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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Sunday, November 27, 2016


As Door Closes on 2016 Season, Another Opens Immediately


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, November 27, 2016—If the cornucopia of major races from around the country over this holiday weekend proves anything, it’s twofold:

There is life after the Breeders’ Cup and a new season will be here before you know it.

That would be the opening of the championship meet on Saturday in South Florida and likewise in Southern California the day of Christmas. For now, we’ll begin putting on bow on 2016 with all appropriate pomp and circumstance.

Very soon, an official Eclipse ballots will be mailed to voters electronically and by courier, and when those opinions are assessed 2016’s champions will be crowned after primaries have decided the top three vote-getters in each category.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves, a bad thing in the racing business. First, the skinny on the weekend’s races of note and possible future implications. To wit:

Grade 3 Comely: Barclay Tagg, trainer of 20-1 upsetter Verve’s Tale, had it right: “I wasn’t quite sure she was where she should be for these type of horses.” The bettors agreed, hence the price.

The crowd bet Lewis Bay down to 3-5 off a dominating score in the G3 Turnback the Alarm and it appeared that result was going to play itself out once again. But the filly, returning on short rest, tired inside the final sixteenth despite the moderate pace.

“I didn't have much pace to run at,” observed Paco Lopez, who rode the hair off his filly. “In the stretch she gave me a lot.” That she did.

Grade 2 Demoiselle: Paco, Part Dos, only this time he set a reasonably moderate pace instead of chasing one. But much of the credit goes to his willing juvenile partner, Miss Sky Warrior, who also took the G3 Tempted prep for this.

Trainer Kelly Breen thought his filly would appreciate two turns and she did, able to relax early and having enough stamina to kick home, holding off the very determined favorite, Jamyson ‘n Ginger, returning on short rest and a cross-country trip to the Breeders’ Cup.

They will meet each again, very likely at Gulfstream Park this winter, with each outfit planning to get to the Kentucky Oaks the right way. But much can in the interim (E.G. the emergence of Elate; check out yesterday’s fourth race at the Big A).

Grade 2 Remsen: We are well aware that this two-turn nine furlongs has been a negative harbinger of Kentucky Derby form. Counterintuitive but true nonetheless. However, this year might be different because, well, Mo Town rocks!

Deterred by neither a two-month break nor elongated trip, particularly this early in the “prep season,” he used his stamina and bounding stride to great advantage, kicking clear by 2-1/2 lengths beneath an excited Johnny Velazquez who uncharacteristically showed a little emotion at the finish, albeit more of a fist pump than the arm variety.

“He was very good,” the Hall of Famer said. "He got carried wide into the first turn and after that I had to do the dirty job with the horse in front. After that he did everything well. Hopefully, he can come back better as a three-year-old."

No doubt the ability is there, and so is the scope. He will winter at Payson Park, said trainer Tony Dutrow, who’d like to bring him back to New York to get started in the Gotham.

Grade 1 Cigar Mile: Well, it might not have been the Distaff or the Classic, but that was a damn good show put on by the exacta finishers—and a tough beat if you took the price on Divining Rod!

But credit Connect who, like G1 Clark Handicap winner Gun Runner Friday, are two soon-to-be four-year-olds that might have just run their way into the Pegasus and a titanic battle with California Chrome and Arrogate, among others.

Connect was coming off at September 27 layoff, was meeting older horses for the first time and turning back into a hot-paced, one-turn mile. The race didn’t appear to feature a stellar class on paper but may have produced a future superstar.

Runnerup Divining Rod was tremendous. With Daniel Centeno taking advantage of a favorable outside post and the addition of blinkers, they took command at headstretch, opened ground with three-sixteenths remaining, but Connect simply denied him the win.

“He hadn't run since the Pennsylvania Derby. We freshened him a little and there is always a bit of a risk doing that,” Chad Brown explained. “He could be a little short but he had just enough today and got it done at a mile… He really showed a lot of heart.”

Indeed he did, also showing class as he extended his head right at the line to win it; great race.

Grade 2 Golden Rod: When juvenile fillies get together going two turns, it’s fairly commonplace to see the early leader to show the way throughout. [See the Demoiselle].

But to watch Farrell take command of the mile and a sixteenth from an outside slip and widen through the stretch to win by six dominating lengths, that’s another matter entirely.

Favorite Daddys Lil Darling--coming off an excellent fourth in the Juvenile Fillies following her G2 Pocahontas score and second in the G1 Alcibiades--could have been luckier.

“We had a little bit of trouble,” admitted Corey Lanerie, “but with a clean trip, I don’t know if I could catch the winner.”

“Nobody was going to beat Wayne’s [Catalano] filly the way she ran, said trainer Ken McPeek of the runnerup. “She ran huge.”

“The biggest thing was she settled into the turn and on the backside and from there it was going to be tough to catch her” said Channing Hill, who rode the winner for his father-in-law. “She’s going to be tough wherever she goes this winter.”

That will be New Orleans, which also happens to be Daddys Lil Darling’s winter destination.

G2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes: One thing became abundantly clear as the juvenile colts reached the finish line: McCraken is for real!

The Ghostzapper colt won it the hard way from 11th of 12 with a strong 5-path sweep to reach contention by headstretch, continuing that acceleration winning with stick down by 1-1/4 lengths with energy in reserve under a confident hand-drive from B J Hernandez.

“He is as good as I thought he was and he handled [the race] well,” trainer Ian Wilkes said, after winning his third graded stakes of the holiday weekend. “They didn’t hand it to him. It wasn’t easy, but he came through for us.”

Runnerup Wild Shot acquitted himself very well, spotting him recent conditioning after not having run since finishing third in Keeneland’s G1 Breeders’ Futurity, October 8.

Written by John Pricci

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