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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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Constitution, Pletcher, Castellano Seize Florida Derby Day

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 29, 2014—There were many questions requiring answers, or at least some elucidation, at Gulfstream Park and the Fair Grounds going into the Kentucky Derby’s first Super Saturday:

Ever intense, Todd Pletcher takes measure of the competition.
Photo by Toni Pricci
Ever focused, Todd Pletcher takes measure of the competition.
Is Cairo Prince a special horse? Can Wildcat Red get all nine furlongs, never mind 10 five weeks from now? With a position outside and favorable dynamics, won’t General A Rod turn the Fountain of Youth tables and, finally, is Todd Pletcher asking too much of Constitution?

By the time the three-year-olds reached the finish line in Gulfstream Park’s premier event for horses of any age, the answers were: Probably not but impossible to say; Red stayed nine furlongs but 10 is something else entirely; no, and apparently not. In fact, Constitution will turn out to be even better than his undefeated record indicates.

His rider thinks so, his trainer thinks so, and so does the consortium that owns him.

“In his first race he broke bad, they went 22 and 44, and he still had something in the tank, that impressed me,” said Javier Castellano, the meet’s leading rider, who rode four other winners on the program, four for Florida Derby winning trainer Todd Pletcher. “I’ve never seen a first time starter do that the way he did,” Castellano added.

“I’m very, very proud of him,” said Pletcher, who added four winners to his meet leading total after having already secured his 11th consecutive Gulfstream trainer’s title weeks ago. Perhaps it even gave him a leg up on a seventh Eclipse Award.

“It’ a testament to the quality of horse he is,” Pletcher said of Constitution, “to go from a maiden to an allowance to a Grade 1, show a different running style and get some dirt in his face, putting in an effort like that against much more seasoned horses.”

And so the regally named Constitution--“we name horses like they’re going to be in the stud barn,” said co-owner Winstar Farm CEO Elliott Walden. The colt now will leave for Kentucky in about a month’s time trying to become the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Derby without having raced at 2.

Meanwhile, Kiaran McLaughlin will be going back to the drawing board with Cairo Prince who loomed a winner with that quick turn of foot at the three-eighths pole but failed to go on with it, appearing short of condition. It was his first start since winning the Holy Bull Stakes nine weeks ago.

“If we get in, we’re goin’,” McLaughlin of a Derby run. Right now Cairo Prince has 24 qualifying Derby points, including 10 earned for finishing fourth in the Florida Derby. “If it’s not enough, we’ll run somewhere else. He came up a little short. Maybe the nine weeks was telling on him.”

It is now Post Time.
Photo by: Toni Pricci
It is now Post Time.
Meanwhile, Wildcat Red has stamped himself, again, as the toughest member of this sophomore class. When hooked, he gives no quarter. “You know when you get in a battle with Wildcat Red it’s going to be tough. You’ve got to keep working to beat him,” said Pletcher.

“Probably the pace was too fast,” said trainer Mike Maker’s assistant Elesar Chavez. “We’ll see what Mike says for next time, but he looks like he can go longer and we’re going to look at the Kentucky Derby.”

Maker was not in Hallandale but in New Orleans, saddling Vicar’s In Trouble for the Ramseys to a comprehensive wire-to-wire victory in the Louisiana Derby over Intense Holiday, who defeated Maker’s colt in the Risen Star last time out.

Interestingly, Vicar’s In Trouble trained at Gulfstream under Maker’s direction instead of remaining in New Orleans. In fact, Maker left Chavez in charge here to tighten the girth on the speedy Louisiana-bred that will join stablemate We Miss Artie in the Louisville starting gate.

Louisville is next stop for Constitution
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Louisville is next stop for Constitution.
Harry’s Holiday could be Maker’s third Derby entrant, but he’s currently on the points bubble; 19th of 20. A synthetic specialist, Harry’s Holiday was runnerup to We Miss Artie in the Spiral Stakes. He could race again in Keeneland’s Lexington Stakes and make the cut.

Castellano, who had his choice of three mounts and chose Constitution to win his first Florida Derby, apparently will stay with Constitution in Louisville. “Can you put that in writing?” joked Walden, who was spun by Castellano last year when he chose Normandy Invasion over Revolutionary.

“Constitution,” blurted Castellano, when asked if he will stick with the Florida Derby winner five weeks hence. “It’s tough for a lot of people to choose… I want to thank everybody for [my first Florida Derby]. Mr. Pletcher has given me a lot of opportunities.”

“Javier is loyal and when the time comes, I’m sure he’ll make the right decision,” said a politically correct Walden.

Javier Castellano following his first Florida Derby win
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Javier Castellano following his first Florida Derby win.
BETS N’ PIECES: Gulfstream Park set a handle record of $26.8 million, eclipsing last year’s record total of $24.6 million….Had Matador upset the Florida Derby, one Rainbow Six player would have collected a record parimutuel payout of $4.9 million. As it stands now, the jackpot for Sunday is over $4.4 million.

Following Sunday’s program, racing will resume Friday when Gulfstream begins a three-day race week schedule…Castellano also proved the difference in the Gulfstream Park Oaks, repulsing the final bid of sentimental favorite House Rules with In Tune. House Rules was saddled by H. Allen Jerkens…Trainer Joe Orseno had speedball Happy My Way all wound up, winning the Sir Shackleton by a short pole beneath Joe Bravo. His next start will be here as Orseno will remain in South Florida instead of shipping to Monmouth for the summer…

Anjaz finally settled down and led a solid group of older turf filly and mare on a merry chase to win the G3 Orchid beneath Rajiv Maragh who shipped down from New York south for the ride. It was the Irish-bred filly’s first stakes win in the U.S…Joel Rosario timed the late run of Newsdad perfectly to take the G2 Pan American at 12 furlongs, The six year old Bill Mott trainee also won the Pan Am in 2012.

A prominent member of the Constitution entourage
Photo by: Toni Pricci
A prominent member of the Constitution entourage.
Castellano was prescient at Wednesday’s post draw. “I have a lot of confidence in Constitution and I think I’m going to have a pretty good day…” ...”I underestimated the lack of speed in the Louisiana Derby,” said Pletcher of Intense Holiday’s place finish. Constitution got through under a heady ride to in Hallandale; Intense Holiday had to steady between horses at a crucial stage but it likely would not have changed the outcome.

Kiaran McLaughlin is a class act coming into the press area after Cairo Prince was defeated to patiently answer questions and was not afraid to second-guess the results…Winstar Farm and Twin Creek Racing are a good match: “Elliott and I have been friends when we trained together. At the sales we seem to like the similar frame of horse and a similar price range,” said Randy Gullett, a member of the Twin Creek team with Steve Davison. “Instead of bidding against each other we decided to partner.”

Written by John Pricci

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