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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Saturday, November 05, 2011


The Dream Is Over


LOUISVILLE, November 5, 2011--In the end, those who worried that all of the Group and Grade 1s, 14 of them, and all the miles, were taking their toll on Goldikova this year, were right. Her performance figures did not indicate that to be the case--but it became all too apparent in midstretch when, clearly, the whoosh was gone.

Goldikova sat a perfect trip throughout, Olivier Peslier paying cat and mouse, pushing a little bit, tapping the brakes a little bit, refusing to get pinned by the rivals that wanted her in a lock box.

And that's what happened, so much so that soon after straightening away into the stretch, Peslier bulled his way out, forcing Pat Valenzuela to bend Courageous Cat in half to avoid an accident. The action started a chain reaction as Courageous Cat slamed into several rivals to his outside.

Remarkably, there was no change in the order of finish, which almost was as stunning as the defeat of Goldikova. And so the defending Eclipse champion will have to "settle" for winning The Mile three straight years.

In the final sixteenth, The Mile came down to Court Vision, who gained the lead moments before, and a fast finisihing Turallure, gobbling up the ground with every stride. It might have been the tightest finish of the two-day festival.

Court Vision, who had never won a race on this course, won the bob and paid $131.60 to win, the second largest win mutuel in the history of the Breeders' Cup championships.

All Hail Hansen, Unbeaten Juvenile Champion

An impressive, unbeaten two year old won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile to become the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby and wrap up Juvenile divisional honors.

Only it was not the impressive, unbeaten two year old that the crowd expected.

Hansen, who had won his two starts by a combined 25 lengths, including the September 24 Kentucky Cup Juvenile, was making his first start on dirt and first beneath Ramon Dominguez and made every pole a winner.

No horse has ever headed him, not even in morning workouts; the colt simply wouldn't allow it. In setting the pace and hanging on tenaciously, he handed previously unbeaten Union Rags, the impressive winner of the Champagne Stakes.

But many players walked away bvelieving that the best horse did not win this day, that the place finisher, who raced wide every step of the way; a victim of circumstances in the first half of the race because of his outside draw and a victim of overconfident handling in the latter stages, asked to rally five across the track on the far turn.

It was a lot to do, too much as it turned out, as Union rags began drifting from his enervating trip. And at that he lost by a rapidly diminishing head margin. The once beaten Norfolk Stakes winner Creative Cause finished third.

It will be interesting to see where the toip three go from here towards a return trip to Churchill next May. But for now, Hansen, certain-to-be Juvenile champion, has earned his spot at the top of his class.

Child Is Father to "The Man"

Aidan O'Brien, who won his second race over Breeders' Cup weekend, has won the biggest races on this planet, from Europe, to America, to the Far East, and everywhere in between, but today's win in the $3-million Turf will be one he will never forget.

How could he? He gave a leg up to his son Joseph on St. Nicholas Abbey, who rode the winner with a sagacity beyond his years, becoming the youngest jockey to win a Breeders' Cup championship event.

O'Brien the younger kept his horse in excellent position and free of trouble throughout the 1-1/2 marathon and his mount, who last raced in France's premier event, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in which he was beaten only six lengths over the baked hard course in 85-degree heat.

It was a lot coller at Churchill Downs today and the course, while firm, was a lot more forgiving, And with race favorite Serafina failing to fire, St. Nicholas Abbey was clearly best, defeating Sea Moon by 2-1/4 lengths, who had a length on longshot Brilliant Speed.

"It's a dream come true," said the young O'Brien. "I've been coming to the Breeders' Cup since I was very small. I'd like to thank Mr Smith, Mr. Magnier and Mr. Tabor for giving me the opportunity."

Young man, take a bow. These gentlemen owe you a debt of gratitude.

Donnie Von Hemel, Welcome to the World's Stage

It's only appropriate to welcome Donnie Von Hemel to the world stage, particularly after a world class training job with Caleb's Posse, winner of the Dirt Mile and unquestionably this country's best middle-distance one-turn runner.

And maybe even an Eclipse title.

In Saratoga, he beat Uncle Mo in the seven furlong King's Bishop and yesterday, at the immediate expense of Preakness winner Shackleford and seven others, beat the best milers that could be assembled in this year's event.

In Saratoga, after trying the Triple Crown trail briefly and running longer distances, Von Hemel turned Caleb's Posse back into the G2 Amsterdam at 6-1/2 furlongs and Caleb's Posse ran down the group like some kind of wild horse, before coming back and making the same successful late run to nail Uncle Mo in the absolute final stride.

It worked once, would history repeat?

Five weeks later, Von Hemel ran him back in the 1-1/16th miles Indiana Derby behind a glacial pace, leaving the three year old bay with much too much to do. But that wasn't the point. The point was either the Sprint or the Dirt Mile.

The trainer went back and forth with the owners about which race to choose and settled on the Dirt Mile, where Rajiv Maragh gave him a pluperfect inside-out ride. Charging down the middle of the track, he simply blew his rivals right off the racetrack.

Having won two Grade 1s around one turn, coupled with his score in the G2 Amsterdam, Caleb's Posse is very much in the conversation for the Sprint championship. Von Hemel will be sitting by the phone, expecting it to ring with offers that seem highly likely to come.

A Horse for a Course

How fast is Turf Sprint specialist Regally Ready? Well,he's so fast that track superintendent Butch Lehr was forced to upgraded the course condition from good to firm. It's what happens after racing five furlongs in :56.48.

For the new 2011 team of Steve Asmussen and Corey Nakatani, it was the second win on festival weekend. The pair took the Juvenile Fillies on Friday with undefeated My Miss Aurelia, the certain-to-be Juvenile Filly Eclipse Champion.

For Regally Ready it was another day at the office--his Churchill Downs office. He's shown up three times, and showed up in the charmed circle each time.

Pressured throughout, but appearing comfortable while doing it, he shook off his rivals soon after straightening away into the lane and maintained a clear margin to the finish. Regally Ready was the first winning favorite of the day but topped a superfecta returning $21,196.80 when Country Day, Perfect Officer and Great Attack following him to the finish.

SoCal Speed

It's appropriate that in a race where speed is king, a horse from California will get the money. Never mind that Amazombie is a stretch runner and never mind that the last time Mike Smith was here, his day ended in tears.

Nothing will replace the heartbreaking memory of Zenyatta, but yesterday's neck victory over Force Freeze, denying Johnny Velazquez his third winner at the two-day festival, eases some of .that pain. It was 2-1/4 lengths back to the very-late running favorite, Jackson Bend.

The victory was the 14th in Smith's Breeders' Cup career.

Improving his record to 5-for-9 this season, the gelded five year old son of Northern Afleet was winning his second straight Grade 1 and is the heavy favorite to be voted 2011 Eclipse Sprint Champion for trainer and part owner--along with Thomas Sanford--Bill Spawr. The speedster paid $17.80 to win.

Big Balloons

World traveling Aidan O’Brien struck in the first turf test of the afternoon when Wrote, a two-time winner and third when racing in his first stakes event behind Daddy Long Legs, a Juvenile entrant, last out, responded in the final furlong to defeat Canadian longshot Excaper by two lengths to win the Juvenile Turf.

It was the 14th Breeders’ Cup winner sired by High Chapparal, who will be represented later on in the Classic by So You Think, also trained by O’Brien. Fellow European Farraaj well ridden by Neil Callan finished third, beaten by a nose for place.

At 11-1, Wrote was a “short-priced” longshot on the day thus far, following a trend set yesterday by Musical Romance and Perfect Shirl.

Long Winded

If you’re a new visitor today because you’re a Breeders’ Cup fan this reference will be lost on you and, for that, we apologize.

But for you regulars, you know that Wendell Corrow is smiling somewhere at a simulcast near you.

One of those “bad Parx horses,” stabled and trained there by Robert Reid Jr., jumped up and shocked the world by taking the Breeders’ Cup Marathon.

Afleet Again, a four year old son of another world famous Philadelphian, Afleet Alex, came charging down the center of the fast/damp surface under a well judged ride from Cornelio Velasquez to nail Birdrun several steps from the wire.

The classy Giant Oak finished third and pacesetting Pleasant Prince showed plenty of heart to finish fourth, as did Birdrun to hold the place. Afleet Again paid $85.40 to win.

The race was marred when early line favorite A. U. Miner suffered multiple fractions and is being evaluated at this writing. European Meeznah was eased due to exhaustion in 1-¾ mile event.

Written by John Pricci

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