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 24, 2017


A Star Is Born at Parx Racing


Let's face it. When it comes to determining the three-year-old divisional championship, the Kentucky Derby is a Grade 1 with a bullet.

Isn’t it really perceived as if it were the equal of two other Grade 1s combined? No disrespect meant, but that includes the final two legs of the Triple Crown. Simply stated, America’s Race is in a class of its own.

But the glitter of this year’s Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby champion, Always Dreaming, unquestionably has lost its luster since.

A regression in Baltimore two weeks two weeks post Derby, followed by a freshened and needed-the-race Jim Dandy prep, followed by a subsequent Travers flop brought the colt back to the pack in abrupt style.

Meanwhile, a bay colt by Flatter was gaining momentum, taking some of the glitter away from Cloud Computer’s Preakness and Tapwrit’s Belmont score, with the promise of better things to come in the Easy Goer Stakes. And it came in a big way.

The Los Al Derby against six outclassed rivals subsequently didn’t prove much but the beat went on. And when it arrived in Saratoga and a new dimension was added; early speed, the result was a dismantling of 11 rivals in the Derby of Midsummer.

But when he blew the roof off Parx Racing on Saturday by 7-1/4 widening, authoritative lengths, this west coast beast clinched the division that has lacked definition since it left Louisville.

The newly minted Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby attracted four multiple graded stakes performers in addition to Saturday’s winner, justifying its new status.

That group included the winners of should-have-been-Grade 1s Blue Grass and Wood Memorial and the matchup was rewarded with a brilliant G1 performance, courtesy of a pair of Hall of Famers.

And West Coast just keeps getting better and better and better.

The Penn Derby was his fifth straight victory dating back to May 20, over a different surface each time, and it was his third straight graded stakes, including a pair of Grade 1s back-to-back.

A Classic defeat against older will not diminish his dominance over this peers. But did we not see the future of Breeders’ Cup Classic in Bensalem on Saturday? I’m disinclined to bet against that proposition, given what all were treated to yesterday.

Warned his Hall of Fame trainer: “He’s just learning how to run. To have a three-year-old this time of year, the way he won the Travers, and now winning this race, he is going to be a horse to reckon.”

NOT THIS TIME, MONEY MIKE

For two years now, Mike Smith has been stealing races with stealth-like precision by moving outside one time, moving inside the next; running early one week and running late the next, often against the grain of his mounts’ past performances.

And damn if he almost didn’t do it again on Saturday.

That blur moving up the fence in the Cotillion, a move sustained for perhaps a half mile on a portion of the track that wasn’t the fastest path to victory, was the sophomore filly divisional-leading Abel Tasman. She didn’t win but all she lost was a horse race.

Just as the Travers would turn out to be a precursor to the Penn Derby, Saratoga’s Alabama was going to have an impact on the Grade 1 Cotillion.

Two fillies that moved into the teeth of the Alabama’s 10-furlong pace returned to give the divisional leader a tough fight, one of them emerging the winner.

This time, It Tiz Well didn’t set the pace, as she had in the Alabama; she attended it, allowing a sharp too-fresh-for-her-own-good Lockdown, who broke like a shot beneath Luis Saez and went on with it.

Lockdown took the lead and just as Saez seemingly tried slowing her down gently, Smith sensed it and moved bullet-like up the rail to engage. When he and ‘Abel’ reached the leader, they wisely backed off, trying to conserve for the stretch battle to come.

Meanwhile, Drayden Van Dyke, a rider with patience beyond his years, was content to sit and watch Abel Tasman and Lockdown battle each other in earnest at headstretch. Momentarily, it appeared that Lockdown would win that clash from the outside.

But Abel Tasman battled back on the portion of the track that didn’t yield a single winner all day, and she won that battle but lost the war. It Tiz Well surged on by the embattled fillies in midstretch, giving Songbird’s Jerry Hollendorfer his second straight Cotillion.

Smith described it this way: “The inside [was] wide open and she was pulling me so hard and just took me there. I thought maybe she could pull it off…but it was too much to do.” And then this:

“She’ll be fine for the Breeders’ Cup. It wasn’t one of her best, but she ran well.”

Like her heralded stablemate, the next test will come against older and this time, the whole world will be watching.

SIGNPOSTS ALONG THE BREEDERS CUP ROAD


As we are sure to see several Parx performers in November—including sprinters Coal Front and Running Mate, 1-2 in the G3 Gallant Bob, and another from Belmont, Sharp Azteca, ridden with disdainful confidence by Paco Lopez to win the G3 Kelso—the next two Saturdays will be a prep feast.

On Saturday alone there will be 15 races with aspiring Breeders’ Cup performers from all over the globe competing in races at Santa Anita, Belmont Park, Keeneland, Newmarket, Chantilly and Nakayama.

From now to November 3rd, 81 races will be contested in 13 different countries according to the Bloodhorse online. Breeders’ Cup has become a true international championship event.

At Gulfstream Park Saturday morning, Gunnevera, an excellent late-rally second to West Coast in the Travers, breezed for the first time since the August 26 summer classic, a soft half-mile in 49 seconds at “Calder.” Why no PA Derby?

“I want a fresh horse for the Breeders’ Cup, my horse runs well fresh,” said trainer Antonio Sano. He surely does. He came from 11th of 12 in the Travers, making a sustained turn move to the wire. While no threat to West Coast, he was 2-1/4 lengths clear of Irap.

Irap, meanwhile, still acts a little goofy--and credit Parx stewards for making the right call by not disqualifying Irap from second position.

A head-on view of the stretch run clearly shows that an inside rival came out and bumped Irish War Cry off stride before Irap veered in sharply. Irap was marginally clear and made no contact though it sure was a hairy incident, especially from a pan view perspective.

Written by John Pricci

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