you the truth, I don’t know how many gears she has,” said winning trainer Chad Brown. “I’m afraid to press on the gas pedal.”

Jeffrey Sanchez, the only jockey the filly’s ever had, isn’t. The 24-year-old, talented rider is even more obscured from the limelight than his talented mount and might be under more pressure than Brown to keep the filly unbeaten.

When and if that day ever comes, Javier Castellano is just a phone call away.

But if Frank Stronach’s filly keeps performing the way she did in the Sunshine Millions, the point may be moot.

Stronach, who conceived the Sunshine Millions 11 years ago and counts Gulfstream Park and Santa Park among his holdings, was in his native Austria where he owns a major casino. Stronach purchased Awesome Feather following her juvenile campaign for $2.3 million.

The well meant second choice, Tiz the Argument, went to the front immediately beneath Ramon Dominguez but was stalked very step through lively fractions by the winner.

“I was a little concerned when I saw the fast fractions but Jeffrey is part of the team and executed perfectly,” said Brown. “She just hit another gear and it was over. I’m not sure we’ve seen every gear she’s got.”

What is amazing is that she’s come back from a serious tendon injury maybe better than she’s ever been.

“She was training great, but you just never know. She’s just a real pro. Her body type, athleticism, [helps her deal with issues]. It’s a delicate situation with her,” admitted Brown.

“The biggest thing with her is to see how she comes back. She seemed to grab a right hind quarter. We’ll tend to that and go on from there. With her it’s one race at a time.”

With that in mind, Awesome Feather is likely to be managed cautiously this season, on a schedule that likely works its way backward from the Breeders’ Cup.

“She’s certainly in a class with the best fillies I’ve been around,” said the former Bobby Frankel assistant. "She reminds me most of [champion] Ginger Punch. They ran the same way. She was an overachiever, a street fighter with a big heart, just like [Awesome Feather].”

It’s no sure thing that horses return to the races following tendon injuries. The fact she came back as good as she has is nothing short of amazing.

It’s fun to conjure up her going to Santa Anita on the first Saturday in November still undefeated and with a chance to become the fourth straight female Horse of the Year. Wow; just like her Sunshine Millions Distaff.

Here's Your Trophy; You Paying for Dinner?

In winners’ circle ceremonies following the Sunshine Millions Classic, fans saw something they don’t see every day. In fact, it’s possibly something no one has ever seen; a newly installed track president making a presentation to his wife after winning the feature race.

In a short time, former trainer Tim Ritvo has climbed the Stronach corporate ladder and by the end of 2011 was promoted to President and General Manager of Gulfstream Park, about one year after he had turned over the training of Mucho Macho Man to his wife Kathy.

Today, Ritvo presented the winner’s trophy to Kathy, majority owners Dean and Patti Reeves, and a gaggle of Dream Team syndicate members after their Macho Man stalked the moderate pace of Turbo Compressor, took command approaching headstretch, and held off tough-tripping Ron the Greek to win the Classic beneath Ramon Dominguez by 1½ lengths in 1:47.91, 42/100s off Quality Road’s track record.

It was a macho performance by a colt that indeed has become a man at age 4. Shackleford notwithstanding, Mucho Macho Man was the only colt to race in all three legs of the 2011 Triple Crown series.

Mucho Macho Man finished a good third in the Kentucky Derby before tough trips compromised his performances in both the Preakness and Belmont, especially the Belmont when his former rider, replaced by Dominguez, angled in sharply and the start forcing MMM to check, effectively eliminating any chance he might have had.

What was remarkable is that he competed in all three Triple Crown legs as a 2-year-old according to the calendar. Mucho Macho Man was foaled on June 15, 2008. His Belmont Stakes run came four days before his third birthday.

Having last run of November 9, the son of Macho Uno from the Ponche mare, Ponche de Leona, showed no signs of rust or extreme freshness that might have compromised his chances.

The bay colt has grown into his generous frame from 3 to 4, and he won the Sunshine Millions Classic in what has become his best style in two turn races: stalking from close range.

He did it twice as a juvenile, stalking the talented To Honor And Serve in both the Nashua and Remsen Stakes, finishing a good second each time, using that same tack to win the Risen Star and was a willing third in the Louisiana Derby before coming from a bit farther back in Louisville.

“It was the absolute perfect trip,” said Dominguez. “We were right on the outside of the speed. He gave me the feeling every step of the way that whenever I was ready to ask, he was ready to go.”

“When he came up to [Turbo Compressor on the lead] I was confident he would go on from there,” said trainer Ritvo. “We’ll see how he comes out of it and look for another race for him.”

“You can really tell how much he’s grown up since I rode him in the Belmont,” Dominguez said. "Back then he was just a big skinny horse that had a lot of maturing to do. Now he looks like he’s grown up and has everything figured out.”

Written by John Pricci

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