John Pricci 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, 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, July 02, 2017

Fast Cash Saturday at Gulfstream

For Imperial Hint, it was at once the good news and the bad news. The good news was that his comprehensive 4-3/4 length victory in the Grade 3 Smile Sprint earned him a free berth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

The bad news is that when he arrives he will need to say hello to his little friends, Sprint colleagues Drefong, Mind Your Biscuits and Whitmore, among many others, poor form notwithstanding.

Of course, defending champion Drefong has yet to make his four year old debut, which is more than a bit curious even if a repeat at Del Mar on the first Saturday of November is the #1 target. Then again, it’s Baffert with a fresh, lightly raced animal. Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, Luis Carvajal Jr., once long-time assistant to old school Florida favorite Bob Durso, will enjoy his 15 minutes which figures to grow longer with every win the four-year-old son of Imperialism compiles.

Imperial Hint had earned vaunted negative Thoro-Graph figures while winning three straight into Saturday’s Grade 2 Smile on Gulfstream Park’s Summit of Speed card and likely will have earned another by making a sun-baked dry surface appear glib with six furlongs in 1:09.23.

“I wanted to see him win like this,” his trainer said. So what’s next? “It could be Saratoga.” The Grade 1 Vanderbilt at six furlongs on July 29 would be the likely candidate. And it probably should be.

Carvajal thought enough of the colt to bring him to Dubai for the Golden Shaheen in March but kept him in the barn after he spiked a fever. Showing a deft hand, he kept Imperial Hint there for a month and freshened him. “It might have helped him out, given him time to refresh.”

Javier Castellano, riding in New York on Friday, Florida on Saturday and will spend his Sunday in Toronto, enjoyed the ride thoroughly.

After running up on heels entering the straight, “we switched off the bridle and went through on the rail nice and easy in the tiniest path,’ said Castellano. “I loved the way he finished. He’s a nice horse, I think he’s going to improve a lot.”

Castellano was not the only New York-based rider who had fun Saturday. Luis Saez doubled up, taking the Azalea with outsider Who’s the Lady for local favorite Kathleen O’Connell, and the win-and-in G2 Princess Rooney with Curlin’s Approval.

Had this been winter instead of opening day of the summer meet, Curlin’s Approval would have been more like 9-5 than the 9-2 she returned yesterday. Bettors had their doubts thinking she went off form, a result of over-aggressive placement. But not Saturday’s spot.

After racing her back too quickly on the turnback for some “easy” G2 Inside Information coin, Marty Wolfson freshened her 63 days, ran her long off that break in Churchill’s G3 Matron, where she never picked up her feet. She returned home, where she won twice at the 7F distance.

“We put the speed back in her,” said principal owner and former trainer Happy Alter, and the package was completed when after some blistering blowouts, the connections reached out for Saez, 2-for-2 on the filly. He’s now 3-for-3 following Saturday’s 4-1/2 length score in an eye-opening 1:21.68.

“Some people thought she might have been off form,” Alter added, “but I thought she needed freshening.” Improving five-year-old Distinta finished well for place, as did New York-based favorite Lightstream, a rallying third after being wrangled back by Castellano and altering course inside for the drive.

Grade at last, grade at last, thank the racing gods, Three Rules is a graded winner at last. Given his talent and toughness, the G3 Carry Back vs. three-year-olds was the right antidote. Although he won the In Reality going long last summer, the rest of his two-turn life hasn’t worked out.

His good third to Gunnevera in the highly rated Fountain of Youth was sandwiched between off-the-board runs in the BC Juvenile and Florida Derby, albeit some extenuating circumstances in the former but not the latter.

Returning from a 48-day break, Three Rules was a willing third from the pole in the 6F Chick Lang on a good Preakness day track after having to gently tap on the brakes at one point. Saturday’s run was easier even if there were some mid-race traffic concerns.

Uncharacteristically rated in seventh despite stretching beneath a reuniting with Cornelio Velasquez--undefeated in five lifetime rides--the team made a decisive thrust between rivals nearing headstretch, tipping into the 6-path before gamely wearing down a promising Mo Cash, a winner of three of four himself, including two at the trip and track.

Said Three Rules’ happy owner Bert Pilcher: “He loves the distance, he loves Cornelio and ran a big race… Mo Cash scared me. He hung tough, too. He’s a nice horse… Graded-stakes winner; I’ve raised some but I’ve never owned one.”

Three Rules dug down deep to win by a neck over the Ron Spatz trainee, who had eight lengths separation on the third finisher. The time of 1:22.63 was respectable off solid fractions, even if the final eighth took 13.41 seconds to complete.

The three graded events topped a stakes-laden 14-race program that produced record Summit of Speed handle of $12.6 million, a 30% increase year over year and 50% greater than the 2015 totals.

A relatively light simulcast Saturday offered two main attractions east of the Mississippi; Monmouth Park’s G1 United Nations and Belmont Park’s G2 Mother Goose. Monmouth’s 11-race card handled $4.4 million total. New York handled $11.6 on its 10-race program.

Written by John Pricci

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