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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Monday, July 02, 2018

Happy New Half-Year

HALLANDALE BEACH, July 1, 2018— The year 2018 is officially half over and there is much to anticipate in the months ahead, all culminating at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in November.

Some of the immediate future played out all around North America on Saturday, indicating that there are lots of battles to be won, more title fights that could lead to a changing of the guard at year’s end.

The lone exception will be Justify, for there is no knocking him off his divisional leading Horse of the Year perch--no matter what happens the rest of the way.

Singular achievements are just that; 13 Triple Crowns in the last century since Sir Barton in 1919, exactly a century and a half since a New York-bred filly, Ruthless, won the inaugural Belmont Stakes in 1867.

Parenthetically, there’s nothing wrong with your math, or mine. There was no racing in 1911 and 1912, due to legislation known as the Hart Agnew Law. Talk about your nattering nabobs of negativity. But I digress.

Speaking of the track in Elmont, let’s begin there were Midnight Bisou, a good filly out West, became a beast of the East with a completely dominant six-length victory in the G2 Mother Goose, her first start for trainer Steve Asmussen.

Some readers have been wondering whether Monomoy Girl might be up to challenging colts in the Travers Stakes. Justify notwithstanding, it now might be more interesting to see whether she’s up to the new and improved ‘Bisou’.

Speaking of fillies, we’ve been chasing Monomoy Girl with Wonder Gadot all through the filly spring classics.

How were we to know all she wanted was a mile and a quarter on a synthetic track with blinkers added vs. the boys? And she made it look easy for Canadian Hall of Famer Mark Casse in the 159th Queens Plate.

Wonder Gadot has shown a tendency to hang all spring with victory close at hand, but the blinkers seem to have corrected that tendency. There was no hesitation as she attacked her stablemate Telekinesis into the stretch, drawing off with authority beneath Johnny Velazquez.

Saratoga’s Alabama, should it attract Monomoy Girl, Midnight Bisou and Wonder Gadot, looms as the three-year-old filly race of the year. The Shuvees, Ruffians, Personal Ensigns and Zenyatta's notwithstanding, the fairer equines generally fail to excite. But not this if these fillies bring their ‘A’ games to Saratoga.

If you didn’t get a chance to take wagering advantage of Chad Brown’s 1-2 finish in Canada's G2 Dance Smartly when Santa Monica rolled home to nail Inflexibility at the line, you only needed to wait an hour to get more than even as Brown’s Funtastic outlasted Money Multiplier’s late G1-United Nations rally.

And it’s not often one gets 23-1 on a Brown winning turfer.

The Brown barn started four of the United Nations’ eight starters. To posit that super trainers gifted with super runners supplied by super owners are not good for the game yields fewer and fewer arguments with each passing day.

Meanwhile, Belmont Park was not the only place Asmussen enjoyed success. He a juvenile fixture at Churchill Downs when Sir Truebadour wired the 117th running of the Bashford Manor. It was Asmussen's fifth win in America’s oldest graded stakes for two-year-olds.

However, it was Ken McPeek's juvenile miss Restless Rider that won the day, winning the 118th running of the Debutante by a record margin of 11-1/4 lengths. The running time of 1:10.62 was two seconds faster than the boys.

Finally, Gulfstream Park brought down the curtain of its highly successful spring session Saturday with a number of notable performances.

Two-legged notables were leading rider Tyler Gaffalione, who rode two winners and won his sixth GP riding title. There was a three-way tie among the trainers: Victor Barboza, Oscar Gonzalez and Todd Pletcher each saddled 17 wins. Interestingly, five others tied for second with 16. The competitiveness turned out to be good box office.

The entire Rainbow 6 pool was dispersed and there were multiple winners of $196,953. Over $3.4 million was spent on what turned out to be a real pot of gold.

The Summit of Speed program included five sprint stakes, two graded, and featured several outstanding performances. The much improved 3YO filly Alter Noon opened an insurmountable lead to take the Azalea, sire Alternation’s first stakes winner.

Venerable Pay The Price once again went out and did his thing—sprinting on turf. In taking the Bob Umphrey Turf Sprint, the gelded 8YO improved his turf sprint slate to 13-for-19 with three seconds. Over the GP course, his lifetime mark is now (15) 11-2-0. Edgard Zayas rode both.

In the Carry Back, Emisael Jaramillo, runnerup to Gafflione for the title, wired the field with War Giant, remaining undefeated at Gulfstream after adding blinkers for his last three runs. The Data Link chestnut has gotten really good for Gonzalez and appears ready for a jump into graded company.

In the G3 Smile, X Y Jet underscored his love of the Hallandale surface with another dominating front end score and is now (12) 6-4-1 in South Florida.

A runner up in Dubai’s Golden Shaheen the last two years, losing by a neck and a head, respectively, his victory will not earn him a free trip in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Grade 3s are ineligible for BC’s “Win and You’re In” program.

But X Y Jet’s trainer Jorge Navarro hopes to give it another try in 2019, presuming all is well after concluding 2018 with the DeFrancis Dash and BC Sprint.
Stormy Embrace blows away
Rooney rivals

In the interim, the connections of Stormy Embrace, if they so choose, will receive an all-expenses paid trip to Louisville in November.

The 4YO Circular Quay filly made her G2 score in the Princess Rooney look easy, after an unchallenged opening gambit in 22.65. She is now 4-for-7 at Gulfstream and has won half her six starts going seven-eighths, the F & M Sprint trip.

Business Remains Brisk at Gulfstream Park

Reporting handle gains at the Hallandale track is becoming a bit ho hum. Once again, the numbers were strong and the bottom line keeps increasing.

Total handle of $334 million represented a gain of $21 million year over year, and that was with six fewer days of racing.

Average daily handle was $6.3 million, a million dollars higher than the daily average last year, and over $2 million more a day than in 2015...

The Spring meet ended Saturday and the Summer meet began Sunday. Work has been begun on the inside portion of the turf course with the outside to be completed when racing shifts to “Calder” in October. There are no current plans to install timing poles...

X Y Jet deserves third shot at Shaheen
After a 10-year association with the new Gulfstream, the contract with South Florida's iconic Christine Lee’s restaurant will end when the current agreement expires July 15.

Christine Lee’s will still be nearby when it moves into the former Bomba Restaurant, hard by the walking ring on the west side of the race course, a much smaller space.

Gulfstream's high-end suites on the third floor of the building will remain and the track will continue to serve food in what is now Christine Lee’s kitchen area by using its own caterer.

Different Folks; Different Strokes

Back in the day before a famed Hollywood hotel was refurbished, when there was a lawn between the Secretary’s Office and walking ring at the old Gulfstream Park, the Diplomat Hotel featured ‘A’ list entertainment and was the official media hotel for writers covering the Florida Derby.

On Saturday, the new Diplomat, a half-mile north of Hallandale Beach Blvd. on A1A, was a staging area where demonstrators made it clear that they didn’t want the federal government separating children from families seeking asylum from murder and mayhem along this country’s southern border.
Samantha Bryant, ABC News10,
interviews a demonstrator.

It was an orderly group of 200-300 patriots of no particular age demographic--albeit mostly older Caucasian men and women--that lined the street in peaceful protest, as would millions of citizens around the country who stood up for democracy in hundreds of American towns and cities.

The scene was at once surreal and sad, taking place where three or four decades earlier mostly gray-haired turf writers played poker all night before heading out to the barn area early the following morning in search of Florida Derby stories.

Almost certainly, those writers never could have envisioned what would bring people to this area decades later nor the reason why citizens would line North Ocean Drive to make a statement, fighting for the idea of what it means to be an American.

photos by Toni Pricci

Written by John Pricci

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