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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Sunday, February 26, 2012


Pleasant Dreams


HALLANDALE BEACH, FLA., February 26, 2012—Even in this game, some things are just meant to be; a foregone conclusion as if it were a dream.

And this time, that’s exactly what it was for Mrs. Phyllis Wyeth, whose Chadds Ford Stable owns Fountain of Youth winner and, at this point, the favorite for the 138th renewal of the Kentucky Derby.

Mrs. Wyeth is an owner-breeder and, as such, the initial impulse is to sell first, race later. And that, too, is exactly what happened. Mrs. Wyeth sent the colt to Saratoga where it sold at the Fasig-Tipton yearling sales in 2010 for $145,000.

A pinhooker—a buyer who gambles that a young Thoroughbred with a more time would develop into a more valuable commodity at some future date--entered a bay son of Dixie Union, from the Gone West mare Tempo, in last year’s 2-year-old sale in Ocala hoping to make a score.

He did, selling the colt for $390,000. That colt won Sunday’s Fountain of Youth Stakes in such dramatic style, however, that if Union Rags were offered for sale tomorrow, the colt easily would command several millions.

It’s extremely doubtful that Union Rags will ever leave Wyeth’s sights again. She had such a case of seller’s remorse that her subconscious took over and she dreamt that she would be a champion. So she had her agent go to Ocala last winter with instructions to buy him back.

“I had to pay three times what I sold him for,” she said in the winners’ circle after her dream horse won his 3-year-old debut before doing her best ‘Red’ Auerbach lighting a victory cigar. “Somebody gave it to me… and it’s real good.”

“Hey, there’s no smoking in the paddock,” said her good friend, whose own horse, a 5-year-old mare named Havre De Grace, worked 5 furlongs in New Orleans the same morning Wyeth would see her colt establish himself as the divisional leader at this early stage.

“She kept asking me to get involved with this horse before it was offered for sale,” said Rick Porter. “At the time he was a little on the small side and he didn’t do anything for me.

“But she had two dreams she was going to have a champion and she told her agent ‘go down there and buy that horse’.” That was a lot of money for her to spend, trust me, she doesn’t spend that kind of money now matter how big the bargain.”

In the winners’ circle, Michael Matz, who been on this trail before with the ill-fated legend, Barbaro, was asked to compare the two horses at this stage of development. “Barbaro was undefeated at that point so we were a little more certain of him,” Said Matz. “But I guess if it weren’t for another two feet, he’d be undefeated, too.”

It was a dominating 4 length score for the winner of last year’s Grade 2 Saratoga Special and Grade 1 Champagne. His only defeat was a wide trip second to Hansel in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Both Hansel and Juvenile third Creative Cause were defeated in their season’s debut, but not Union Rags who was confidently handled by new rider Julien Leparoux after Javier Castellano opted to ride Algorithms, who was withdrawn after suffering a popped splint.

Normally, rest and anti-inflammatories are the proscribed measures to heal such an injury which generally is not serious by nature but it occurred at a serious time.

Trainer Todd Pletcher informed Starlight Racing partner Jack Wolfe by telephone Sunday morning that the colt was lame and would not be able to run in the Fountain of Youth. The undefeated Bernardini colt was the 8-5 early line favorite.

Another Pletcher trainee, the formerly undefeated speed Discreet Dancer, making his two turn debut in the Fountain of Youth, was the 4-5 crowd favorite with Union Rags drifting up to 6-5 in the final minute.

“I’m very excited about his performance today,” said Matz. “Peter [former English jockey, exercise rider, and assistant trainer Brette] did a nice job with him, helping to get him ready. Julien said that he was so relaxed and did whatever he wanted him to do. He never touched him with the whip.

“I hope that he’s improving and this race should make him a little tighter. He galloped out very well after the race,” the trainer said. At the moment, he is right on track for the March 31 Florida Derby, which was Barbaro’s final Kentucky Derby prep in 2006.

It is just like Matz to deflect compliments and share the credit with others. He was asked whether he’s always concerned about getting his runners mentally prepared as well as physically fit.

Toward that end, Matz brought Union Rags to the gate several times in the week leading up to yesterday’s race, schooling him in the paddock with the field going postward for the second race two Thursdays in advance of the Fountain of Youth.

“Well, we just did everything we could to get him ready.”

It worked like a dream.

Written by John Pricci

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