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, May 05, 2012

Cookie Monster

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, Derby Day 2012--

In the end, it was the storylines exacta of an unknown 25-year-old from Hastings Park via Mexico winning America’s Race in his first Kentucky Derby ride at the direct expense of a Hall of Fame trainer who survived a heart attack two months ago, a half world away from Churchill Downs, only to watch the lightly raced colt named for his son nearly survive the fastestcollective fractions in Derby history.

Not even at the Kentucky Derby can you make this stuff up. Bob Baffert watched the stretch run as Bodemeister, named for his son—his son named for one of Baffert’s sports idols—opened what appeared an insurmountable lead, but the early fractions were beginning to take a toll.

Simultaneously, Mario Gutierrez, who engineered a perfect 10-furlong trip every step of the way, set I’ll Have Another down soon after entering the straight and ran Bodemeister down inside the final furlong, just like he ran down Creative Cause in the Santa Anita Derby.

And, so, after a minor injury in Saratoga’s Hopeful, the decision was made to give the colt all the time he needed. Well not only does time heal all wounds, but it allows equine juveniles to grow into equine men.

Three starts at three and nary a loss on his card. It was nothing short of a remarkable performance by a top class $11,000 bargain purchase. No, you can’t make this up. It’s called Thoroughbred racing and without dreams and improbable stories such as these, there'd be good reason to padlock the gates. But a game built on hope will never run out of these kind of storylines.

Here’s one man’s initial impression to the final order of finish of Kentucky Derby 138, taken in inverse order as they crossed the finish line, from 20th to first:

20. Daddy Long Legs: UAE Derby winner didn’t beat a horse—and that includes Trinniberg.

19. Take Charge Indy: Something went wrong--had to--as Calvin stopped riding him with three furlongs to go after having great position approaching the half-mile pole.

18. Prospective: Big longshot, true, but he was awfully disappointing. The Derby, and the class of the competition, will do that.

17. Trinniberg: Was rated off Bodemeister; much maligned speedster still finished ahead of three horses. Well, Mr. Parboo, you can now say you started a horse in the Kentucky Derby.

16. Gemologist: Light on seasoning without have been seriously tested in battle, this still was a most disappointing finish to what had been an undefeated five race career.

15. Sabercat: Paid for his two-race prep schedule but still should have run a little better.

14. Done Talking: He may be slow but he tries, good for him.

13. El Padrino: Surprisingly good finish considering pre-race antics.

12. Alpha: Wood injury and missed workout too much to overcome.

11. Optimizer: The coach’s extreme longshot beat half the field; better finish than many of his Derby favorites considering…

10. Daddy Knows Best: Trained a lot better than he ran.

9. Hansen: Did fairly well considering he was a complete washy mess in the paddock and post parade. Given his rank pre-Derby gallop, there’s something going on here and it can’t be good.

8. Rousing Sermon: The hot pace was there for Hollendorfer trainee but the ability was lacking.

7. Union Rags: Officially trouble-prone with tardy, bumped break and traffic entering far turn. Can’t see Julien remaining on this colt.

6. Liaison: Martin Garcia was right; this colt did deserve a chance in this race. All things considered, he ran great.

5. Creative Cause: Loomed briefly as if third was within his grasp. Disappointing fifth as it turned out but still gave SoCal and 1-2-5 Derby finish. That’s strong.

4. Went The Day Well: Finished about as strongly as Animal Kingdom did last year from the little was saw off the gallop out, that was strong too. Belmont Stakes anyone?

3. Dullahan: Came with what is now his patented late run. Dale Romans was right; he can run on any surface.

2. Bodemeister: If he comes out of this well, he will be the favorite in Baltimore. Did not deserve to lose after those splits!

WINNER: I’ll Have Another: Now everyone knows for sure how good a colt this is, what a great job was done by Doug O’Neill, and meet Mario Gutierrez, budding star.

And props to Evan Hammonds of Blood Horse and Jon White of HRTV for divining the winner of Derby 138 in the HRI consensus box. Well done.

5:04 p.m. When racing folks refer to Joe Bravo as Jersey Joe, the familiarity is really feint praise. What gets lost is his experience on turf and while the Grade 1 Churchill Turf Classic is 9 furlongs, crafty Jersey Joe won it about 10 strides away from the barrier.

After breaking from the rail position, Bravo angled the speedy Little Mike out about four paths from the inside into the firmer going and led a talented group of grass specialists a merry chase, showing at once that he is of this class and that he's more than a one-track pony, leaving his love for Gulfstream Park behind him, just as he did his nine rivals. Slim Shady was second and Brilliant Speed was a game, late finishing third.

4:01 p.m. Just before the NBC parent network came on line, the first of three straight Grade 1s was run and a new star was born; Groupie Doll, which, as it turns out, is a lot more than a Polytrack specialist. In fact, over a track tightened by heavy overnight rains and dried out to the point that water was added to the surface, Groupie Doll became the new track record holder, racing 7 furlons in 1:20.44.

Even over the glib surface, she was really rolling!

It was open lengths back to last year's filly sprint champion, Musical Romance, who also held a daylight advantage over the third finisher, longshot Magical Feeling.

3:34 p.m. The NBCSports network continues to do excellent work, this time with Bob Costas setting the table regarding the sport's myriad problems, notably the spate of breakdowns in New York this winter, the effect that high purses for the poorest horses on the grounds had on that situation, the lack of contral authority, and the ensuing Lasix controversy, followed by the takes of co-hosts Pincay and Bailey.

The Hall of Fame rider said he is more concerned with pain-masking agents than Lasix, but that he would prefer, as a rider, the get a leg up on horses limited to hay, oats and water. Good stuff.

Further, there were two features on Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher; hope they're repeated for the national audience--after the Red Carpet nonsense, of course.

2:46 p.m. Jerry Bailey hits another home run with his take on the "Apollo Curse," explaining how without a juvenile foundation, horses are playing catchup the entire spring of their 3-year-old season; at the gate, racing experience, and added conditioning.

Easy to root for, Shackleford is back! And it wasn't the easiest of trips, either. Put in between horses on the turn when Mike Smith on Amazombie put pressure on Jesus Castanon to make a decision, Shackleford's rider went on with it, Smith made his serious bid in midstretch but Shackleford repulsed that bid.

A terrific effort. Will Dale Romans bring him back for the Met Mile on Memorial Day? Don't be surprised.

1:47 p.m. Finally saw a turf race, the TwinSpires Turf Sprint, and two observations came immediately to mind: The turf course looked honest as well, and the place finishing favorite, Bridgetown, set a hot, pressured pace anf was right there at the finish. The winning Great Attack, meanwhile, came from the clouds down the middle of the course. Honest, indeed.

The second is that all of America now knows what made Joel Rosario able to win seven consecutive riding titles in SoCal; what a finish!

Not surprised that Union Rags is still the current betting favorite but not sure I understand why he is only 9-2 in such a competitive field. Guess we'll find out in a little more that four hours.

11:55 a.m. Derby Kitten too short in off the turfer; using 2, 6 and 12 here.

At the moment, Laffit Pincay Jr. and Jerry Bailey are hitting it out of the park on NBCSports. Bailey gave a great explanation vis a vis "the steroid era" being over now and how today's trainers are adjusting their training styles to adapt to muscale-massed horses racing on those same narrow legs. Pincay simply is just a buddy star and we're happy he's promoted to the varsity; well done.

11:19 a.m. If it's a portent, Julien won the early double and probably learned a lot about the surface, that went from sloppy to muddy to fast in less than three races. We said it was fast drying eralier, but wow!

As for Leparoux, one came from far back, the other showing speed on the fence, so he probably already has an idea of what he wants to do with Union Rags, currently the 9-2 betting favorite. Bodemeister is second choice at 7-1 and undefeated Gemologist is 8-1. The track still needs closer inspection and we won't know how the turf will play until we see a race over it.

We will be blogging throughout the day with the latest information and observations, so if you're following along on NBC Sports, keep those laptops on.

As of 8 a.m. EDT, the Churchill Downs main track was "sloppy" and the turf course was labeled "good." According to reports, the forecast for Louisville calls for mostly cloudy skies with a high near 85 with a 50% chance of intermittent precipitation, less than a quarter inch total. The wind is from the west what little there is of it; 3-5 mph.

Training from 6-8 a.m. was cancelled primarily due to lightning. Severe overnight thunderstorms produced at least 1 1/4 inches of rainfall. The track was graded and sealed. The surface will be harrowed and floated throughout the morning in an effort to dry out the surface. Churchill Downs in the spring is an extremely fast drying surface; amazingly so, really.

* * *

9:13 a.m.: Track condition will make all the difference in my wagering today and I will tread very likely early on; not big fan of wet tracks but if any track plays as close to honestly as possible, it's Churchill Downs. Going into the day, it's a terrific betting card, per usual, the kind of day where one or two hits will more than carry the afternoon.

I do, however, reserve the right to over-bet America's Race; I consider it my patriotic duty. Back later, time to fund the account!

Written by John Pricci

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