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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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Wednesday, June 06, 2012


Belmont 144: Contenders and Pretenders, Updated Comments with Post Draw and Odds


ELMONT, NY, June 6, 2012—As anyone not going through life with blinkers on already knows, the Triple Crown has been in waiting for 34 years to welcome the next Thoroughbred immortal. At this writing, 10 rivals are set to deny I’ll Have Another that coronation. Let’s assess the chances of each of those, and that of the Derby and Preakness champion, who seek to survive Saturday’s “Test of the Champion.” A thumbnail analysis, listed alphabetically:

1. STREET LIFE 12-1-- Not only is he getting good at the right time but he's never regressed in five lifetime starts. Of greater significance is that his best effort came when a fast finishing third in the Peter Pan on this surface May 12 despite a wide trip, showing marked improvement with the addition of blinkers. Trainer Chad Brown very familiar with spotlight events and the late developer has trained very well for this last Sunday, including a strong gallop-out. There’s stamina on the dam’s side of the pedigree and the 73¼ earned in the traditional Belmont prep was accompanied by a New Pace Top. A must-use in exotics.

2. UNSTOPPABLE U 50-1-- is two-for-two lifetime, including a win over the surface, and is coming off a Soft Win, but is woefully shy on experience and his performance figures are notably inferior to the group. Likely will be an early pace factor given his inside draw and the presence of a late running, more accomplished stablemate, Atigun.

3. UNION RAGS 6-1-- Many believed this was the colt that would be standing on the brink of immortality. Instead, it will be redemption that his connections and fans seek. The million dollar question is did the two troubled trips that prevented his best performances in the Florida and Kentucky Derbies, necessitating a jockey change, disguise the fact that he did not make a developmental transition from two to three? The 76½ earned for his stylish win in the Fountain of Youth was a breakthrough performance and a supposed harbinger of bigger and better. The large, sweeping racetrack will suit the long-striding colt by permitting him to get into a comfortable rhythm. Loves the Elmont ground and the 5-furlong :59 second breeze at his Fair Hill base indicates he’s in winning form. Trainer Michael Matz would probably love to switch post positions with I'll Have Another so that he can track the favorite and not the other way around. Still looms the most likely spoiler.

4. ATIGUN 30-1-- Will find every ounce of his stout pedigree needed to handle this group, a tribe that’s deeper than it might appear at first blush. Getting good at the right time, he has paired 73- on the Equiform scale, showing desired incremental improvement. His recent Soft Win indicates a forward move is forthcoming. He has enough early speed to stay close enough and he can rally, showing controlled speed and energy in his most recent breeze. A must inclusion for deep-pocketed super-exotic players.

5. DULLAHAN 5-1-- His Derby travails and excellent show finish have been well documented and the karma around this horse is excellent. Trainer Dale Romans, who originally had second thoughts, later said that principal owner Jerry Crawford made the right decision by skiping the Preakness. His extraordinary Belmont blowout in :45 4/5 was reminiscent of the super sharp work he had before winning the Blue Grass. He gets over Big Sandy very well and he’ll be closer to the pace as a result of his speedy trial and quasi-inside position. Although it seems counterintuitive, the concern is for a pedigree that might fall short of the task. Since going long on both dirt and synthetics, however, his performance figures have been straight forward without regression, a competitive 77- for his Derby effort.

6. RAVELO'S BOY 50-1-- An extremely tall order. After impressng favorably in modest company early this winter, was virtually eliminated in Reveron's Gulfstream Park Derby before suffering through two very-wide trips at Tampa Bay Downs. Hasn't run since the Tampa Bay Derby. Note that, according to BRIS statistics, the trainer is only 9% effective in two categories; his 2012 win average and with shippers overall, yet he's profitable in both areas. Meaning? His horses outrun their odds.

7. FIVE SIXTEEN 50-1-- To his credit, he's never regressed since racing in distance events this year, befitting a son of the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup winner, Invasor. But his pedigree is light on the dam’s side, he’s woefully slow, and is eligible for the bottom rung on the allowance ladder. Not here.

8. GUYANA STAR DWEEJ 50-1-- Remember Dosage methodology? Well, this Eddington colt is the only member of the field with two stamina points in each distance wing of his dosage profile, making him, according to Dr. Roman, anyway, the most stoutly bred runner in the field. But he remains eligible for preliminary allowances and did regress off paired 71s. He will stay the trip but is not talented enough to make a meaningful impact.

9. PAYNTER 8-1-- Although trainer Bob Baffert would disagree, he's not quite as brilliant as stablemate Bodemeister but owns tremendous upside. It takes a special three-year-old to go from a 5½ furlong maiden event to a Grade 1 at a mile and an eighth and live to tell the tale. Not only did he survive; he prospered. He was beaten a mere 3¾ lengths by the eventual Derby and Preakness winner in the Santa Anita Derby and, after a game placing in the G3 Derby Trial, returned with a top figure score on the Preakness undercard. He's never regressed and the 77½ earned at Pimlico was the equal of I’ll Have Another’s Derby figure. The wild card of Belmont 144.

10. OPTIMIZER 20-1-- With the exception of I’ll Have Another, the only three-year-old to complete in every leg of the triad. A deep closer of questionable consistency, the dynamics of the Belmont work against his running style. When trainer Wayne Lukas upset the Belmont with Commendable, the pace scenario worked in his favor. Not this time. Colt will win a stakes event before he turns four—on the grass.

11. I’LL HAVE ANOTHER 4/5-- There’s something happening here, a harmonic convergence that’s smoothing his path toward racing history, including the wide draw that will give the remarkable Mario Gutierrez valuable options. He’s still relatively fresh---even if the Belmont will be his fourth race in nine weeks—and he continues to look energetic and fluid in his gallops. Clearly, trainer Doug O’Neill shares the same zone with his runner. Gifted with speed, athleticism and dogged determination, he has a partner who’s been otherworldly unflappable, nothing short of brilliant. The nasal strip issue is overblown and he remains the horse to beat. His injury-marred Hopeful notwithstanding, he never has regressed in his career and his Preakness 79¼ gives him a clear edge over the competition.

12. MY ADONIS 20-1-- The last horse entered was the first one drawn and he got the extreme outside. He has some talent as evidenced earlier this spring with back-to-back figures that were competitive with the group during that interval. But now comes the hard choice: Did he regress in his last two starts off two straight top efforts or was the competition too much for him? Either way, he must make too much improvement to be a win factor and the wide draw doesn't help his money prospects, either. However, the connections won this last year with Ruler On Ice and Ramon Dominguez takes the mount.

***

BETS N' PIECES

The Show Will Go On: Despite pickets lines at the entrance gates to Belmont Park, Saturday's race card will take place on schedule, that you can bet. In addition to maintenance workers, the job action includes the assistant starters. Head starter Roy WIlliams, part of the management team, has gathered a skilled gate crew from different parts of the country to assist the horse should the unions and NYRA management fail to agree on a contract. Gov. Cuomo issued a statement Wednesday advising both sides to settle the differences amicably before Friday's deadline...

Good Luck, Dad: NBC producer Rob Hyland is too much of a professional to act otherwise, but the post race celebrations would be a little more joyful should Union Rags pull off an upset of I'll Have Another. Hyland was recently married to the former Michelle Matz, daughter of trainer Michael Matz...

NBC & NBCSN All Over Belmont 144: Beginning 3 p.m. Saturday, the NBC Sports Network, having gathered perhaps the best team of racing analysts and reporters ever, and hosted by rising star Laffit Pincay III, will bring Triple Crown fans all the pre-game Belmont storylines and supporting undercard stakes until 4:30 p.m. They will return from 7 to 7:30 p.m. for post game race analysis...The NBC network, on air from 4:30 to 7 p.m., will handle the Triple Crown coverage exclusively, with features on Steve Cauthen's recollections of Affirmed and Mario Gutierrez's roots in El Higo, Mexico, as far from the Mahattan skyline as it gets... Bob Costas will have a 1-on-1 with I'll Have Another's controversial trainer, Doug O'Neill.

Written by John Pricci

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