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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Friday, November 25, 2011


For Mott, a November to Remember


SOUTH OZONE PARK, NY, November 26--In the minutes following the Cigar Mile, the winning trainer was asked if he was concerned when he saw early fractions of twenty-two and forty five as the field reached the half-mile pole in the final Grade 1 race of the New York season..

“I heard the crowd oohing and aahing, I looked at the board, looked up at him and said to myself, ‘well, if Cigar can do it’…” Bill Mott allowing his words trail off with laughter.

Winners find humor everywhere.

And why not? Not only was his to Honor And Serve remaining undefeated in three starts at Aqueduct--his first since he won the Remsen on the same track last fall, it was the cherry on the top of a beautiful confection.

On November 4, Mott won the Ladies Classic with Royal Delta; the following afternoon it was the Classic with Drosselmeyer--his first ever Belmont winner--and now this, a Grade 1 winner of the former NYRA Mile but now the Cigar Mile, the Hall of Fame champion Mott trained.

“Can’t say I haven't had better months; we’ve had some good before so it’s hard to pick one over another,” said Mott, repeatedly asked that same question.

Hell, Mott’s won more races on his birthday in some years than many of his Saratoga rivals might have in a month’s time. But we’ll say it for him; it’s hard to imagine the magnitude of these three Grade 1s combined.

Then maybe the trainer was considering the competition. It wasn’t a stellar lineup. In fact, it’s only other Grade 1 winner was the New York-bred Haynesfield, hero of the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 2010, but clearly not the same healthy horse at 5.

The trainer was a bit defensive when To Honor And Serve was termed a miler, not a derisive measure by any means, but it's not the distance at which they run Breeders’ Cup Classics.

“Well, he’s certainly run some very good races at nine furlongs and he won the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx, a track many horses do not run well on,” Mott said. “But his best stakes race came on this track [referencing the 2010 Remsen].”

“This was a 3-and-up race,” the trainer said, “maybe he can come back again and win it next year, you never know.”

To Honor And Serve is going to get that chance if all goes well. “He’s going to go home to Live Oak and rest a little bit,” said Live Oak owner Charlotte Weber.

“After the rest he will go back to Billy and we’ll figure out his campaign… I can’t see any reason not to race him next year, having fun is about what this game is all about.

“I don’t think it’s about returning them as soon as you can to get your maximum dollars. That’s nice, too, don’t get me wrong, but it is also about racing and continuing on and having good older horses show what they’re made of with stamina.”

Owners with that kind of attitude are easy to cheer on. Thinking out loud: Met Mile, anyone?

STILL PERFECT AFTER ALL THESE YEARS...

And after returning from tendon issues which sidelined her for almost a year, and still perfect after trying nine furlongs for the first time off a lone seven furlong Belmont Park prep on October 5, and her first start in a Grade 1 since the Juvenile Fillies score that earned her a championship.

As for this year’s Eclipse in her category, Royal Delta seems to have three-year-old filly honors wrapped up. *If only Awesome Feather could have recovered sooner.. Maybe next year.

The term “special” is thrown around a lot in this game but this is one filly who’s earned that description. “Unbelievable,” is the word jockey Jeffrey Sanchez used after stalking Love And Pride throughout, reaching even terms at headstretch before drawing away to a 5-¼ length victory; Draw It nailing pacesetter Love And Pride in the final jump.

“At the half-mile pole I knew she was going to win,” the excited rider added. “She is little, but she is unbelievable."

“I’m not surprised [she won like that],” said trainer Chad Brown. “She’s so strong and sharp in the morning. You just never know after what she’s been through. We just try to stay out of her way and take care of her day to day.

“As long as she’s one hundred percent healthy, we’ll probably see her in the Sunshine Millions at Gulfstream.”

Eight down and only 12 to go to catch Rapid Redux.

***

-It's 15 minutes after the fact and I still can't understand how O'Prado Again not only won the Grade 2 Remsen in his first start on a fast dirt track off a recent maiden win on Polytrack but he opened favorite to do it--must have been that fast five-eighths workout at Churchill before shipping in--finishing very well late despite soft early fractions to win going away

Have to feel badly for the connections of place finishing Souper Speedy, who did all the work on a pressured pace throughout but lost out to the winner's momentum surge right at the end. El Padrino, also part of the Remsen pace, settled for third. The juvenile colts ran faster than the fillies by a second, but neither group set any land-speed records to do so. The winner hails from the Dale Romans shed and was ridden by Kent Desormeaux.

Unlike last year, when To Honor and Serve's victory had fans whispering Kentucky Derby, nothing that happened in this heat gave anyone the same feeling. Meanwhiloe, that colt, with 10 minutes to post, is the even money choice to win the Grade1 Cigar Mile.

***

Disposablepleasure, as it turns out,is well named. Not only did sh estumble as badly as horses can--going to hernose at the start of the Demoiselle, losing virtually any chance she had to win, only to regoup, make a remarkable run, gained the lead in midstretch, holding on for the slimmest of nose victories then had to withstand an objection by third finisher Bourbonstreetgirl.

But all's well that ends and the number remained as is, making the order of finish 8-4-5, as Wildcat's Smile was on the wrong end of the win photo, and 32-1 Bourbonstreetgirl, who was bothered by the winner, albeit apparently,not enough, finished third in the Grade 2 nine furlongs. The winner was saddled by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Aqueduct's leading jockey, Ramon Dominguez.

***

Until Santa Anita opens in its traditional day after Christmas spot, today starts the final hurrah for a racing season that with few exceptions has lacked definition all year long.

At Churchill Downs tomorrow and Saturday, perhaps the Clark Handicap will supply some of the good form that was lacking from a couple of short prices Breeders’ Cup Classic runners, Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Flat Out and Belmont Stakes hero Ruler On Ice.

The one certainty is that neither horse has scared away any competition as a baker’s dozen have been entered in the 9-furlong fixture. The program that might attract more attention from fans is Saturday’s Stars of Tomorrow program, Part 2.

What could be better than full fields of two year olds at varying distances competing over the Kentucky Derby surface, including two harbingers of Derby and Oaks form; the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and Golden Rod?

Flat Out was one of the training stars leading up to the Classic but a tough trip prevented him from doing his best. He was beaten by only three lengths after altering course in midstretch.

None the worse for the effort, he came back with a sharp half-mile work in :48, termed breezing. It was the eighth fastest work of 91 at the distance. The starting highweight at 123 pounds, he spots his rivals anywhere from three to 11 pounds.

There is a slight chance that a victory in might propel Flat Out to a Horse of the Year title. Certainly another Grade 1 victory to go along with the Jockey Club Gold Cup couldn’t hurt in such a muddled year.

There’s a better chance that a victory by Ruler On Ice could impact the three-year-old Eclipse championship. No three year old has won more than one Grade 1 in 2011. A Clark win would be his second such score and, of course, a win over the older set.

At Aqueduct, meanwhile, Saturday is a big deal. In fact, it’s the last big deal of the season. Four stakes, all graded, two of them Grade 1; the Gazelle for three-year-old fillies and the Cigar Invitational, for the best milers in the world, most of which skipped the recent Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. The one that didn’t, Jersey town, happened to win this race last year.

In doing so, the upset heavily favored Jockey Club Gold Cup winner, New York-bred of the Year, Haynesfield. The five year is back looking for revenge for trainer Steve Asmussen, Mr. Six-Thousand himself.

Haynesfield obviously has an issue but comes from an outfit that doesn’t believe it has to be forthcoming about every little thing.

After two comeback races which he failed to win over a surface he loves, Belmont Park’s he finally put it all together to win the Empire Classic but now must turn back a furlong in faster company, not always easy despite the conditioning gained.

The Gazelle is a one filly show, the undefeated 2010 Juvenile Filly Champion, who only needs 13 more straight victories to catch Rapid Redux.

Awesome Feather won her comeback from a tendon problem, the seven furlong Le Slew but will now attempt to stretch out two more furlongs around a second turn. Looking forward to seeing her live again, first time since last year’s Juvenile Fillies.

The juvenile races on the program, the Demoiselle for fillies and Remsen for colts, both at nine furlongs, events that should more important than they turn out to be as harbingers of three-year-old form.

This is not to say the race doesn’t turn out good horses; it does. While they didn’t win any classics, To Honor And Serve, one of the Cigar Mile favorites, and Mucho Macho Man, the recent winning returnee and only sophomore to run in all three classics--and who should be in the Cigar but instead is already in Florida--finished one-two in last year’s Remsen.

Maybe this year will be different, but I’m not sure I would bet on it.

Written by John Pricci

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