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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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Sunday, September 23, 2012


Top Breeders’ Cup Storyline: Ladies First


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, September 23, 2012—Well, here it is, the Fall of 2012, and little has changed when it comes to determining which are the country’s most accomplished race horses.

And so, once again, the fillies shall lead them.

It was only a week ago that we posited here how this might be the fourth consecutive year in which the Horse of the Year title when to a horse of the distaff persuasion.

Perhaps racing events this past week might not have furthered the cause of fillies or mares that would be recognized as best in show, but the ladies sure dominated events on the racetrack, the only place it matters.

On Thursday, the remarkable undefeated 2-year-old filly champion of 2010, Awesome Feather, made her first start since winning Florida’s Sunshine Millions Distaff in January.

Not only did she not disappoint but once again she dominated her rivals in fast time. Indeed, Big Sandy was on the quick side, but 1:33.47 is really rolling at any track not named Turf Paradise.

Besides, hard-hitting older allowance/optional claiming males raced the same distance in 1:34.10.

Dealing with tendon issues is extremely tricky, of course, requiring considerable patience and expert care. Credit principal owner Frank Stronach and trainer Chad Brown here.

The day after, when it was known that she came out of the race well, the owner told Brown to continue taking care of the filly, and if that means skipping the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic, so be it.

And you know that as the master of Santa Anita Park, Stronach would love nothing better than to show his filly off to the world. Because of his responsible attitude, Stronach is an upperdog whose horses are easy to root for.

As if dealing with extensive tendon issues weren’t enough, Brown has had to manage the expectations that come with training an undefeated race horse, a streak that now has reached 10.

Subsequent to the result, Brown said his wish is to get to the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic for a showdown that many people would like to see.

Saturday at Philadelphia Park, er, Parx, that showdown became at least a three-filly affair—and not to forget this excludes the older defending distaff champion, Royal Delta, and her very unlucky rival, It’s Tricky.

Showdown might not be a big enough word.

Much was made of the fact that Pennsylvania’s only Grade 1 stakes, the $1 million Cotillion for 3-year-olds, only drew four competitors.

For those critics, this question: What if you were the owner of any 3-year-old filly in the land not named Questing or My Miss Aurelia, would you be knocking down the racing office door to get into the fray?

And, remember, please, there is more pressure than ever to “do the right thing by the horse.”

The obvious overmatching of race horses for the purpose of earning minute shares of a big purse does not serve the best interests of the Thoroughbred.

And these were female giants that were on display in the Cotillion, make no mistake. Steve Asmussen has won well over 6,000 races; he knows how to do this.

The face that he ran an undefeated champion off a single sprint win against the most celebrated horse of either sex at Saratoga was no accident. Clearly, only the barn knew how good this filly, even as an undefeated champion, truly is.

Indeed, My Miss Aurelia’s horizons might still be limitless. Yes, the rail and the surface at Parx was dead on Saturday--an inept, unmitigated disgrace—and she raced outside Questing, who was setting the pace at least 3 paths out from the rail.

And you cannot make an excuse for a horse of Questing’s obvious quality that gets to set early split of :25 and :50. Further, she benefitted from old-pro handling by young Irad Ortiz Jr., who herding My Miss Aurelia and Corey Nakatani for all they were worth, perhaps taking advantage of Questing’s propensity to drift in the stretch.

(The dry surface and dead inside did Pennsylvania Derby favorite Alpha no favors, and neither did the recurrence of his obstreperous gate antics. Ortiz later returned to win the Pa. Derby with a clever rating performance aboard 20-1 Handsome Mike, a race that was inscrutable to comprehend from flag-fall to finish).

So, in the tradition of Meadow Star and Lite Light, with a lot more physicality, these two fillies put on a million-dollar exhibition down the stretch and, while the final margin was wider on the line, the issue was in doubt until the final strides.

So, hopefully, these fillies, Awesome Feather, and next week’s Personal Ensign fillies, Royal Delta and It’s Tricky all make it into the Santa Anita starting gate on the first weekend in November.

Whether or not a Horse of the Year title is in question remains a backstory for now. At this point in time, the Ladies Classic is the marquee event of Breeders’ Cup XXVIII.

Written by John Pricci

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