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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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

2011 Racing Season: Who, What, When and Why

OCALA, FLORIDA, November 9, 2010--In life, it’s important to celebrate the little things. Such as this week is the last I need vote in the NTRA poll. Not that it’s a chore, rather a privilege.

But given the results of the two-day Breeders’ Cup festival, I didn’t know what the hell to do.

“Who’s the Horse of the Year?” a colleague asked as I stepped on the media shuttle back to the Galt House a little more than two hours after Drosselmeyer hit the finish line in the 28th Classic.

“The title should probably be vacated this year,” I said.

Horse of the Year? I didn’t even have an idea of what 10 names I was to put on the 2011 NTRA end-of-year rankings.

For instance, should a juvenile filly such as My Miss Aurelia rank ahead of, say, a turf specialist such as Acclamation?

Does a classic three year old filly like Royal Delta, who won the ultra prestigious Alabama and Ladies Classic, rank higher than a Caleb’s Posse?

That colt also was a winner of two Grade 1s, but not of the “Super Grade 1” variety like Royal Delta’s.

This, of course, is supposed to be a measure of historical significance, as opposed to degree of difficulty which, on its face, is more subjective.

In this context, subjectivity is another word for handicapping, opinion having its place. But historical significance is the glue holding the whole game together, lending meaning to the exercise, yes?

Apparently, I am not along in this. The top three on the final NTRA Poll of 2011, open to all horses, look suspiciously alike the top three names I submitted, which “feels” right.

How could anyone argue with a slate that reads (7) 5-1-0 for Havre De Grace, one of those five being the storied Woodward vs. males?

Not to mention two other Grade 1s vs. her own kind in the Apple Blossom and Beldame, two names that certainly have a nice historical ring to it.

But the idea, as stated by the connections themselves, was to run in and win the Classic, making the eventual Horse of the Year exercise a slam dunk.

But that didn’t happen. In fact, it was her only off-the-board effort all year.

In my heart and mind, I can’t say definitively that she is better than arch rival Blind Luck. Clearly, Havre de Grace had the better 2011 and she did spot her rival those two pounds in the Delaware Handicap.

Sorry, but two pounds can make the difference in a nose defeat at a mile and quarter.

Conversely, what about the 3,000 miles and the fact that Delaware was Havre De Grace’s home base? Doesn’t that more than compensate for the two pounds?

Transcontinental trips--there were five last year for Blind Luck, if memory serves--do take their toll. Don’t take my word for it; ask Freddie Head.

Don’t know what to glean from the rankings below, exactly, but look at the dichotomy.

One two year old (filly); two three-year-olds (colt and filly); four four-year-olds (a filly, gelding, Classic winner and a turf horse) and three older horses (a turf specialist and two handicap horses) comprise the rather eclectic ranking.

Note that the number of first-place votes are in parentheses and total number of points received by the top three vote-getters are in brackets. In between is the age, gender and 2011 race record:

1. Havre de Grace (15) 4-F 7-5-1-0 [189]
2. Game On Dude (1) 4-G 8-3-3-1 [141]
3. Royal Delta (1) 3-F 7-4-1-1 [135]
4. Tizway (1) 6-H 4-2-0-2
5. Drosselmeyer (1) 4-C 7-2-2-0
6. Acclamation (2) 5-H 7-5-0-0
7. Cape Blanco (1) 4-C 6-3-0-0
8. My Miss Aurelia 2-F 4-4-0-0
9. Flat Out 5-H 7-2-3-0
10. Caleb's Posse 3-C 10-5-1-1

Further, the following horses, among others, did not rank in the final Top 10: Hansen; Union Rags; Amazombie; Goldikova; Animal Kingdom and the aforementioned Blind Luck.

This means no ranking for a member of a traditional Eclipse category, that of sprinter, where Amazombie appears a near certainty. And no love for a multiple graded stakes winning Derby hero, Animal Kingdom.

Now, what if Javier Castellano didn’t panic and won instead of losing narrowly to Hansen, what would be the headlines then? “Union Rags Overcomes Horrendous Trip to Win Juvenile; Becomes Horse of the Year Contender?”

In the modern era, three juveniles were named Horse of the Year; the great Secretariat; the 7-for-7 Favorite Trick and the great undefeated filly, Moccasin, co-Horse of the Year with Roman Brother in 1965.

So there’s even precedent for My Miss Aurelia which, perfection notwithstanding, the portfolio is a bit light at 4-for-4.

Unless, of course, the connections run her one more time this year over the Thanksgiving weekend; either in the Remsen at nine furlongs, or the Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill at a mile and a sixteenth.

Winning either of those would make her 5-for-5, including a two-turn win against males. Could make Eclipse voting even more interesting in this extraordinarily confounding season.

Written by John Pricci

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