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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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Super Primo Good Prep Weekend, Part 2

By the time this weekend ends, the Breeders Cup picture will have some much needed clarity.

Theres another round of preps next weekend, too, some from Europe as wellthink theres something called the Prix de lArc de Triomphe on the horizon.

But the issue of favoritism in some of the mega categories will have been established, including that for Horse of the Year.

No less than five Grade 1s are on tap Sunday, four in one place, Belmont Park, and the other at Santa Anita, featuring juvenile colts in the Norfolk.

Too early to tell, of course, but it looks like California has some catching up to do in this category. But they usually do by the first Saturday in May which is, of course, when the scores can really change for the present two-year-old class.

But I digress.

The $400,000 guaranteed Pick Four at Belmont starts with the Vosburgh and ends with the Jockey Club Gold Cup, with the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and Beldame in between.

Throw in the Miss Grillo, for juvenile fillies on turf, and you have great Sunday fare. Time-wise, Belmonts 11-race card will get you almost all the way to the Norfolk.

The Vosburgh, of course, features the return of Discreet Cat from a six-month layoff. Trainer Rick Mettee said this week that he wished the race were a little farther, six and half or seven furlongs, and perhaps the competition a little softer.

But, as goodfella Jimmy Conway reminds us: It is what it is.

What it was was a horse capable of winning the Cigar Mile on this circuit by running eight furlongs in 1:32 2/5. To say this kind of brilliance is uncommon would be to seriously understate the case.

Discreet Cat is (was?) something else. Where he is now, exactly, is the question.

A very sharp race likely will put him in the Sprint. Something less probably relegates him to the new Breeders Cup Dirt Mile (a mile and 70 yard two-turner due to the Monmouth configuration). But first theres the matter of handling late developing three-year-old First Defence and his Vosburgh friends.

Todd Pletchers English Channel will try to become the third horse to win the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic twice. In relative terms, this renewal comes up a tad soft. English Channel is 1-for-5 at a mile and half, but perhaps his preference for Belmont--never worse than second in three Grade 1s--will prove an equalizer.

The Beldame, the third of four weight-for-age events, gets recent Ruffian winner Ginger Punch, which is somewhat of a bonus. Bobby Frankel doesnt normally run them back on relatively short rest. But hes trying to take while he thinks the takings good.

If Ginger Punch runs too well tomorrow, dont plan on seeing her at Monmouth. A victory would be her third Grade 1 this year, probably good enough for an Eclipse Award. Maybe West Coaster Balance will have something to say about that. She finally gets off the artificial and onto real dirt again.

As the publicists remind us, Lawyer Ron went into Saratoga a nice horse and emerged as protem handicap champion. But if he wants to win it all hell need to run the table; beating Curlin tomorrow and everyone else in the Classic.

This brings us to that three-year-old. Which one shows up, the Preakness hero or the dull Haskell third? Assistant trainer Scott Blasi said this week the colts much sharper now than before the Haskell. Good thing, if he wants to be competitive.

Finally, a gateful of two-year-olds will compete in the Norfolk. Six are coming straight from maiden races. But two, Salute the Sarge and Dixie Chatter, look like viable Juvenile colts. Sarge won the G3 Hollywood Juvenile Championship, G2 Best Pal and was narrowly beaten in the G1 Del Mar Futurity.

Chatter made a wide premature move to the lead in the stretch at Del Mar, but couldnt sustain that run. With Richard Mandella as teacher, however, expect improvement today and the time after that.

Happy hunting.

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Are You Ready For Some Breeders’ Cup Preps?

As far as Breeders Cup prep weekends go, this is it. This is the big one.

There will be at least 11 events at three different tracks that will impact the upcoming World Championships, one way or another.

Everybody thought tomorrow was the big day, with four Grade 1s at Belmont Park alone, including the Jockey Club Gold Cup that features protem Classic favorite Lawyer Ron.

But check this out.

The Kentucky Cup Day program at Turfway Park is for those wishing to prep on Polytrack while staying away from the glaring lights of either coast.

The showpiece of the five-stakes program, of course, is the G2 Kentucky Cup Classic, matching the Kentucky Derby exacta of Street Sense and Hard Spun.

Enough said.

The Ky. Cup Juvenile Fillies is seeking a viable challenger for next months crowning event at Monmouth Park. Sky Mom, via Saratoga and Steve Asmussen; Bassinet winner and runner-up, Kadira and Dreabons Legacy, respectively, and Dale Romans Love Buzz, will all get serious consideration from the crowd.

A gate-load of three-year-old sprinters will be seeking their identity in the Ky. Cup Sprint, as will two-year-old colts in the G3 Ky. Cup Juvenile. Pulaski Runner, from Bob Holthus, seems a bit more advanced than the rest.

The Ky. Cup Distaff is the most interesting, Derby colts notwithstanding. The most intriguing of them is late developing Pleasant Hill, a winner of the Gardenia at Ellis Park last out and working bullets ever since for Greg Foley.

There are three Grade 1s at Oak Tree, where it appears that Cushion Track once again has proven to be superior to Polytrack early on in terms of bias and race shape: It has played more like legit dirt.

The first things that jump out at Santa Anita are bookend events. Belmonts Flower Bowl vs. Santa Anitas Yellow Ribbon; both Grade 1; both 10 furlongs; Belmont Parks Wait a While vs. Oak Trees Citronnade.

Could make for a nice collision course in four weeks.

The G1 Goodwood will be Swaps winner Tiagos first go against elders after having been reserved from the Pacific Classic. Hell meet legendary Lava Man attempting to rebound from a poly-hating Pac Classic.

The G1 Oak Leaf for juvenile fillies has a deep cast: Set Play the most accomplished; The Golden Noodle most interesting for carrying Jack Van Berg back into the national spotlight.

In addition to Wait a Whiles 10 furlongs in the Flower Bowl, the Pilgrim for juvenile turf horses is interesting in that Todd Pletcher is shifting to grass with The Leopard, most recently a huge disappointment in the Futurity.

As usual the Kelso Mile is a beauty, even if still a G2 event. Multiple G1 winner After Market ships in from California turning back in distance; Bobby Frankel will saddle the very interesting Art Master, while a resurgent Angel Penna Jr. brings late developing English Colony to the fray, a winner of four of five lifetime.

Wait until you see tomorrow's lineup.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Where In The World Is Discreet Cat?

One of the more interesting races this weekend will be the Grade 1 Vosburgh for world class sprinters that features the return of the phenom of 2005, Discreet Cat.

While many of his rivals will be using the Vosburgh as a prep for the Breeders Cup Sprint-- ideally the same goal for Discreet Cat--for him it will be something more.

At stake is his reputation as the invincible racehorse of boundless talent and speed, possessor of the kind of brilliance that blew the doors off every rival he met, even at the Grade 1 level.

That is until that uneventful try in the Dubai World Cup where we never got to find out whether he was the equal of, or better than, defending Horse of the Year Invasor.

The real Discreet Cat never showed up that night. Not even a reasonable facsimile of a juvenile that won his debut at Saratoga so impressively he subsequently was sold for $5-million.

As a Grade 1 winner of extraordinary brilliance, hes been worth that money and more as a stallion prospect. But he never did prove that he was one of the ones. His body of work is simply not there.

For Discreet Cat, the Vosburgh question will be what, and where, is he now. Is he the same Discreet Cat that was undefeated before a reported throat infection stopped him in the World Cup?

Its taken five months to get him back into a starting gate, about the same amount of time as last year when he raced in Dubai, won the G2 United Arab Emirates Derby, then summarily disappeared for most of the season.

On a grand scale, it will be interesting to see whether he is the same horse that made the hair on the back of your neck stand at attention. That wont take a tour de force Vosburgh effort. Just one that shows the same kind of excitement only dominating brilliance provides.

On a more mundane note, however, we need to see that hes alright, that he's his old self, routinely capable of running three-quarters in nine.

Discreet Cat has been in serious training only since August. His five furlong workout in 1:00.80 Monday was only his fifth recorded work since then. Hes done enough to get fit. Sharp, however, is another matter.

If indeed he proves to be further along than even his handlers believe, he could run himself right into the Sprint.

But even if he does, however, wouldn't he be better off in the Breeders Cup Dirt Mile, run at one mile and 70 yards over the Monmouth Park configuration? It certainly would be easier on him physically.

And maybe thats what he really needs most right now.

Written by John Pricci

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