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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Sunday, October 01, 2017

One Super Saturday Down, One to Go

Within 36 hours, serious Breeders’ Cup prep races came fast and furiously. Let’s flip a Horses/Trainers To Watch championship notebook, by division:

DISTAFFERS: In the last eight years, Bill Mott and Richard Mandella own five of those titles. Hall of Famer Mandella did it with the same horse, the great Beholder, four years apart. The big mare won the Distaff at 3 and last year at 6.

Hall of Famer Mott has won five Distaffs with four different mares, two of the five with three-year-olds. After Saturday’s Beldame, can’t blame anyone for thinking he has a chance to make it six with a third three-year-old.

There’s something else these gentlemen have in common: The longer the season runs, the better their horses run. They are the Horsemen of Fall, and both are in the conversation when someone asks: “Who’s the best trainer at pointing toward specific spots?”

Man-Oh-Mandella wasn’t too kind to horseplayers when he ran Paradise Woods and Avenge woefully short of their best condition at Del Mar but both came alive in a big Grade 1 way in Arcadia.

Santa Anita Oaks 11-length winner Paradise Woods is back but she beat only three rivals after two late scratches, and close second-choice and runnerup Faithfully has never made anyone shake in their boots at entry time. Her speed will play nicely at Del Mar; the competition and likely race shape won’t.

Alabama heroine Elate may have beaten a deeper field of her peers in Saratoga and was not meeting any older stars in the Beldame—but oh how she did it. Never before has she shown that kind of turn of foot. She’s getting better at the perfect time.

The great unknown is the ability to handle the Del Mar surface with the same aplomb. But that’s a question that all horses unfamiliar with the Del Mar surface must answer. Despite the new Santa Anita-like surface, not all horses handle it. Arrogate, anyone?

Anytime the Breeders’ Cup is staged on the west coast; advantage west-coast based runners. And throw in what will be for many the two-turn factor, that’s another checkmark that California-based main-track youngsters can check; Churchill’s two-year-olds notwithstanding.

But even if this year’s Juvenile were held on the moon, Bolt d’Oro would be the favorite. His Frontrunner made a track that yielded moderate to slow times all afternoon look fast, lengthening stride with each step in the final furlong.

By Medaglia d’Oro from the A.P. Indy mare Globe Trot that would make sense but the manner of his victory makes him the clear favorite for the Juvenile, a championship to be named later, and early favorite for the 2018 Kentucky Derby. He’s 2-for-2 at Del Mar.

As is juvenile filly Moonshine Memories, the second of three Grade 1 victories for Flavien Prat. While not nearly as impressive as ‘Bolt’, she checked the appropriate boxes under somewhat trying dynamics. She showed class taking the Chandelier and also 2-for-2 at the seaside track.

At Gulfstream Park, Soutache did what was expected of him to win the In Reality Stakes for Florida-bred juveniles.

It was a comprehensive win that did not comes too easily despite the winning margin and, as a son of Backtalk, doesn’t inspire confidence that he can handle good horses over a distance of ground, certainly Bolt d’Oro anyway.

In the My Dear Girl Florida-bred division for fillies, the top two fillies ran well, duplicating their 1-2 finish in the sprint prep for this. Only this time the runnerup was best as the race was run; too bad she didn’t get the lion’s share.

Dessert Honeys kicked her sprint-meant pedigree in the hind-quarters. After getting bumped hard at the break and checked again shortly thereafter, she rallied five-wide into contention on the final turn and roared home late and just missed catching Starship Bonita.

Whether she’s good enough must be seen, but Dessert Honeys earned her way into open company the next time she appears. She should not be taken lightly when the big girls start arriving slowly the next two months.

Intermittent heavy rains didn’t do G1 Vosburgh favorite any favors, having to scoot out of their in a speed-laden field to open a clear advantage. While game right to the end, El Deal didn’t get the separation he enjoyed during his recent winning streak.

But he stayed on very well and might not have been able to hold off Takaful under any circumstances. He has the better pedigree and great connections, Team McLaughlin doing the right thing by shortening up to sprint distances. He’s been a revelation since.

The victory might not have been possible without the services of Jose Ortiz—who returned to take the Beldame aboard Elate—who stalked El Deal from close range, punching his ticket to Del Mar. The problem is next time he’ll be stalking a Bob Baffert-trained sprint champion.

CLASSIC CONTENDERS: Whatever happens in Oceanside early next month, Mubtaahij earned his spot in the Classic starting gate with his game victory in the G1 Awesome Again that might have been more facile that it looked at first blush.

While he might not prove to the equal of other Baffert-trained older G1 performers, the trainer threw his hat squarely in the trainer’s category. To my unofficial count, the Irish-bred five year old was Baffert’s sixth Grade 1 win with six different horses this year.

If a trainer is fortunate enough to win close to that number, it’s usually with one dominant performer, but a half dozen horses? Remarkable. In short, going first time for this barn, Mubtaahij ran to a series of impressive drills, adding blinkers for his first start in 189 days.

TURF: Beach Patrol enjoyed perfect circumstances and took advantage of dynamics when he thoroughly romped taking the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and proved a mile and a half is within his scope.

Three year old Oscar Performance raced well over wet ground that he might not have cared for and finished third. He will appreciate Del Mar turf if his connections decide to take the trip west.

And while there may be more “talent” in the Mile than the Turf, turning back over firmer ground could be the way to go after proving that he can sit off early leaders.

Meanwhile, all eventual Turf entrants caught a break when trainer John Gosden announced immediately after his amazing filly Enable won Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe that he would recommend putting her away now until 2018.

In terms of dominant performances, her’s was the equal of Bolt d’Oro’s or Elate's. Despite racing close to the pace to maintain position over the yielding “speed-favoring” Chantilly ground, she showed a remarkable, sustained turn of foot to the finish. Wow!

Written by John Pricci

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