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 30, 2017


Great Work by Man and Beast This Holiday Weekend


Disclaimer: For the curmudgeons who hate when turf writers report on the accomplishments of “the super-trainer” and their horses then read no further. This piece is not for you so you might as well surf right on out of here now

While the recent holiday was a solemn commemoration of heroes and patriots past and present, the weekend was a reminder to racing fans just how good this game can be at its highest levels.

If one were to remove Bob Baffert and Chad Brown from the holiday weekend equation, not many other major storylines would exist. For a journalist, ignoring these stories would tantamount to dereliction of duty.

In the past, we’ve never been shy to criticize some of his methods, deeds and words of Mr. Baffert. But since the goal is to strive for balance, we must recognize excellent horsemanship. His work with the eight-month layup Cupid on Saturday was extraordinary.

The first hint that something good would happen for the 4-year-old returnee in the Grade 1 mile and a quarter Gold Cup was when Rafael Bejarano opted to ride the Tapit gray rather than stay with eventual post-time favorite American Freedom.

And when you dissect Cupid’s workline, only one name could come to mind in comparison; the legendary Charlie Whittingham. The following are the dozen published workouts reported in BRIS past performances dating back to February:
21May SA 6f 1:12H 3/10; 12May SA 7f 1:25 2/5 Hg 1/2; 16Apr SA 7f 1:25 3/5 H 2/2; 10Apr SA 7f 1:25 1/5 Hg 1/1; 04Apr SA 1m 1:38 H 1/1; 27Mar SA 5f 1:01 1/5 H 22/53; 20Mar SA 5f :59 1/5 H 1/26; 14Mar SA 5f :59 2/5 H 2/23; 07Mar SA 5f 1:00 2/5 H 6/28; 01Mar SA 4f :48 H 9/43; 23Feb SA 4f :47 3/5 H 7/78 and 16Feb SA 4f :48 3/5 H 52/146. All works recorded on fast tracks.

That’s 66 furlongs in all, 8-1/4 miles of timed workouts, and consider how the pattern was built: It began with three half-miles, slowly at first then gradually faster. Following that came four 5-furlong moves--the heart of any training regimen. There, too, the tempo increased until it reached the Whittingham part of the program:

The fast and strong one-mile stamina builder, followed by three 7-furlong drills, with a capital ‘D’, two from the gate before concluding with a sharp 6-furlongs in 1:12—not watch-busting but fast enough to sharpen and continue stamina building.

With stablemate American Freedom setting the tempo under Martin Garcia by making Midnight Storm track the pace instead of setting it, Bejarano sat in the cat-bird seat fourth waiting for the right time to move; the far turn.

As he inched his mount up closer then abreast of the leaders, the rider was showing confidence with each measured step, taking command soon after entering the straight. Cupid won with some reserves in the tank, actually widening his advantage on the gallop out.

Parenthetically, there was at incident at the start that caused a bit of an Internet and Twitter stir. Garcia’s mount broke out of hand and bore out into the improving Follow Me Crev for several strides immediately after the start.

The chatter was that while the bump might not have been intentional, Garcia was in no hurry to correct his course. After several head-on views, it was impossible for us to determine whether Garcia was deliberate in his reaction to the incident: As is.

The stewards explained afterward that they did not see sufficient cause to post an inquiry. But in a Grade 1 race, in which the winning stablemate might have benefitted, a look-see was indicated.

Follow Me Crev finished well for place but it is extremely doubtful that the incident cost him the race. However, the California stewards owed bettors enough respect to at least light the lamp, however briefly, to signal that they were paying attention.

As far as the winner is concerned, Baffert had it right pre-race: “It’s not ideal; it’s not my normal routine,” Baffert told Daily Racing Form. “But the race is not coming up . There are nice horses but there are no superstars.”

Time will tell whether that assessment also applies to Tapit’s gray son.

The talent, courage and heart of the great Lady Eli—note the ‘G’ word--once again was on the display as she won the appropriately named Grade 1 Gamely, doing all the dirty work necessary to get her job done.

Lady Eli now owns a Grade 1 victory at two, three, four and five. Of course, for the mare to be alive at all after contracting laminitis in both front legs after stepping on nail is extraordinary enough. To be this effective is a tribute to her amazing constitution and her trainer’s horsemanship.

Making her second start this year following a head defeat to Dickinson in Keeneland’s G1 Jenny Wiley, Lady Eli was compelled to keep Grade 1 local speedster Avenge honest as she sat off her hip before pouncing, then holding off strong-finishing Goodyearforroses.

With ears pricking, Lady Eli galloped back to the winners circle with good energy, almost as if she hadn’t even run.

Because of her history, I hold my breath a little every time she goes postward, as many fans would. She’s the epitome of what it means to be a Thoroughbred.

The rest of Brown’s weekend was just as spectacular. On Saturday, he broke the maiden of first-time starter Rubilinda, who made it look easy by finishing with a rush and drawing out after missing the start completely. It was the sensational Frankel’s first American win.

Brown’s weekend concluded with a hat trick of New York-bred stakes as he took the Mount Vernon with Fourstarcrook, the Critical Eye with an exciting undefeated Kathryn the Wise, before winning the Kingston with Offering Plan.

Brown nearly won a fourth stakes, the Bouwerie, but Noble Freud settled for second following a troubled beginning. Some guys just done have any luck.




Written by John Pricci

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