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, February 01, 2014


Traffic Building on Derby Trail


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, February 1, 2014—The Grade 3 Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream Park took on an international flavor when Wildcat Red drew off with authority to win the 7-furlong sprint by 4-3/4 widening lengths in 1:22.21, taking his first steps on the Derby trail.

Owner Salvatore Delfino color coordinated with his silks as Jose Garoffalo leads Wildcat Red to the winners circle
Photo by Toni Pricci
Owner Salvatore Delfino color coordinated with his silks as Jose Garoffalo leads Wildcat Red to the winners circle
“Hopefully, the Fountain of Youth is the next step,” Garoffalo said, “especially since [impressive Holy Bull winner] Cairo Prince will not run in the race. Today I think [Wildcat Red] proved he can run long. Horses are more relaxed running longer.”

“He can rate and you can put him anywhere you want,” said winning rider Javier Castellano, who was Garoffalo’s first choice for the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day but Castellano had a prior commitment. He was open for the Hutcheson and after working him last week—“I was very impressed”--accepted the call.

Wildcat Red, narrowly beaten in the GP Derby, was to go long for the first time in the Holy Bull, but a throat infection and some respiratory distress kept him in the barn. “It wasn’t a big deal but we just didn’t want to take a chance.”

The Fountain of Youth was supposed to attract Cairo Prince, who now will train up to the Florida Derby. Honor Code will miss the race with ankle issues behind, and the brilliant Havana has taken longer than expected to come to hand and will opt for the Swale instead. Without the Holy Bull winner, the Grade 2 route isn’t as daunting as it first appeared.

However, the likely participation of impressive allowance winner Top Billing, and Commissioner, who had beaten Top Billing previously, will insure the Fountain of Youth will be far from a walkover.

Both Garoffalo and Delfino are from Venezuela and Wildcat Red is only the second horse Delfino has owned. Now both men are living the American dream. “I think all owners and trainers think about winning the Kentucky Derby,” the trainer said.

Samraat Stays Undefeated in G3 Withers: It’s not very often when a pair of New York-breds make their open company debuts in the same stakes, then go out and put on a dramatic show down the Aqueduct home straight.

There they were, Uncle Sigh, a 14-length maiden winner sprinting with his own kind last out, on the inside, and Samraat, a 16-length victor in the state-bred Damon Runyon Stakes, on the outside, throwing it down stride for stride until the very end. Both horses ran exceptionally well.

Nearing the finish, however, Samraat edged away and extended his undefeated career to four straight victories that began at Belmont Park, moved to the Aqueduct main track before taking his winter-track and two-turn debut by storm, widening his margin without being asked by regular rider Jose Ortiz.

Trainer Jose Garoffalo is pointing Wildcat Red to the Fountain of Youth
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Trainer Jose Garoffalo is pointing Wildcat Red to the Fountain of Youth
The interesting note about the Noble Causeway colt from the Indian Charlie mare, Little Indian Girl, is that he shipped down from New York to Palm Meadows with trainer Rick Violette’s Florida string then shipped back to Gotham for the Withers.

And speaking of Gotham, it would make sense for the colt to run in the race of the same name, the Gotham Stakes being a very good spot for Wood Memorial hopefuls, although he could train up to the Wood.

Either way, the waters will get a lot deeper next time, especially if he runs back in the Gotham, where Honor Code likely to make his season’s debut. That mile and a sixteenth will be the next stop for gallant runner-up Uncle Sigh.

Now it starts to get a little more interesting.

Pletcher 1-2 in the Sam F. Davis: Veteran handicappers are never surprised when trainer Todd Pletcher accomplishes the unusual, such as finishing one-two in a stakes that figures to be prologue for something a little more important next month.

But what bettors might consider shocking is that the nose winner, Vinceramos, who was cross-entered in the Hutcheson but opted to leave Hallandale Beach in favor of a longer prep in Oldsmar, would return 13-1.

But that was the case when the Winstar colt shot up the fence beneath Edgar Prado, who gave up five mounts on the Gulfstream card to ride in Vinceramos at Tampa Bay Downs, holding safe his fast-closing, higher regarded stablemate, Harpoon with Luis Saez.

When Javier Castellano asked Wildcat Red for his best, ''he took off.''
Photo by: Toni Pricci
When Javier Castellano asked Wildcat Red for his best, ''he took off.''
Contextually, it’s hard to know what to make of the two Pletcher runners as they are only two of 40 other Pletcher Triple Crown nominees—that’s right; a record 42 nominations or roughly 10 percent of all Triple Crown eligibles—and because it’s hard to evaluate the quality behind them at this juncture.

That answer will have to wait until the Tampa Bay Derby is contested Mar. 8. Barring the unforeseen, it appears to be a safe bet that both Vinceramos and Harpoon will be shipping north from Boynton Beach again.

Hey, it’s not easy keeping 42 potential Kentucky Derby starters separated.

Will Take Charge Donn Highweight: Champion three year old Will Take Charge is on his way Southeast from Oaklawn Park and will start as the 123-pound highweight in Sunday’s Grade 1 Donn Handicap, kicking off the Jockey Club Tour on Fox, a series of races the austere body hopes will play a part in reversing a trend.

The Donn will be the four-year-old’s first start since defeating Game On Due in the Clark, clinching the Eclipse title.* The first meaningful handicap of the year is quite a salty affair.

Multiple stakes winner Revolutionary, who made an excellent return from a layoff in an allowance race earlier at the meet, is rated second in the weights at 119. Alpha and Private Zone are next at 118, but Alpha is expected to run on the turf instead.

Next in line is Lea (117), who was very sharp winning the Hal’s Hope in his first start for trainer Bill Mott. In at 116 is Long River, who’s been beating up on New York’s weak handicap division; Neck N’ Neck, who prepped well with a strong-finish third over the surface, and River Seven, who showed an electric turn of foot while recording a track record score in the Harlan’s Holiday in December.

*correction made 11:16 a.m. on 020214

Written by John Pricci

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