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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, April 14, 2012


…Of Strong Favorites and Plausible Price Shots


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, April 13, 2012--The final big Kentucky Derby prep Saturday of 2012 has finally arrived. It is likely that only next weekend’s Lexington Stakes can possibly having any bearing on the Derby 138 starting field.

In addition, Oaklawn Park, which is staging its signature event, the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, is also offering the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap and it’s beauty, featuring horses ranked third and seventh in the NTRA poll, Ron The Greek and Hymn Book, respectively.

At Keeneland, meanwhile, their lynchpin feature, the G1 Blue Grass Stakes showcases juvenile champion Hansen against the world, 10 3-year-old rivals looking to become the new king.

Even though Mike Smith has taken a call on Daddy Knows Best in the Kentucky Derby three weeks hence, he will be on early line favorite Bodemeister (9-5) in the Arkansas Derby. The thinking here is that the extreme outside post in the field of 11 won’t keep him from earning enough graded money to punch his ticket to Louisville.

He is very fast but not runoff fast, as his San Felipe indicated. To insure this, Bob Baffert is quietly removing blinkers, a tack that has worked profitably 36% of the time from a significant sample. He’s been working great, presumably sans eyewear.

On paper, Baffert has himself to beat. His Secret Circle is bidding to sweep the Oaklawn series that culminates in today’s 9 furlongs. The colt’s biggest obstacle, his stablemate notwithstanding, is today’s added sixteenth of a mile but the favorite will be a very tough out here.

We’re expecting big improvement from Najjaar who, while a late rally type, should be closer to the pace today than he was in the Rebel; Calvin Borel rides him back. We’ll trying getting fitting him into the exotics.

G1 Santa Anita Handicap winner Ron The Greek and G1 Donn Handicap hero Hymn Book deserves their role as the two early betting favorites and the respect of the competition, but two other rivals are more interesting on the parimutuel side.

Alternation (9-2) just loves this surface and he handles 9 furlongs very well. He comes up to this the right way and has top Midwest connections in Donnie Von Hemel. But it’s Yawanna Twist (6-1), with a trainer change from suspended-in-Arkansas Rick Dutrow to John Parisella who is the intriguing price shot.

His best Equiform figure was earned at a similar 1-3/16th miles trip in the Preakness, opened eyes in the G1 Carter last year and returned recently with a strong and fast victory in the G2 General George at Laurel in February.

He’s trained well at Belmont Park since and partners regularly with Mike Luzzi. Yawanna Twist’s tactical speed and a position outside quick-early rivals enables the opportunity for a perfect stalking trip, getting the jump on his proven Grade 1 rivals. He has a puncher’s chance in this group.

If a colt is capable of stepping up to defeat Hansen , we have no idea who that should be. White Cloud is primed for a top effort and if that’s not forthcoming here, his Derby prospects would wane considerably.

We’re confident that two rivals will run well. Dullahan (6-1) was an excellent second in his season’s debut behind and has come back to work brilliantly. He handles all surfaces well.

Ever So Lucky’s ability to handle Polytrack is an unknown but not what’s expected of him here. Despite an interrupted training schedule in SoFla this winter, he finished very well in the Swale while only ridden out.

A good workout doesn’t guarantee a good Polytrack effort but is an indication that if this colt handles the surface, he could pose the main danger to Hansen at a big price.

Written by John Pricci

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