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, August 25, 2018


TV Diary: Travers Day 149


First Race: Every so often you hear it. While money rules, racing can be a democratic enterprise. Case in point: Greyes Creek, an $850,000 2-year-old sales purchase, trained by meet leading Chad Brown, was bet to favoritism while a Dallas Stewart trainee, Louisiana-bred Classy John, a $12,000 purchase, ran off a hid from a field of well-bred juveniles. And the victory was gained despite lugging in at the break and making contact with a well meant Mischievous Bird at the start. Classy John won like he has a chance to live up to his moniker down the road—sprinting, anyway.

Second:
Way Early had the kind of two-turn trip on the grass that will lose 90 of 100 races. But the George Weaver trainee went into overdrive after straightening away at headstretch, his turn of foot getting it done with lengths to spare beneath Manny Franco, who is having himself quite the Spa meet--ranked fourth in the jockey standings entering the Travers program.

Fourth: Jeremiah Englehart is continuing on his Spa roll with Forty Under—a double for Franco--getting this job done for owner Bill Parcells. It appeared that speedy longshot Skychief would steal it with Ricardo Santana Jr. but Forty Under really lengthened his stride in the final sixteenth and was drawing off at the finish. Don’t know how far his talent will take him, but Forty Under appears stakes bound after that performance; note.

Fifth: Who does Bill Mott think he is with a 1-2 finish in a turf route, Chad Brown? But that’s what he did with Red Knight, who is two noses shy of an undefeated seven-race career, and Classic Covey, who finished like a late-running rocket and nearly caught his mate at the line. Red Knight got clever handling from Junior Alvarado--also having himself a meet—and showed his class in deep stretch. However, the gameness award goes to Scholar Athlete, who chased the pace throughout and was beaten less than a half-length by the Mott team; ran too good to lose, follow.

G1 H Allen Jerkens: What does NYRA think it is, the Breeders’ Cup? Because if there’s another venue that can put on a Grade 1 Pick 6 show, literally, I’d like to get some fresh PPs. And who does Dale Romans think he is, the Chad Brown of G1 sprints? Promises Fulfilled, who had every right to regress following his monstrous six-furlong Amsterdam, showed class and toughness to withstand several stretch challengers before stablemate Seven Trumpets moved up the fence nearing the wire to complete a Romans exacta. Firenze Fire might have regressed some off his monstrous Dwyer, finished gamely for third. The Dirt Mile, competition notwithstanding, looks like a reasonable end-season goal.

G1 Personal Ensign: Who do the NYRA stewards think they are, the Southern California stewards? Yes, that was snarky, and yes it was a tough close call. But I would have disqualified Abel Tasman. On the pan shot the incident was virtually invisible but the head-on revealed that Abel Tasman and Elate came together, the latter by about a path, the former by a little more than two.
When the winner came out and initiated the bumping, the second horse was about a neck behind (best guess given the angle). What is indisputable is that Elate was knocked off stride and Jose Ortiz was forced to steady himself after getting knocked off balance by the bump.
How this incident had no effect on the outcome is beyond me. Do we know that Elate would not have edged had the fillies remained apart? The answer is no one knows. I don’t believe in makeup calls, but it might have made sense given last year’s events. (I agreed with last year's "as is" decision.
Subsequently, I have come around and now agree with those who take the position that a foul is a foul. There is too damn much race riding going on in the modern game and it’s got to stop before some rider gets killed. On balance, there is no consistency and many stewards seem to lack the sophistication to make the right judgment call in bang-bang situations. Either way, it is disgraceful that the stewards didn't post their own inquiry, waiting instead for the jockey's objection.

G1 Ballerina: Who does Bob Baffert think he is, Bob Baffert? Old ‘Blue Jacket Bob’ comes to Saratoga, gets a new red jacket, Jill goes shopping on Broadway, he scoops up two Grade 1s with Marley’s Freedom, now 3-for-3 under Baffert management, and ‘Abel’. And the beat goes on; 13 Grade 1 wins when he ships into New York…

G1 Forego: Who does Irad Ortiz Jr. think he is, Eddie Maple? Could he have gone any wider with City of Light, at any point? Don’t think so. Whitmore was very good, answered the seven-furlong doubters and with authority. But the difference is that he had got heads-up inside handling from Santana and the trip might not be City of Light’s best go. That’s beside the point. Good job by Ron Moquett to have Whitmore at tops for the Forego.

G1 Sword Dancer: The main track and inner turf have been particularly kind to speed all week. So everyone leaves Glorious Empire and Julien Leparoux alone from the pole, and they did to this field what they did to the Bowling Green group; put them to sleep on the lead. Glorious Empire has improved immensely. Kudos to trainer James Lawrence II, who has engineered three straight wins from four starts since he became the gelded seven-year-old’s trainer. From high-class claimer to Grade 1 winner in 13 months; great job!

TRAVERS 149:
Good Magic broke out of hand at the start but no matter, he was terrible. Jose Ortiz tried to make up for the lost early position with a wide brush into the first turn. Not a good call, but that would not have mattered either. He was never really in the bridle--for the first time in a nine-race career. He’s not a very stout individual and it showed yesterday. Chad Brown kept on talking about the colt’s ability at 1-1/4 miles. The trainer was trying to tell us something, but don't think it wasn’t about the trip. The Triple Crown and the big Haskell effort has apparently taken a toll.
Always thought Catholic Boy was a good horse, but his Travers showed he’s a very good horse. He embarrassed a field of nice colts and embarrassed them badly. Now he’s a Grade 1 winner on two surfaces at 10 furlongs. Wonderful preparation by newly minted trainer but longtime horseman Jonathan Thomas, whose horses are now 5-for-10 (with two money finishes) in graded company. Loaded all the way, he was rated brilliantly and confidently by now six-time Travers-winning Javier Castellano. Given his Belmont Derby and Travers, the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Turf are both on the table… Mendelssohn was very good, a clear second after being hounded by the winner throughout, finishing gamely but holding the place while tiring. Now, if the track is fast at Churchill Downs on November 3…


Written by John Pricci

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Friday, August 24, 2018


Excellent Travers Renewal a Bettor’s Delight


This was supposed to be easy. After I saw Tuesday night's draw sheet, it was “what’s there to know, I've been following these horses all year?”

Then I took a closer look. Should have known; it’s never that easy.

On the overnight, Good Magic got the automatic check mark. If I could take him twice against Justify, and there’s no Justify…

I still think he’s the best horse in here; think being the operative word. After all, it is the second season. Horses, especially young ones, change. Some get stronger; some stay the same.

Good Magic may be a bit of both as he won the Haskell with authority. And he is expected to run his race. Again. That's what Good Magic does.

Curiously, Chad Brown has been throwing a little shade over the colt's mile and a quarter ability. I understand that and, truth be told, I too believe that Good Magic is more nine furlongs than 10.

But I’m basing that opinion on his failure to complete the deal against Justify. Then again, it was Justify, the horse that no one’s ever beaten. And ‘Magic’ was the only rival to give the sport's 13th Triple Crown winner a serious scare.

The reason for my hesitation is a horse in that’s much faster than Good Magic on the Thoro-Graph scale. That horse is Mendelssohn.

There are several intriguing things about the European speedster. Mendelssohn freaked in the desert, but his Derby, between getting bounced around badly at the break and his unfamiliarity with a sloppy American surface, resulted in a legitimate line-through-it performance.

And he surprised me in the Dwyer; not that he showed speed, but because he was head to fetlock in rapid fractions and still finished a respectable third by 9-1/2 lengths.

In the Dwyer, it was Firenze Fire who freaked, showing his preference for both the one-mile trip and Belmont Park surface. The Jason Servis enhanced trainee made up nine of those nine of that nine and a half length defeat.

Now stretching to two turns at suitably longer distance for the O’Brien/Moore team, and seven weeks fresh, Mendelssohn might not win but the rival who goes first-over could pay the price. And that figures to be Good Magic.

Jose Ortiz doesn’t need anyone to tell him how to ride a horse with natural speed. But if I were giving the pre-race pep talk, I might say when/if you make your move, don’t grind it out with the leader—out-brush him and put him away.

Good Magic is consistently faster than the rest and owns a good developmental pattern. Brown’s horses don’t bounce as high as other barns do, but I’m sure he would have preferred five weeks instead of the four he got to work with.

There are others in here with a good puncher’s chance: In no particular order, Bravazo, Vino Rosso and Tenfold among them. Admittedly, I don’t know how to read Gronkowski, an underlay at 4-1. I’m picking up mixed signals.

I have loved, and have backed, Wonder Gadot all year long, including the time she snatched defeat from victory’s jaws at 16-1 in the Kentucky Oaks.

But since adding blinkers, she’s beaten males twice by an aggregate 10-1/2 lengths. However, today’s males look too fast for her.

HRI STAFF PICKS

Tom Jicha:

1. Good Magic -- Chad wants this and he has the horse
2. Catholic Boy -- Might be as good on dirt as he is on turf
3. Wonder Gadot -- Casse says she loves 10 furlongs
4. Bravazo -- Coach gets a piece with iron horse

Mark Berner:

1. Gronkowski -- Was an off-slowly second in Belmont and setup suits.
2. Good Magic -- Looks for first win beyond 9F off smart Haskell score.
3. King Zachery -- Trained sharply and adds value to exotics.
4- Vino Rosso -- Closed well in local prep and must use underneath.

Indulto:

DH-Gronkowski – Brown Exacta Box
DH-Good Magic – Not "Other Brown," "Either Brown"
3. Vino Rossi – Next best TRI/SPR candidate
4. Bravazo or Tenfold – Can’t decide: Haskell 2nd or Jim Dandy winner?

John Pricci:

1. Good Magic – Yes, Virginia, there is a sanity clause
2. Mendelssohn – Upsets with repeat of UAE Derby
3. Vino Rosso – Downgrade on anything other than fast track
4. Bravazo – An iron horse, indeed

Check THE BET section in Saturday's Feature Race Analysis for more










Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, August 12, 2018


Bets ‘N Pieces


Three For the Money at the Spa: The run of New York-bred open company success is a theme that refuses to play itself out

Under a great race-ride from Junior Alvarado, state-bred Sue’s Fortune showed another dimension in her mild upset of the Grade 2 Adirondack for juvenile fillies.

Taking a comfortable spot behind an ultimately disappointing Lyrical Lady, Alvarado pounced on the leader nearing headstretch and separated herself, all of which was needed to hold off rapid finishing Virginia Eloise.

Now 2-for-2 following a debut front-end maiden breaker, Jeremiah Englehart will enjoy this one before he re-enters his filly. Meanwhile, note that the runnerup will get only stronger with added distance.

Inspector Lynley impressed favorable taking the rescheduled Lure for Shug McGaughey, giving Jose Lezcano a natural double following an exciting-finish Fourstardave score.

Enjoying class relief, he rallied from last to first after tipping into the 5-path at headstretch before withstand late-running favorite, Projected, to the finish.

Imagine, a Chad Brown trainee that couldn’t catch a rival down the lane? Crazy, right?

Remarkable effort by remarkable Voodoo Song, the New York-bred giving owner Barry Schwartz his first Grade 1 Saratoga score.

Last week it was Diversify vs. Mind Your Biscuits in the storied Whitney. This Saturday it was the grassy Voodoo Song beating a gateful of previous Grade 1 winners, showing great grit in doing so.

His task was made easier when Heart to Heart failed to show his customary zip, allowing ‘Voodoo’ to shake loose. (Even though it was a Grade 1 score, I’m not sure it’s the equal of his winning all four Spa starts last year).

The four-year-old chestnut colt could not have chosen a better-named event to establish his budding Spa-legend status.

Runnerup Delta Prince handled the cut in the ground better than expected but not good enough as the wire approached. The laughably overbet favorite, Yoshida, was awful; empty all the way.

Chad-ca-go, Chad-ca-go, a Turf Winning TownSo what’s that, five Beverley D’s and four straight for a human New York-bred, a.k.a. the “Pride of Mechanicville.”

However, this winner came by way of Chile. And Sistercharlie is as tough as she is good, as is her rider, Johnny Velazquez, who returned from three days in a Saratoga sick bay, to win his second Grade 1 of the afternoon.

Johnny skillfully guided Carrick to a huge upset score in the Secretariat 30 minutes earlier. It was the first horse trainer Tom Morley ever saddled at Arlington and his first Grade 1. Think he’ll ever forget Million day 2018?

Getting back to Chad, he ran Sistercharlie back on shorter rest than he would normally, but only after the mare touted herself in a workout last weekend.

Chad finished one-two when Fourstar Crook, New York-bred Fourstar Crook, finished with a rush. Brown’s only bummer was Carrick’s narrow score over Analyze It, who proved he could finish second by a neck to anyone.

Alas, Brown’s disappointment didn’t last long as his Robert Bruce and tough-tripping Almanaar went one-two in the Million. The Million’s downer was Oscar Performance being pulled up after taking “two bad steps.”

Brilliant four-year-old turf specialist checked out OK Saturday night but issues normally reveal themselves the following day. No recent advisories prior to this post.

Very cool watching a three-year-old maiden-breaking turf debut around two turns on turf, a colt named Duchossois—on Million Day yet! Dick Duchossois was one of the most passionate racetrack owners, ever.

Takter, the Chad Brown of Harness Racing?
It does seem that way, even though Takter has been at the top of his sport longer. Jimmy Takter started two horses in the Midwest over the weekend and won with both.

After a sensation Meadowlands qualifier, Takter shipped Lazarus N, the latest “Wonder from Down Under,” into Hoosier Friday night. Six-year-old pacer withstood all challengers to win the Dan Patch, improving his lifetime slate to 36-for-46.

Saturday night, Takter invaded Northfield Park and won that track’s signature Milstein Memorial with three-year-old Thinkbig Dreambig, pacing a mile in 1:50, a perfect trip score aided by two rivals breaking stride at critical junctures. Good to be great and lucky.

A Star Is Born at Del Mar: If you missed Saturday’s G2 Best Pal for juvenile colts, get thee to a replay machine. It was a WOW performance (please note all caps) by Instagrand, now 2-for-2 lifetime.

Haven’t seen a colt in the East who looks like he can stay with him going short. No, I don’t know what was behind him, but the feeling is he could make any man’s good horse look ordinary.

Jerry Hollendorfer’s colt won by 10-1/4 lengths, eased up under the line in 1:10.27, getting his final quarter-mile in 23.73, virtually a two-move performance while on the lead throughout.

By Into Mischief from the Lawyer Ron mare, Assets of War, there’s no telling how good. Note that Derby winning Nyquist won this race at 2.

Just Where Does the Buck Stop, Anyway? Off the top, let’s begin with three stewards, a patrol and placing judge. There’s the infield crew, the starting gate tractor-driver and track superintendent. But, wait, there’s more:

There is the starter and assistant starters, the person who works for the gate company and an assistant starter who provides the runups for Equibase and Sheets publications…

Then there’s the official track timer, the Teletimer clocker and, just for snark’s sake, there’s the in-house TV crew--talent and techs--and, of course, nine trainers and the absolute last line of defense, nine jockeys.

Starting a race at the wrong distance was overshadowed by were two things: The breathtaking performance by well-named New York-bred juvenile Somelikeithotbrown, breaking maiden by 8 explosive lengths beneath Jose Ortiz. Mike Maker is going to have a lot of fun with this boy.

The other angle? How about official result-chart conditions that read: “One and One-Eighth Miles on the Turf – Originally scheduled for 1 1/16 Miles on the Turf.”

Written by John Pricci

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