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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Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Untapable Question: Do Colts Hold Haskell Advantage?


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, July 22, 2014—For myself and many others, the best part of betting on the horses is the handicapping process; trying to figure things out, predicting the future.

In that context the learning process never ends, which is another thing that pleases inquiring minds. This came to mind with respect to Sunday’s Grade 1 Haskell, deep in both quality and contentiousness.

When it comes down to the betting, it is likely at post time that a filly will lead them. And this always comes as big news whenever a filly meets colts in a big spot. Think Rachel Alexandra’s Preakness and Woodward; think Zenyatta’s Classics, both of them.

The storyline goes that racing females and males is commonplace in Europe, but not so much here when the fairer sex meets the perceived stronger animal. Racing even compensates for this by giving females a weight allowance.

I’ve always believed that if a filly was exceptional and held a perceptible class edge that she should win, since she’s “the best horse.” And a break in the weights certainly doesn’t hurt the cause.

But then I don’t train horses of either sex, and my riding experience is limited to carousels; no whip-switching necessary. So, I figure, that an exceptional filly will beat a good colt.

It was good to have this opinion validated on yesterday’s NTRA Haskell/Jim Dandy conference call by a man who has trained over 1,500 winners, and by another who’s ridden no fewer than 5,893 of them.

Both Christophe Clement, who will saddle Travers starter Tonalist in Saturday’s Jim Dandy, and stakes-placed Life in Shambles in Friday’s Curlin Stakes, and Jerry Dale Bailey, who practically retired the Eclipse trophy by winning it seven times, concurred:

Essentially, they agreed that in the lower classes, a filly generally will be at a strength disadvantage when meeting a colt, but that an exceptional filly can do it all because she’s the better equine athlete.

Clement, who hasn’t even seen Friday’s Curlin PP’s, did not offer specific opinions on Sunday’s Haskell, in which the sensational Kentucky Oaks-winning Untapable will take on a deep field of males and thought the filly would not be out of her element.

“There’s no need to run against colts in this country because fillies have their own program here and don’t need to face colts,” said Clement, “and a filly running in the Haskell is a very popular move.”

“[Generally] good fillies can compete anywhere, but in the lower classes they probably are a little weaker,” he added.

“Even if [the Haskell] didn’t set up for her I’d like [Untapable], but the race does set up for her,” said current NBC analyst Bailey. “She’s one of top three three-year-olds in the country, at least.”

Are fillies disadvantaged when racing against colts? “I don’t think they are,” Bailey said. “When you get a special filly I think they can do anything, even if in theory they are meeting stronger males.”

Dale Romans, also on the call and who will run Belmont show finisher Medal Count at the Jersey Shore Sunday afternoon, is not really concerned about the Haskell’s dynamics--or anything else it seems.

“He’s some of the best stock I’ve had in the last 10 years,” shared Romans. “If I thought I knew why I’d go out and buy every Dynaformer I could find. He never has a bad day.

“This horse is unique, does whatever we want; if you want him to go fast, he goes fast; want him to go slow he goes slow. If there’s no speed, like in the Belmont, he’ll lay closer, if there’s a lot of speed he can come from way back.

“I thought he was talented the first time I breezed him [at 2] but I left him at Ellis [Park] because I didn’t think he could win a race at Saratoga. He really didn’t put it all together until we got back to Keeneland this spring.

“He can do anything. Not many horses show his turn of foot at 7-1/2 furlongs on grass and stay a mile and a half on dirt. He should have been no worse than third in the Derby but got stopped cold at the eighth pole.”

There will be considerably less traffic for him to negotiate at Monmouth Park with a projected field of nine at this stage, which includes Medal Count.

“We’ve all seen many times when there’s lots of speed in the race and it never develops. He’s versatile. And when I have a horse that I know belongs, I take them over there and let the chips fall.”

Written by John Pricci

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