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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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Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Older Alternatives My Friends


BALTIMORE, MD., May 15, 2012—So Bodemeister’s in, all the other speed is out, including the stressed out juvenile champion, and the Kentucky Derby runnerup will be loose on the Preakness lead at Old Hilltop come Saturday.

It finally stopped raining here and it was going to be beautiful through Saturday, but now there’s a 30 percent chance of thundershowers for the second jewel in the crown.

But the locals tell me this is the Mason-Dixon Line for weather, meaning it can resemble any other Delaware Valley-based area, which basically means a Northeastern U.S. weather pattern.

Or, apparently, it can be a little like Florida, meaning that the sun can be shining at Pimlico Race Course while golf-ball sized hail rains down on Ellicott City. I’m holding a good thought.

I’ll be watching the Yanks and Birds live on Tuesday night for two reasons: Can’t afford Yankees home games, and I’m betting my buddy that Doug O’Neill won’t one-hop it to the plate when he throws out the first pitch at Camden Yards. I insisted on, and got, 8-5.

But man does not live by Preakness alone. There are some older horses lurking about, such as the horse currently ranked 4th in the NTRA open poll, Oaklawn Park Handicap champion Alternation, the headliner in Friday’s resuscitated Pimlico Special.

Is he a one-track wonder or has developed very well for 3 to 4? Is Bodemeister going to regress? Will Doug O’Neill get the job done tonight? These are important questions.

While Alternation is a deserving favorite, the Special is no one-horse affair. Wood Memorial winner Toby’s Corner was third in both starts at 4; the fast key race Grade 2 General George sprinting and a similar finish when third to Fair Grounds freak Nate’s Mineshaft in the G2 New Orleans Handicap.

Lest anyone forget, trainer Graham Motion is a profitable 27% efficient with horses returning off similar 46-day layups.

Endorsement won the Texas Mile last out. Hymn Book won Gulfstream’s G1 Donn Handicap but rallied very wide behind Alternation in Hot Springs most recently.

Yawanna Twist won the General George then lacked aggressive handling while racing wide in at Oaklawn Park when third. In his only Pimlico start, he was beaten two lengths by Lookin At Lucky in last year’s Preakness.

And not least is Mission Impazible which, after winning last year’s New Orleans Handicap, finished second in three consecutive Grade 1s, including a nose loss in the Donn and a second in this New Orleans Handicap renewal.

Speaking of Todd Pletcher, he will have last year’s Jim Dandy and Travers winner, Stay Thirsty, waiting backstage. But first there’s the matter of Thursday’s third race at Belmont Park, the Vanlandingham overnight stakes, a good spot to get the 4-year-old started.

“He’s been training very well and we’ve kind of had a race around this time in mind for awhile, hopefully as a prep for the Suburban Handicap,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “The main goal for the summer is the Whitney,” adding “we’re happy to have him back.”

“It’s been a long time since the Breeders’ Cup, we’ve got to start somewhere, and this is a good spot,” said owner Repole, “even though this seems a little tougher than an average overnight stakes,” seemingly as anxious to get back in the spotlight as the colt.

Most of the danger to Stay Thirsty in his return is 8-5 second favorite Trickmeister, whose only defeat in a half dozen career starts came in this year’s Donn, his only start in 2012.

Other accomplished rivals are narrowly beaten 2011 Wood Memorial runnerup Arthur’s Tale, third favorite Joan’s Choice, extremely sharp with competitive Equiform figures, and multiple stakes-winning New York bred 3-year-old Swag Daddy.

“Bringing Stay Thirsty back this year was a no brainer and I’m excited,” said Repole. “He won the Jim Dandy, the Travers, and I think he’s going to be one of a really, really good group of older horses this year.”

Actually, the racing this year has been good in both divisions and among the fillies and mares as well. Too bad most of the headlines of 2012 have been made off track.

Written by John Pricci

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