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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Saturday, July 07, 2012

Time for 2011 Travers Winner to Raise His Game

ELMONT, NY, July 6, 2012—How big did Saturday’s Suburban Handicap come up? I can’t provide the precise answer, but I know this: It’s a Grade 1 masquerading as a Grade 2.

If this keeps up, the Graded Stakes Committee will have some ‘splainin’ to do.

Simply hitting the high notes, which I realize is always dangerous, it’s Met Mile third To Honor And Serve, 9-5 favorite on Eric Donovan’s early line, vs. Stay Thirsty, 7-2 and coupled with the remarkably versatile Caixa Electronica, vs. Mucho Macho Man, 4-1, looking to rebound from his Alysheba disappointment with new rider Mike Smith.

Contentious enough, yes, but it doesn’t stop there. Eight horses, entry included, were entered and at this point, only the rank outsider, Endorsement (12-1), appears totally up against it.

But to say that Donn Handicap and Belmont lover Hymn Book (6-1); Buffum (8-1), who freaked on Belmont day and whose allowance score at 7 furlongs at the Spa last summer was as fast as anyone in the field when measured against the speed of the track, and Trickmeister (6-1), who beat Stay Thirsty over Big Sandy track May 17 are without winning credentials here is folly.

Of the “big three,” the Suburban is really significant for two of them. Mucho Macho Man’s Alysheba effort was either an off day for him or it showed he’s not quite up to the division’s best.

But having celebrated his true 4th birthday only last month, MMM has a license to catch up to the group. The switch to Mike Smith indicates a possible change of tactics, attempting a late run instead of playing the role of stalker, always a difficult tack at this level.

For his part, however, Stay Thirsty needs to raise his game starting with the Suburban if he is to be considered a serious Horse of the Year candidate. All know that he loves Saratoga, which hosts the Whitney and Woodward. By early September he has license to become America’s #1 ranked horse. I'm sure his connections are aware that there’s scant room for mulligans.

To Honor And Serve was a bit disappointing in the Met Mile, but there were extenuating circumstances. First, there was Shackleford, who was better on the day. Secondly, the #1 post at a mile did him no favors. Like most horses, he seems to be out in the open, using his high cruising speed. His trip took him out of his best game.

Finally, his soft win in the Westchester, which he truly won in what a common gallop, might not have advanced him far enough for Shackleford and Co. in the Met. Given his outside draw and today’s dynamics, there are absolutely no excuses. And 9 furlongs just might be his best game, having won at the distance thrice.

Clearly, I expect To Honor And Serve to make amends in his third start of the year for Bill Mott, who horses normally improve as a season wears on. The value in the race may be trying to get Stay Thirsty and/or Mucho Macho Man out of the place hole. That’s easier said than done. But the “little three” are not without license here.

Post position could play a huge role in the sub-featured Grade 3 Victory Ride Stakes. Undefeated New York-bred Agave Kiss (2-5) starts from the fence beneath Ramon Dominguez, convenient in that he’s starting where he prefers to be anyway. As for his filly, that’s another matter.

The one 3-year-old miss that can block AK’s attempt at a seventh career victory is Gypsy Robin, who’s on a three-race roll of her own, one score coming in the G2 Beaumont on Keeneland Polytrack.

Sometimes that synthetic surface doesn’t translate to dirt, but Presque Isle’s Tapeta track does and she’s coming off a comprehensive score in the ungraded Inaugural there on May 15, so she, like Agave Kiss, has good spacing.

But there are several other factors. In addition to proven ability at the graded level, she has as much early lick as the favorite if her rider chooses; she’s nicely posted outside; had a nice breeze on the Oklahoma training track and was scratched from a softer spot recently to await the Victory Ride.

That kind of confidence from the barn should not be ignored. We’ll box the two fillies in the exacta, looking for the upset.

Written by John Pricci

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