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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Friday, May 02, 2014

Use’m and Lose’m

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 2, 2014—It’s one of the first things they teach you in Wiseguy School: You’re not sure what to do with the fave; you’ve got a hunch and you want to bet a bunch. What to do?

“You use’m, then you lose’m,” kid.

That’s the dilemma for me in Derby 140. What do I do with California Chrome. Do I wiseguy my way out of a winner, or do I believe my lyin’ eyes?

All horses have issues, some issues are bigger, some not so much. For all his brilliance and power, California Chrome’s hind legs need treatment from time to time, conventional treatment, acupuncture, whatever it takes.

But I’m sure it’s an issue that trainer Art Sherman and his staff can deal with. That’s the way it is with fast horses sometimes; slow ones don’t run fast or hard enough to do themselves any harm.

It’s those hind end issues that occasionally cause the Derby favorite to break a half-beat slowly. This race is unkind to horses that have gate issues on race day.

But there’s more to it than that. California Chrome, breaking from post position 5, has two quick gate horses to his inside; Vicar’s In Trouble—which had better break quickly from the dreaded rail or risk running into the fence—and Uncle Sigh, which adds blinkers to make him even quicker.

On the favorite’s immediate right is another speedster, Samraat, and a couple of more stalls away is very fast Wildcat Red. The potential for a speed jam is there as is the possibility of a tardy break. And at 2-1, or thereabouts, in his first start outside SoCal?

Of course, if the Santa Anita Derby version of California Chrome shows up in Louisville, this group could be in big trouble. If not, things really open up. What to do?

Use'm and lose’m.

The problem here is that there are some many ways to go after the favorite: There’s Intense Holiday, the training star of Derby 140.

There’s his stablemate Danza, also training well, and Candy Boy, getting good right now and loving his time in the Blue Grass, and Samraat, experienced but still learning, and a throwback energizer-bunny of a horse named Medal Count, and...

There are a few others worth of mention but why bother; all have pluses, all have minuses. It’s horse racing; it’s why you gamble on it.

We’ll give this a little more thought and catch up later in the Feature Race section. Hey, anybody see that filly today?

Unbeatable Untapable

Some good favorites win and then there’s Untapable, the filly that turned the Kentucky Oaks into her own private party. And it’s likely the 1:48.68 will come up pretty good with the speed boys.

Good enough to tackle colts in the Preakness? I think we all should keep our shirts on until at least 6:24 p.m. on Saturday. But that WAS special.

Her margin was 4-1/2 lengths over a filly that won both of her previous starts going long impressively. And when Fashion Gate hopped at the start and broke behind the field, an anticipated lively pace became pretty pedestrian, an opening half-mile in 47.80.

Rosie Napravnik had My Miss Sophia and Javier Castellano in her sights throughout. You might even say that with their better position, Castellano’s filly had a first-run edge. She did but Tapiture ran right on by with little urging.

Rosie and her filly were in complete control and if her final time was indeed a regression, I’d love to see her when she's really on her game.

Untapable was a little hot leaving the paddock and in the post parade but she was a cool customer on the track, elevating her Churchill Downs slate to 3-for-3.

She won the storied Kentucky Oaks as easy as she worked the other morning for the biggest race of her career. Steve Asmussen, who had her ready a week ago, was relieved that he could keep her on the ground all week.

He was also relieved for other reasons the whole world knows about. And if they hadn’t heard about the PETA video sting, Asmussen reminded the television audience. Twice.

We thought Tapiture’s recent wins were so spectacular that he might have been vulnerable to a regression and tried to beat her with Unbridled Forever. The sixth betting choice ran well all the way to finish third, but the Oaks was a mismatch.

Tapiture just might be one of the ones.

Written by John Pricci

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