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, June 06, 2009

Two More Grade 1s: One Formful, One Not So Much

ELMONT, NY, June 6, 2009

4:45 PM The Grade 1 Acorn, was the race that Hal Wiggins had on his dance card for Rachel Alexandra. Remember Rachel Alexandra? Remember Wiggins, her former trainer?

Bob Baffert would soon prefer to forget them, and he must have relayed that to his third-year-old filly, Gabby’s Golden Gal.

Taking advantage of the prevailing conditions, the Medaglia D’oro filly, beaten 29-¼ lengths by Rachel Alexandra in the Kentucky Oaks, handled Big Sandy and the one-turn mile just fine thank you, romping away to an open lengths score by dictating the tempo from the inside throughout.

As if on a treadmill, nothing was able to offer the speedster an anxious moment, including odds-on Justwhistledixie, who could not get untracked while racing well off the inner rail. Casanova Move, breaking and racing on the inside throughout, finished third.

Gabby’s Golden Gal, off at 13-1, got her mile in 1:34.79.

5:34 PM: The G1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap was competitive going in and one of the form horses, Gio Ponti, won it with a well timed move beneath Garrett Gomez, storming down the middle of the course to run by the dueling Cowboy Cal and Cosmonaut, before holding off the improbable Marsh Side and the ageless 10-year-old, Better Talk Now.

The mile and a quarter, over ground that was upgraded to yielding, was a moderate 2:02.81.

Written by John Pricci

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Weight Can, You Know, Stop a Train

ELMONT, NY, June 6, 2009

3:15 PM: The first Grade 1 of the day and this one is on the turf for the distaff set at a mile, a.k.a. the Just A Game Stakes.

It didn’t take the crowd long to find the heavy favorite. Forever Together is the defending female turf champion by virtue of her three Grade 1 scores last year, including the Breeders’ Cup F&M Turf.

The champ was up against it from the start, with the course slowing things down up front as the field raced bunched throughout. Julien Leparoux is so good, so patient on the turf, that the fence opened up for him and she kicked through.

But Diamondrella’s momentum saved the day, the winner of five straight turf sprints moving up in class and distance and making it look easy. Clearly, she will be a force this season for Angel Penna Jr., having a break-out year. And the talented Rajiv Maragh continues his rise toward stardom. "Diamondrella was getting five pounds form the champion and she's a huge horse. FIve pounds is a lot of weight on a soft course," said Penna.

The major disappointments were to mares with European credentials. But Captain’s Lover remained one-paced when the running started and Modern Look never raised a gallop after stalking moderate fractions comfortably throughout, finishing last.

3:59 PM: Time for the three-year-olds to sprint seven furlongs in the G2 Woody Stephens in honor of the man whose five consecutive Belmonts never will be eclipsed. It featured the serious fast This One’s For Phil, undefeated Hull, who skipped the Preakness for this and Hello Broadway, run-off speed adding blinkers for the Peter Pan but back sprinting for Barclay Tagg who’s 5-for-11 when removing blinkers; today’s tack.

But it was Munnings, benefiting from a rail skimming ride beneath Johnny Velazquez, who finally lived up to the promise he showed while breaking his maiden in his debut at Saratoga last summer. The Speightstown colt finally put it all together, stopping the timer in 1:20.83, but it was Johnny’s ride that made the big effort a possibility.

Written by John Pricci

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It’s a Highway Out There, People

ELMONT, NY, June 6, 2009

1:17 PM: Speed, even on the turf? Well, that’s what always happens on soft ground; many don’t handle the conditions and many don’t have natural speed--or they wouldn’t be grass horses!

But leave a quality speed horse with excellent performance figures loose on the lead in a first quarter-mile in over :26 seconds, he’s going to tough to run down. Kent Desormeaux engineered it beautifully and scored with a natural double on Pennington at a generous 10-1. Jeremy Rose tried to shoot the rail with Slam Dunk, he got through to loom a threat but stayed one-paced through the lane.

A late runner finally scored, Sette E Mezzo, giving Desormeaux a natural triple, but with the aid of a realistic, contested pace. Garrett Gomez chased Le Grand Cru throughout, took the lead determinedly soon after headstretch, but tired late. So It Goes, an overlay at 12-1, also made a determined late rally.

2:33 PM: And, now, the all-graded-stakes Pick Six, beginning with the True North at three-quarters of a mile for older sprinters. The defending True North winner and defending sprint champion, Benny The Bull, still gets the headlines but doesn’t appear equal to match strides with Fabulous Strike.

The crowd agrees as Fabulous Strike opens at even money. And it will be interesting to see, too, if four-year-old Desert Key continues his laudably consistent development.

So, seen enough yet? :21.85, 43.62, as Fabulous Strike and Sixthirteen hook up on the turn, after the latter got a flat-footed start--and not that Eibar Coa wants to get in Ramon Dominguez’s head, anyway. But Strikey kept on going as Benny The Bull chased him home futilely despite the suicidal fractions. Final time: 1:07.85.

In giving the changes for the next race, announcer Tom Durkin informed the crowd that the track has been upgraded to fast. Ya' think?

Written by John Pricci

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