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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Tuesday, May 06, 2014


Through a Triple Crown Notebook


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 6, 2014—Of the 18 horses that chased California Chrome home in Derby 140, only one hearty equine soul, Ride On Curlin, was willing to follow the newest California Comet to Baltimore on Sunday morning.

Bet his rivals are starting to align themselves and the entries are sure to grow before entries are taken a week from tomorrow. While he was visually impressive once again, 2:03.66 is going to look slower and slower as time goes by.

At this posting, the probables already include Kid Cruz and Dynamic Impact, winners of the Federico Tesio and Illinois Derby, respectively, Pablo Del Monte, the never-mind Derby AE, and the brilliant Social Inclusion, recent foot issues notwithstanding.

Considering a run at this stage are Tampa Bay Derby winner Ring Weekend, pending an upcoming workout after spiking a fever Derby week; Samraat, no California Chrome, please; Danza, if the owners force Todd Pletcher’s hand, and Derby Trial first finisher Bayern and the filly, Ria Antonia, for new trainer Tom Amoss.*

DERBY-140 RED BOARD, IN REVERSE ORDER:

19-VICAR’S IN TROUBLE Not even the move into slip #2 prevented him from being crushed and eliminated. I’ve decided the inside four positions are no good. The fix: Going back to a single starting gate, but those days are gone forever.

18-WILDCAT RED Hated the surface. That was apparent in his workout at Churchill and he proved that even the tighter race-day surface was not the answer. Deserves his freshening.

17-VINCEREMOS Never truly belonged in the first place; not a good year for Tampa Bay prepsters.

16-HARRY’S HOLIDAY Overmatched, but if the race were moved to Turfway? Still outclassed with these.

15-TAPITURE Peaked too soon, and probably wanted no part of 10 furlongs, anyway.

14-UNCLE SIGH Did he really need a set of blinkers? What was supposed to prevent him from showing too much early speed?

13-CANDY BOY Totally eliminated. I heard an excuse that the mile track and banked turns of Churchill couldn’t prevent Rajiv Maragh from tightening things up curling into the first turn. Wonder what the excuse was in the Belmont Stakes when he made a left into Mucho Macho Man at the start of the 2011 Belmont?

12-INTENSE HOLIDAY Bad trip, bad tactics. If there was a reason he needed to be that close to the pace and five wide down the backstretch, I’m sure I don’t know what it is.

11-GENERAL A ROD Very disappointing effort. Whether or not the blinkers are an issue with him I don’t know for sure, then perhaps neither do his connections.

10-WE MISS ARTIE Mr. Ramsey, you haven’t been wildly successful in this game by running in spots like this. You should have listened to your trainer and analyzed his final workout more closely.

9-CHITU His finish position probably was what was to be reasonably expected given his inexperience and running style. I’m sure the seedy toe didn’t help; neither did the mile and a quarter.

8-MEDAL COUNT Had the stoutest pedigree of the group and probably can handle the dirt. Looked great physically but recent racing schedule was a lot to overcome.

7-RIDE ON CURLIN Of those not totally eliminated, he probably finished in a dead-heat with Danza for the worst trip; stopped twice before angling out impossibly wide into the lane. Calvin got the Preakness boot in favor of Joel Rosario. But what was Borel supposed to do with horses stopping in my face?

6-DANCE WITH FATE Was a very pleasant dirt surprise, especially for a horse running in a race not originally on his dance card. He could turn out to be a top second-season sophomore.

5-SAMRAAT Ran very well. Had little choice but to race outside in the clear, gearing up four across the track on the turn, giving the winner a scare for about three jumps into the straight. But he’s going to have to learn changing leads if he wants to win a big one.

4-WICKED STRONG In some ways was more impressive than his Wood Memorial victory. He overcame crowd skittishness, a stumbling start, the regression pattern and stretch blockage in a lights out performance. Grinder type well suited to the Belmont Stakes dynamic.

3-DANZA Showed amazing courage. Was bumped as hard as any horse ever in the opening furlong, was steadied awaiting room in upper stretch, was bumped again—his bad, this time—then finished very professionally for such an inexperienced runner.

2-COMMANDING CURVE His Louisiana Derby 3rd was a promise of things to come. Had clear sailing, yes, but was very wide and finished better than anyone in the field. Good work by Dallas Stewart--with his Oaks filly, too.

1-CALIFORNIA CHROME Brilliance, high class, and a freakish love of running is what separates the good from the great race horse. On his way to showing he could be one of the ones. When he leaves the barrier on time, he makes his own perfect trip. But nobody’s going to hand him a Woodlawn Vase just for showing up.

NATIONAL HANDLE TRENDING DOWN, AGAIN

Despite a strong final round of serious Derby preps and moderating, albeit not great, weather, betting handle slipped a significant 6.07 percent in April, and has fallen to 3.08 percent year over year.

While the number of races has declined 2.07 percent compared to 2013, handle for the year stands at $3.370 billion, compared to $3.477 billion one year ago.

THE LONGEST DAY

The live, 12-race Belmont Park program on Kentucky Derby Saturday began at noon and ended at 7:38 p.m.

No wonder the morale of New York Racing Association workers is at an all-time low.

The day’s sixth race went off at 2:54 p.m., reasonable enough. A race day at Belmont always is a bit longer because of its size, taking more back-and-forth time to go from barn area to paddock, for jockeys to weigh in, change silks, walk to back to the paddock for the next race, etc., etc.

Besides, the day should be relaxed at “the American Longchamp.” But this was a day when on-track “guests” should have been treated to a hammock giveaway.

Post times from races 6 to 7; 7 to 8; 8 to 9 and 9 to 10 were 43 minutes, 47, 43 and 45, respectively. The 11th race, which followed the Derby simulcast, came one hour and 14 minutes after Belmont’s 10th. The finale came 34 minutes later.

The Derby day attendance at Belmont Park was good at 9,609. I wonder how many Derby Day newcomers returned Sunday when there were 3,071 paying customers in the house?

ROCK THE TOTE

In the last five minutes of Derby wagering, keen observer Vinman noted that the odds on Commanding Curve rose from 31-1 to 35-1; Harry’s Holiday from 38 to 41; Uncle Sigh from 26-29; We Miss Artie from 22 to 26 and, in the last minute or so, California Chrome from 2-1 to 5-2.

While those odds were rising, Candy Boy held firm at 16-1. But in the very final flash, Candy Boy closed at 9.40-1. I would have taken more than a million dollars to put the Kentucky Derby tote board on tilt.

That indicates that one syndicate or individual raised batch betting to a new level. So, California Chrome fans, enjoy your $7 mutuel.

*updated May 7


Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, May 03, 2014


CALIFORNIA CHROME CRUISES TO VICTORY


By Press Release

LOUISVILLE, KY (Saturday, May 3, 2014) – Steven Coburn and Perry Martin’s favored California Chrome, ridden by Victor Espinoza, took command at the head of the stretch en route to a 1 3/4-length victory over Commanding Curve to win the 140th running of the $2,202,800 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I).

A sun-splashed crowd of 164,906, the second-largest attendance in Kentucky Derby history, watched California Chrome give jockey Victor Espinoza a second Derby victory to go with his triumph on War Emblem in 2002.

The largest Derby crowd was 165,307 in 2012.

Art Sherman, 77, conditions California Chrome and became the oldest trainer to win a Kentucky Derby winner. Charlie Whittingham was 76 when Sunday Silence won the 1989 Kentucky Derby.

Uncle Sigh led the field of 19 through fractions of :23.04 and :47.37 with Chitu and Samraat in closest pursuit. California Chrome led the second pack and began to close in after six furlongs in 1:11.80.

By the time the field hit the top of the stretch, California Chrome was showing his heels to all of his pursuers, opening up at midstretch and coasting under the wire well clearing of Commanding Curve.

The victory was worth $1,442,800 and increased California Chrome’s earnings to $2,577,650 with a record of 11-7-1-0.

California Chrome is the first California bred to win the Run for the Roses since Decidedly in 1962. He is a son of Lucky Pulpit out of the Not For Love mare Love the Chase.

California Chrome covered the 1 ¼ miles on a fast main track in 2:03.66.

California Chrome paid $7, $5.60 and $4.20. Commanding Curve, ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, paid $31.80 and $15.40 with Danza, ridden by Joe Bravo, finishing 1 ¼ lengths behind Commanding Curve in third and returning $6 to show.

It was another 2 ¾ lengths back to Wicked Strong, who was followed in order by Samraat, Dance With Fate, Ride On Curlin, Medal Count, Chitu, We Miss Artie, General a Rod, Intense Holiday, Candy Boy, Uncle Sigh, Tapiture, Harry’s Holiday, Vinceremos, Wildcat Red and Vicar’s in Trouble.

TRAINER QUOTES

Art Sherman, trainer of California Chrome, first – “Just awesome. I’m breathless. This is so cool. I think I rode the horse with Victor (Espinoza) the last 70 yards. It was a picture-perfect ride. He was right where he should have been all the way around. Coming down the stretch I was thinking: ‘Keep rollin’ big boy. Keep rollin’.’ This has to be the sweetest moment of my life. To be my age and have something like this happen, what can you say? For all my friends in California, this is for you. We did it!”

Dallas Stewart, trainer of Commanding Curve, second – “I wish I was out there (in the infield winner's circle), but you know, hey, I thank God for everything, the way it is, and that's what keeps us going for next year. Hopefully, we'll be back here next year. On training the second-place finisher two years in a row: "I would never get frustrated over that. There's a lot of things to be frustrated about. Getting beat in a horse race isn't one of them.'' On whether the Preakness is a possibility: "You know, who knows? Maybe. Yeah, probably. We'll see. He's a big, strong horse. You can see he handled the paddock real good. He handles a lot of things good. So, I doubt the race would knock him out. I was just hoping California Chrome would kind of give in a little bit, but he didn't. We were running at him. I mean, Shaun (Bridgmohan) said, 'He was running, Dallas.' So I'm very proud of him.''

Todd Pletcher, trainer of Danza, third, We Miss Artie, 10th, Intense Holiday, 12th and Vincremos, 17th, – On Danza: “I thought he ran well. Coming by the wire first time, he got bumped by Vinceremos. But he got back in position and started to respond. Joe (Bravo) had to move him a little earlier than he wanted to. Considering that this was only the fifth race of his life, you’ve got to say it was a very good effort.” On Intense Holiday: “He was hung outside all the way around. He just never seemed to get with it.” On Vinceremos (17th): “He got into trouble in two different spots. He was involved in two bumping incidents. It was just a tough race for him to run.” On We Miss Artie (10th): “We took him back and tried to make a late run with him. He’ll go in the Queen’s Plate next.”

Jimmy Jerkens, trainer of Wicked Strong, fourth – “I thought he ran decent. He didn’t accelerate fast enough to go through the holes that were opening and those closed up on him quickly. He was making nice forward motion at the end though and that was encouraging.”

Rick Violette, trainer of Samraat, fifth – “I thought he his ran eyeballs out. He laid it out on the line. The kid (Jose Ortiz) rode a terrific race. No second guessing, my horse ran a great race. The winner was just better. We looked him in the eye and he just pulled away. My horse came out of the race good. So far so good. I feel bad for a horse that ran so well and so hard and only got fifth place.”

Peter Eurton, trainer of Dance With Fate, sixth – "After talking with [jockey Corey Nakatani], it sounds like he handled the dirt OK. He just didn't have that necessary kick to continue. If he continues his run he's right there. Unfortunately he didn't. Whether it was getting hold of the dirt or not, whether it was the mile and a quarter, or going a little further because he was a little wide--I don't know. He had a clean trip, though. No excuses."

Billy Gowan, trainer of Ride On Curlin, seventh – Not available for comment.

Dale Romans, trainer of Medal Count, eighth – “I felt good about where we were the whole race, even up the backside. About the half-mile pole I thought we were ranging up exactly where we needed to be and he could quicken from there. I wish there had been a lot more pace in the race. It looked on paper like there would be a lot more. We got shut off pretty badly down the lane but, I don’t know, that’s the Derby. I think we could’ve moved up a couple positions but I don’t think it kept us from winning. I do want to say one thing on the record. I didn’t think that California Chrome had any chance going into this race and I was very, very wrong. Whether the crop’s a good crop or not, that’s a special horse. I was wrong. I was a very big skeptic; I threw him out of all my tickets in every spot. I didn’t think he fit the profile to win the Derby. I’m very impressed the way he came into it, the way he looked, the way he was prepared and the way he ran. Now he has a new fan.”

Bob Baffert, trainer of Chitu, ninth – “He ran well for a while. I was watching California Chrome stalking. You could tell he was comfortable the whole way. He’s for real. It’s going to be a great Triple Crown series.”

Mike Maker, trainer of General a Rod, 11th, Harry’s Holiday, 16th and Vicar’s in Trouble 19th, – On Vicar's in Trouble: "It looked like he got bounced off the rail early.” On Harry's Holiday and General a Rod: "It just looked like they weren't good enough. That's about it.''

John Sadler, trainer of Candy Boy, 13th – “It was a nightmare trip. He was never in a good position at any point and almost went down in the first turn. He just didn’t get any kind of trip. The track was speed favoring all day and that didn’t help us. But he looks good back at the barn and as long as he came back in one piece we are happy.”

Gary Contessa, trainer of Uncle Sigh, 14th – “He got the lead and the pace wasn’t fast. But he just got beat.”

Steve Asmussen, trainer of Tapiture, 15th – “He just flattened out. He put himself in a good spot, had every chance, made a little run around the turn and then just got tired.”

Jose Garoffalo, trainer of Wildcat Red, 18th – “I’d have to say the track was a factor. He couldn’t handle the track. I think I’ll give him a break now and look for a race.”

Written by HRI Publisher

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Friday, May 02, 2014


Use’m and Lose’m


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 2, 2014—It’s one of the first things they teach you in Wiseguy School: You’re not sure what to do with the fave; you’ve got a hunch and you want to bet a bunch. What to do?

“You use’m, then you lose’m,” kid.

That’s the dilemma for me in Derby 140. What do I do with California Chrome. Do I wiseguy my way out of a winner, or do I believe my lyin’ eyes?

All horses have issues, some issues are bigger, some not so much. For all his brilliance and power, California Chrome’s hind legs need treatment from time to time, conventional treatment, acupuncture, whatever it takes.

But I’m sure it’s an issue that trainer Art Sherman and his staff can deal with. That’s the way it is with fast horses sometimes; slow ones don’t run fast or hard enough to do themselves any harm.

It’s those hind end issues that occasionally cause the Derby favorite to break a half-beat slowly. This race is unkind to horses that have gate issues on race day.

But there’s more to it than that. California Chrome, breaking from post position 5, has two quick gate horses to his inside; Vicar’s In Trouble—which had better break quickly from the dreaded rail or risk running into the fence—and Uncle Sigh, which adds blinkers to make him even quicker.

On the favorite’s immediate right is another speedster, Samraat, and a couple of more stalls away is very fast Wildcat Red. The potential for a speed jam is there as is the possibility of a tardy break. And at 2-1, or thereabouts, in his first start outside SoCal?

Of course, if the Santa Anita Derby version of California Chrome shows up in Louisville, this group could be in big trouble. If not, things really open up. What to do?

Use'm and lose’m.

The problem here is that there are some many ways to go after the favorite: There’s Intense Holiday, the training star of Derby 140.

There’s his stablemate Danza, also training well, and Candy Boy, getting good right now and loving his time in the Blue Grass, and Samraat, experienced but still learning, and a throwback energizer-bunny of a horse named Medal Count, and...

There are a few others worth of mention but why bother; all have pluses, all have minuses. It’s horse racing; it’s why you gamble on it.

We’ll give this a little more thought and catch up later in the Feature Race section. Hey, anybody see that filly today?

Unbeatable Untapable

Some good favorites win and then there’s Untapable, the filly that turned the Kentucky Oaks into her own private party. And it’s likely the 1:48.68 will come up pretty good with the speed boys.

Good enough to tackle colts in the Preakness? I think we all should keep our shirts on until at least 6:24 p.m. on Saturday. But that WAS special.

Her margin was 4-1/2 lengths over a filly that won both of her previous starts going long impressively. And when Fashion Gate hopped at the start and broke behind the field, an anticipated lively pace became pretty pedestrian, an opening half-mile in 47.80.

Rosie Napravnik had My Miss Sophia and Javier Castellano in her sights throughout. You might even say that with their better position, Castellano’s filly had a first-run edge. She did but Tapiture ran right on by with little urging.

Rosie and her filly were in complete control and if her final time was indeed a regression, I’d love to see her when she's really on her game.

Untapable was a little hot leaving the paddock and in the post parade but she was a cool customer on the track, elevating her Churchill Downs slate to 3-for-3.

She won the storied Kentucky Oaks as easy as she worked the other morning for the biggest race of her career. Steve Asmussen, who had her ready a week ago, was relieved that he could keep her on the ground all week.

He was also relieved for other reasons the whole world knows about. And if they hadn’t heard about the PETA video sting, Asmussen reminded the television audience. Twice.

We thought Tapiture’s recent wins were so spectacular that he might have been vulnerable to a regression and tried to beat her with Unbridled Forever. The sixth betting choice ran well all the way to finish third, but the Oaks was a mismatch.

Tapiture just might be one of the ones.

Written by John Pricci

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