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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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Sunday, May 05, 2013


From Derby Postscript to Triple Crown Prologue


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 5, 2013—Since the light bulb went off this winter, Kentucky Derby winner Orb has turned into a complete monster. He won the Florida Derby sitting relatively close to a half-mile in 48.40 and came from 16th off a half of 45.33 on Saturday while making his sloppy-track debut.

That’s the kind of versatility it took to win a Kentucky Derby—and the kind needed for a Triple Crown, too. First, there’s a stop-over in Baltimore. When that’s over, it will be back to his home barn at Belmont Park to take aim at racing history.

Fearless predictions: Shug McGaughey will not be pleased when forced to move his colt to the Belmont security barn in the days leading up to the Test of the Champion. Still, Orb has the best chance in the last 34 years to win all three…

It wasn’t necessary to await the Kentucky Derby results to know that Joel Rosario is a bona fide star. Showing confidence in his ability, he brought his tack from California to ride the big horses for the big Eastern outfits; Animal Kingdom and Orb certainly fit the bill.

This year, Rosario was in contention for leading rider throughout the Gulfstream Park meet, dominated the Keeneland session like no other in recent memory, and warmed up for Orb by winning 13 races in advance of Derby day at the Downs.

Rosario has great timing and strength, the right amount of aggressiveness, and, most significantly, hands that are reminiscent of Shoemaker and Day. A true race-rider, horses run for Rosario from anywhere on the racetrack...

Total betting of $130.5 million on this year’s Derby is testimony to the race’s popularity and the contentious form demonstrated by the division’s best sophomores.

Six horses, including the winner, were sent off between 5-1 and 9-1. Race handle was $3 million less than last year but there was one fewer starter, two ADWs with bet processing issues, and, most significantly, the track was sloppy…

As it appeared all year; this was not a banner crop of California-based three-year-olds. Only one made it to the dance, and the blinkers took Goldencents out of his best game—the blinkers worn by Palace Malice, that is. Goes to show that, somehow, some way, the Derby pace is always going to be hot…

No matter how many horses Todd Pletcher brings to the 2014 Kentucky Derby, the stat that will be read or heard most often is 1-for-36, which of is misleading given the number of multiple entrants in any given year. He’s provided with great ammunition, indeed, but you still have to get there. Just ask Bob Baffert, who probably wanted to keep his current profile on the down low, anyway…

Johnny Velazquez certainly looked no worse for the wear when he won a photo aboard Authenticity in Friday’s Grade 2 La Troienne by a head over On Fire Baby, who challenged the winner the length of the stretch. But given his dedication to the job, don’t you have to wonder whether or not he’s channeling Derek Jeter when asked about his physical condition?...

There’s no question that it appeared Calvin Borel was not concerned for his rival when he angled inside at the start of the Kentucky Oaks and bumped Dreaming Of Julia hard, effectively eliminating her. But to say it was a deliberately vicious act is absurd.

Unlike Rajiv Maragh in the Belmont, Borel was not taken off any recent winner by the trainer; quite the contrary. And after being named as a last minute replacement aboard a serious Derby favorite by Todd Pletcher, putting that relationship in jeopardy doesn’t make sense. Further, didn't he ride Rachel Alexandra for the owners of Dreaming Of Julia?

But I will say this: After bearing into Dreaming Of Julia--who also got bumped from the inside as various fillies were reacting to Beholder’s right turn when she left the starting gate, Borel never hesitated or turn to see what trouble he had wrought…

There were no roses for Rosie but it was quite the weekend nonetheless. She won graded stakes aboard Take Charge Indy and Delauney and missed a show finish in the Derby by two heads on Mylute, a 30-1 early line chance but 15-1 ante post, a tribute to this country’s second leading rider…

In the Derby Profile Wednesday night, I wrote: “Golden Soul…is developing nicely at 3, showing improvement on the Equiform scale from last season. While he is marching in the right direction, his 72½ and 72 in his two most recent starts are much too slow to contend in this spot. A nice horse, a good effort here could punch his ticket to Baltimore; not today.”

To be right--and be so wrong, twice--cost us dearly, exotically speaking:

Saturday was almost the day for well-handled Golden Soul, but Dallas Stewart said the Belmont would be next, not the Preakness. (Did anyone notice that as the Derby horses entered the paddock tunnel pre-race, it was Stewart holding the shank and not the groom)?

Much was made pre-race of Doug O’Neill’s loyalty to Kevin Krigger, and the successful relationship between Hall of Famers D. Wayne Lukas and Gary Stevens, both worthy storylines, but perhaps it will be Stewart’s loyalty that will resurrect the business of Robby Albarado. Stories like these make the principals easy to root for.

Written by John Pricci

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