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, April 12, 2014

Lots of Winners and Losers on Final Big Prep Weekend

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, April 12, 2014—If you’re a Kentucky Derby fan, let’s put aside the parimutuel events of Saturday’s two final major preps, the Grade 1 Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby.

Based on Saturday's results, the big winners were Dance With Fate, who zoomed from Derby obscurity to third on the qualifying list, and Danza, also coming from nowhere to finish in sixth position.

Ride on Curlin’s Arkansas Derby placing was good enough to raise his seed to #12; Tapiture, safely in at #14 despite his disappointing Arkansas Derby, and Blue Grass runnerup Medal Count also appears safely in at #18.

Those that ran themselves out of serious consideration include Vinceramos, Harry’s Holiday, Big Bazinga, Coastline, Strong Mandate and Commissioner. Of those, Big Bazinga made a good effort to finish fourth in the Blue Grass but the rest disappointed--Strong Mandate and Commissioner in a big way.

Ultimately, we’ll find out whether or not Dance With Fate is well named, but this much is certain: Until approximately 6:40 p.m. on May 3rd, it will be enough to know that he can handles any footing, albeit excelling on synthetic ones.

Saturday’s completely authoritative score in the Blue Grass, ending the All-Weather Derby prep era in Lexington, now has a Grade 1 win to go with his Grade 1 placings in the 2013 Del Mar Futurity and Front Runner at Santa Anita.

With a turf victory at the allowance level two starts back, he’s now has won twice on synthetics and once on grass to go with a Grade 1 placing on dirt.

Well prepared by trainer Peter Eurton, he was confidently handled while moving wide into contention at headstretch beneath Corey Nakatani, racing under the line is full stride appearing not to reach bottom. It was an impressive run that validates his entry into the Derby.

In finishing second, Medal Count, winner of the G3 Transylvania on the Keeneland Poly eight days ago returned with an excellent effort, earned 40 qualifying points in the process and punched his ticket to Louisville if his people are so inclined.

Pacesetting Pablo Del Monte added a G1 stakes placing to go with his two prior daylight wins over the Keeneland surface at 2.

Any chance that defending Eclipse Award-winning owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey would have a third horse in the Louisville starting gate evaporated when the talented turf runner Bobby’s Kitten was unable to transfer that form to synthetic.

Neither of Todd Pletcher’s dirt horses made an impression: G3 Palm Beach grass winner Gala Award, obstreperous while being loaded, and G3 Sam F Davis winner and G2 Tampa Bay Derby runnerup, Vinceramos, never threatened at any time.

Well, you didn’t expect the Toddster to get shut out on such an occasion, did you? Quick, prior to Danza’s shocker in the Arkansas Derby, name the last runner he saddled that paid off at 41-1. You probably shouldn’t tax the gray matter on that one.

Much of the credit must go to not only Pletcher, who had Danza ready to win a solidly run Arkansas Derby off a single third-place finish at 7 furlongs March 1st at Gulfstream Park. The race was his fourth lifetime start and his first around two turns.

But the major props belong to Joe Carpe Diem Bravo, who shut up the fence with the Street Boss colt with five-sixteenths of a mile left to run. After establishing some separation soon after entering the straight, the stretch run lacked any real drama.

Now, before anyone thinks that Gary Stevens opened the rail with the formerly undefeated Bayern, he did his best to slow his speedy mount down throughout, keeping him about three paths wide all the way.

Racing wide of the fence helps runners to relax.

Bayern, meanwhile, was a sort of Samraat of the Arkansas Derby. Approaching midstretch it appeared he would finish out of the money but Stevens kept him alive and just missed the place spot to the late surging, six-wide rallying Ride On Curlin.

Ride On Curlin, getting a switch to Jon Court, is a good, very honest colt. Rating experiments generally don’t turn out well but this one did. He likely would have been significantly closer if not for the ground loss.

Coming off two big efforts, Tapiture was flat, failing to give Steve Asmussen his fourth winner of the day—all were ridden by Ricardo Santana, who lost the mount on Tapiture in favor of Joel Rosario. Sometimes the obvious move doesn’t turn out so well.

The Derby qualifying list is very interesting at the bottom with Cairo Prince and Uncle Sigh tied for 20th.

Should no one emerge from the last ditch Lexington next Saturday, it will be interesting to see how that scenario will shake out. Of course, three weeks is an eternity in Kentucky Derby time.

Written by John Pricci

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