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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, February 11, 2012


McGaughey: One Happy Master


HALLANDALE BEACH, FLA., February 11, 2011—Shug McGaughey’s been here before. He wouldn’t have become a member of the Racing Hall of Fame if he and his horses didn’t show up in big spots.

But having been here and done that, he used to winning and takes it in stride. McGaughey took the heart stopping victory of Hymn Book in the storied Donn Handicap Donn Handicap in stride, an excited, wide grin notwithstanding.

McGaughey had to know he did something a little out of the ordinary, beating the deepest field of handicappers assembled this year, including the 2011 Preakness and Belmont Stakes winners, and did so off the bench.

“What happened, Shug, couldn’t find an allowance race for him?”

That’s when McGaughey really began to smile. “The way he finished up in the Cigar Mile, I said to myself this is what I want to do right here. But I didn’t know it would come up this strong.

“So we decided to give him a little blow, came down here [Payson Park training center], trained well and blew out real good. When I saw him in the receiving barn before the race he was tearing it down.”
Spoken like a proud papa and Hall of Famer.

“Johnny’s [Velazquez] always had a lot of confidence in this horse. At the three-eighths pole in the Suburban Johnny said he was loaded and thought he’d win until [Flat Out] came running. Then he ran so well to To Honor And Serve, who’s a real good horse.”

And, now, for sure, so is Hymn Book, who was masterfully prepared.

The race developed as expected with the undefeated speedster Trickmeister on the lead followed by Shackleford, the 3-1 favorite, those two stalked in close range by Mission Impazible and Redeemed, the eventual runnerup and show finisher.

That order remained virtually unchanged until headstretch when Redeemed moved to a slight lead between calls as the winner rallied outside of him and Mission Impazible, who had cut the corner, came outside with his run.

Leaving the furlong pole, Redeemed began to weaken, Hymn Book continued his rally to catch Mission Impazible inside the sixteenth pole after colliding with Where’s Sterling a sixteenth of a mile earlier.

In the end, it was Hymn Book prevailing in the middle of the drying out “good” surface by a nose, denying Todd Pletcher his fourth victory of the day. Pletcher earlier had saddled career victories 3,000, 3,001 and 3,002.
It was 3¼ lengths back to Redeemed, who finished a neck in front of Where’s Sterling.

Of the reputation horses in the field, Flat Out fared the best finishing fifth, beaten 4½ lengths for it all.

Shackleford, who looked a picture in the paddock, really maturing and growing into his 4-year-old body. But he was uncharacteristically dry—one of those rare individuals who runs better when he lathered up than he does when dry.

“When I pulled the trigger he just didn’t give me that run,” said jockey Jesus Castanon.

He tired and finished seventh after stalking the leader, which was 3½ lengths better than Ruler On Ice who was eighth.

“When I went to make my move,” said Rosie Napravnik, in from the Fair Grounds to ride Ruler On Ice, “I just didn’t have any horse today.”

So, what’s next for the latest addition to the Grade 1 handicap class?

“We’re New York people,” McGaughey said, “and naturally will want a fresh horse for the big races up there later this year, but the Oaklawn Handicap is one option before that.”

And later on.

“Probably the Suburban, the Whitney, races like that.”

Sounds like a solid plan for a man who can get them ready. He did it yesterday off a 76-day blow, as McGaughey termed it, and did so with a gelded 6-year-old who just might now be coming into his own.

A factor that gives McGaughey a reason to keep right on smiling.


MR. 3000

Well that didn't take long, did it?

Todd Pletcher became the first trainer to reach the 3,000 win miestone in the shortest amount of time when George Bolton's Spring Hill Farm led a preliminary allowance field of three year olds for the entire mile of today's third race on a sealed wet track.

"I'm [happy] I didn't have to wait too long on 2,999," said Pletcher in the winners' circle. "I appreciate the milestone and give credit to all the great owners, the great horses and our great staff."

Pletcher was asked what the next milestone he would shoot for next: "Three-thousand and one," he said.

That milestone was reached within the hour as Pletcher, again with John Velazquez in the boot, with a hard-fought win aboard Majestic Number.

Ironically, it was a maiden of the same name, Majestic Number, that gave Pletcher win #1 15 years ago at Gulfstream Park. Jerry Bailey had the mount on Majestic Number I.

Written by John Pricci

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