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, August 25, 2018

TV Diary: Travers Day 149

First Race: Every so often you hear it. While money rules, racing can be a democratic enterprise. Case in point: Greyes Creek, an $850,000 2-year-old sales purchase, trained by meet leading Chad Brown, was bet to favoritism while a Dallas Stewart trainee, Louisiana-bred Classy John, a $12,000 purchase, ran off a hid from a field of well-bred juveniles. And the victory was gained despite lugging in at the break and making contact with a well meant Mischievous Bird at the start. Classy John won like he has a chance to live up to his moniker down the road—sprinting, anyway.

Way Early had the kind of two-turn trip on the grass that will lose 90 of 100 races. But the George Weaver trainee went into overdrive after straightening away at headstretch, his turn of foot getting it done with lengths to spare beneath Manny Franco, who is having himself quite the Spa meet--ranked fourth in the jockey standings entering the Travers program.

Fourth: Jeremiah Englehart is continuing on his Spa roll with Forty Under—a double for Franco--getting this job done for owner Bill Parcells. It appeared that speedy longshot Skychief would steal it with Ricardo Santana Jr. but Forty Under really lengthened his stride in the final sixteenth and was drawing off at the finish. Don’t know how far his talent will take him, but Forty Under appears stakes bound after that performance; note.

Fifth: Who does Bill Mott think he is with a 1-2 finish in a turf route, Chad Brown? But that’s what he did with Red Knight, who is two noses shy of an undefeated seven-race career, and Classic Covey, who finished like a late-running rocket and nearly caught his mate at the line. Red Knight got clever handling from Junior Alvarado--also having himself a meet—and showed his class in deep stretch. However, the gameness award goes to Scholar Athlete, who chased the pace throughout and was beaten less than a half-length by the Mott team; ran too good to lose, follow.

G1 H Allen Jerkens: What does NYRA think it is, the Breeders’ Cup? Because if there’s another venue that can put on a Grade 1 Pick 6 show, literally, I’d like to get some fresh PPs. And who does Dale Romans think he is, the Chad Brown of G1 sprints? Promises Fulfilled, who had every right to regress following his monstrous six-furlong Amsterdam, showed class and toughness to withstand several stretch challengers before stablemate Seven Trumpets moved up the fence nearing the wire to complete a Romans exacta. Firenze Fire might have regressed some off his monstrous Dwyer, finished gamely for third. The Dirt Mile, competition notwithstanding, looks like a reasonable end-season goal.

G1 Personal Ensign: Who do the NYRA stewards think they are, the Southern California stewards? Yes, that was snarky, and yes it was a tough close call. But I would have disqualified Abel Tasman. On the pan shot the incident was virtually invisible but the head-on revealed that Abel Tasman and Elate came together, the latter by about a path, the former by a little more than two.
When the winner came out and initiated the bumping, the second horse was about a neck behind (best guess given the angle). What is indisputable is that Elate was knocked off stride and Jose Ortiz was forced to steady himself after getting knocked off balance by the bump.
How this incident had no effect on the outcome is beyond me. Do we know that Elate would not have edged had the fillies remained apart? The answer is no one knows. I don’t believe in makeup calls, but it might have made sense given last year’s events. (I agreed with last year's "as is" decision.
Subsequently, I have come around and now agree with those who take the position that a foul is a foul. There is too damn much race riding going on in the modern game and it’s got to stop before some rider gets killed. On balance, there is no consistency and many stewards seem to lack the sophistication to make the right judgment call in bang-bang situations. Either way, it is disgraceful that the stewards didn't post their own inquiry, waiting instead for the jockey's objection.

G1 Ballerina: Who does Bob Baffert think he is, Bob Baffert? Old ‘Blue Jacket Bob’ comes to Saratoga, gets a new red jacket, Jill goes shopping on Broadway, he scoops up two Grade 1s with Marley’s Freedom, now 3-for-3 under Baffert management, and ‘Abel’. And the beat goes on; 13 Grade 1 wins when he ships into New York…

G1 Forego: Who does Irad Ortiz Jr. think he is, Eddie Maple? Could he have gone any wider with City of Light, at any point? Don’t think so. Whitmore was very good, answered the seven-furlong doubters and with authority. But the difference is that he had got heads-up inside handling from Santana and the trip might not be City of Light’s best go. That’s beside the point. Good job by Ron Moquett to have Whitmore at tops for the Forego.

G1 Sword Dancer: The main track and inner turf have been particularly kind to speed all week. So everyone leaves Glorious Empire and Julien Leparoux alone from the pole, and they did to this field what they did to the Bowling Green group; put them to sleep on the lead. Glorious Empire has improved immensely. Kudos to trainer James Lawrence II, who has engineered three straight wins from four starts since he became the gelded seven-year-old’s trainer. From high-class claimer to Grade 1 winner in 13 months; great job!

Good Magic broke out of hand at the start but no matter, he was terrible. Jose Ortiz tried to make up for the lost early position with a wide brush into the first turn. Not a good call, but that would not have mattered either. He was never really in the bridle--for the first time in a nine-race career. He’s not a very stout individual and it showed yesterday. Chad Brown kept on talking about the colt’s ability at 1-1/4 miles. The trainer was trying to tell us something, but don't think it wasn’t about the trip. The Triple Crown and the big Haskell effort has apparently taken a toll.
Always thought Catholic Boy was a good horse, but his Travers showed he’s a very good horse. He embarrassed a field of nice colts and embarrassed them badly. Now he’s a Grade 1 winner on two surfaces at 10 furlongs. Wonderful preparation by newly minted trainer but longtime horseman Jonathan Thomas, whose horses are now 5-for-10 (with two money finishes) in graded company. Loaded all the way, he was rated brilliantly and confidently by now six-time Travers-winning Javier Castellano. Given his Belmont Derby and Travers, the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Turf are both on the table… Mendelssohn was very good, a clear second after being hounded by the winner throughout, finishing gamely but holding the place while tiring. Now, if the track is fast at Churchill Downs on November 3…

Written by John Pricci

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