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, June 29, 2014


Rough Riding Saturday at Belmont Park


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, June 29, 2014—I couldn’t help but wonder if Johnny Velazquez was going to go all Vasquez-McCarthy/Romans-Musselman on the Ortiz brothers, Irad and Jose, for two occurrences that happened within two hours of each other on the racetrack at Belmont Park.

In the Manila Stakes, Irad was aboard the heavy favorite Green Mask for Christophe Clement; Johnny was riding the very sharp price shot, the appropriately named Long On Value.

Virtually in a jackpot from the start, Irad was doing his best to settle his rank mount while between horses as Velazquez saved ground rating on the fence. Apparently looking for daylight, Irad raced thisclose to Johnny, so much so that be bounced him off the fence several times before leaving the backstretch.

But the worst of it took place on the turn. Their positions on the course virtually unchanged, Irad tried to cut the corner approaching headstretch, angling his mount inside. In doing so, he cut off Long On Value in the process, forcing Velazquez to check out of harm’s way.

Losing his position, Johnny had to await the straight before he could angle his mount to the outside for running room. Long On Value closed strongly through the lane but the late running Cabo Cat got the first run to victory.

It’s anyone’s guess that the incident cost Velazquez the win but it can be said with some certitude that Long On Value would have finished closer.

Still trapped inside, Irad continued his bull-headed ways. He angled Green Mask outside in midstretch, herding Bashart for a sixteenth of a mile, likely costing his uncoupled stablemate fourth money. Velazquez was irate and made his feelings known in the jocks’ room afterwards.

Two hours earlier, Jose Ortiz, talented enough to have a five-winner Thursday, had the mount on the speedy Princess Violet. From our multiple head-on-replays vantage point, Jose rode carelessly and put Velazquez in a dangerous spot.

It is one thing to have a target on your back, as did a rare 1-20 favorite, Untapable, in the Grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes, and you'd expect your rivals to ride your horse, too. Riders get paid to box their rivals in, tighten things up--race-ride, but not to the extent someone could get hurt.

We’re not saying that Jose set out to hurt Velazquez who, incidentally, is not that far removed from surgery that removed his spleen following a Breeders’ Cup spill last fall and, coincidentally, hit the ground on Wednesday when his turf mount tired and collided with another rival. But I saw no concerted effort from Ortiz to straighten his mount at point of contact.

In Wednesday's race, parenthetically, Jose rode runnerup Ballerina Belle, the filly placing gamely after Ortiz allowed her to drift in through upper stretch. Shortly thereafter, Roses for Romney, having been placed in close quarters, clipped the heels of Ballerina Belle and fell fatally to the ground.

In all, three riders were unseated in Wednesday’s eighth race. Subsequently, Jose Ortiz was given three days by the stewards who never posted an inquiry, allowing the result to stand in a race where three riders hit the deck and one horse lost its life.

The Mother Goose, the field broke cleanly and straight away from the barrier out of the mile and a sixteenth chute. But as the leaders reached the gap where the clubhouse turn meets the straightaway, Ortiz on Princess Violet, racing from a chute for the first time, veered in sharply toward the open space, bumping hard with Untapable.

Simultaneously, Joel Rosario aboard House Rules, was trying to get off the rail as if he sensed what was coming. He attempted to move away from the rail so as not to put himself or his mount in harm’s way but at that point it was bang and bang.

Velazquez was forced to check sharply or clip heels. Soon thereafter, Johnny dropped back and began to place his mount outside in about the 4-path. Ground loss is the least of it when you’re on tons the best filly.

Here how the Equibase chart read for the Mother Goose:

“UNTAPABLE broke well, was forced inward after the runnerup came in suddenly and sharply approaching the end of chute, got checked, then appeared to rub shoulders with HOUSE RULES while carrying that rival over to the rail afterwards, recovered, and was steered towards the middle of the strip…

“PRINCESS VIOLET broke on top and maintained the advantage, arrived at the beginning of the main track with UNTAPABLE in close attendance to her inside, veered in sharply, herding that opponent towards the inside and into making light contact with HOUSE RULES…

“HOUSE RULES left the starting gate in good order, was moving willingly when getting forced over towards the rail coming to the end of the chute from pressure originating from the runner up, dropped back considerably with the loss of momentum…”

The incident did not result in a disqualification since Princess Violet finished behind the winner, but that doesn’t mean the very talented Ortiz shouldn’t ponder his tactics while on his enforced vacation.

Velazquez has been a mentor to both Ortiz brothers but it might be true what is said about unpunished good deeds.

In any case, things are getting a little sloppy out there between the fences. With Saratoga fast approaching, it may be the perfect time for the stewards to have a sit down with everyone in the room.


Untapable, Unbeatable

If the racing season ended tomorrow, Untapable would win the divisional title by unanimous acclamation. There simply is no more for her to prove against her peers.

The filly is on her way to Steve Asmussen’s barn at Saratoga’s Oklahoma training track and yesterday she got a 9-1/4 length head start, racing a mile and a sixteenth and taking only 1:41.48 to get there.

Saratoga has a couple of worthy prizes for Untapable to win, namely the Coaching Club American Oaks and storied Alabama. Trainer Steve Asmussen brought up the CCOA Sunday morning and said he likely will have an "interesting conversation" with the owner about the possibility of a run against males in the Haskell Invitational.

The million dollar nine furlong Grade over a positional surface like Monmouth’s makes the most sense if the idea is to meet and defeat the boys. Interesting to see how the rest of her season shakes out.


Wild Horse Wildcat

Wildcat Red is back and he returned with a vengeance.

Making his first start since being outrun in the Kentucky Derby, the competition ran relays at the 1-5 favorite in yesterday’s Quality Road overnight stakes but Luis Saez, who flew south for the mount, didn’t rattle.

Saez allowed ‘Red’ to maintain his position on the rail off the leader’s flanks until he gave the speedster his cue.

Wildcat Red took the lead approaching the far turn, widened on his own on the turn, was ridden out to open daylight and was geared down in the final hundred yards, winning by 10-1/4 and timed in 1:42.70 for the mile and a sixteenth.

Trainer Jose Garaffalo said that the colt came out of the race in good form and will be pointed to the Haskell. His style also fits the Shore track ideally.

Written by John Pricci

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