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 04, 2018


Breeders’ Cup Day 2: Bringing Out the Best in Man and Beast


A terrific prelude to Breeders’ Cup Saturday, the return of Florida Derby winner and Kentucky Derby show finisher Audible in the seven furlong Cherokee Run Stakes, and what a comeback performance it was.

In an effort that was largely anti-profile all weekend, Audible came from far back with a wide sweep and never stopped, finishing determinedly under the wire over a group that included several graded stakes winners.

From here it will be the one mile, one turn Harlan’s Holiday in mid-December, his South Florida return for his major winter goal, the Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the final Saturday in January.

Would love it if City of Light’s people decide to take a shot. The impressive Dirt Mile winner was the only horses to defeat Accelerate rounding two turns this year and his speedy style would play very well in Hallandale Beach. But first things first...


FILLY & MARE SPRINT: Shamrocks Are Lucky


The good ones make their own luck, which is exactly what Shamrock Rose did with encouragement from a quintessential Irad Ortiz race ride, who persevered between fillies to nail mid-race moving Chalon who just couldn’t stay all the way, beaten a head in the dramatic lid-lifter.

Favorite Marley’s Freedom rallied extremely wide into the stretch which was all her own doing after failing to be tactically placed early. She loomed a possible threat leaving the eighth pole but hung in the final stages. Anonymity was a good wide-rally third inside Marley, finishing a head behind Chalon and a neck in front of disappointing ‘Marley’.

TURF SPRINT: “Could You Repeat That?”


And the Stormy Liberal obliged for his repeat Sprint score, wearing down a very fast and very hard used World of Trouble, producing another heart-pounding finish, engineered by young Drayden Van Dyke, his first Breeders’ Cup win and the cherry on top of his breakthrough season.

‘Stormy’ might not have won it if were not for Van Dyke who got first jump on the field, eased his mount back in perfect position off a pace that heated up rapidly, set his mount down in the 4-path and ran down a determined rival in deep stretch, the team finishing far ahead of a too-late Disco Partner, 7-1/2 lengths behind the top two.

DIRT MILE: Can you see the light?

Trainer Mike McCarthy and Javier Castellano sure could, setting sail for the lead after an even start with City of Light from the pole out of the mile chute and was never seriously threatened in a sparkling display of speed and power, reaching the half in 45.16 and the wire in a gaudy 1:33.83.

Seeking the Soul showed his talent and fondness for Churchill Downs with a strong finishing runnerup as hickory three-year-old Bravazo was a solid show finisher down the center of the track. Odds-on Catalina Cruiser broke out of hand from his outside slip, quickly got back in the race but was exposed when the real running started at midturn.

FILLY & MARE TURF: Sisterchampion

It came down to the two favorites, the European vs. the home team: USA…USA…USA! By a nose, Sistercharlie’s and Chad Brown’s and Johnny’s. The finish was thisclose, and if Wild Illusion wasn’t so fussy at the gate, requiring a blindfold, and a tardy break, who knows? But she had every chance but Sistercharlie and Johnny were relentless.

And, so, instead of three straight Grade/Group 1s and a second victory for Appleby’s team on the day, it was Chad’s second and the slow pace and a couple of pound break for the three-year-old didn’t matter. The Filly & Mare Turf was her fourth G1 this year and her two defeats were by less than a half-length—a neck and a head. And she will return in 2019.

THE SPRINT: Back to Back to Back to Back

Repeat winner are rare in this event and here you have an outfit, Rockingham Ranch et al and trainer Peter Miller doubling up in the Turf Sprint with Stormy Liberal and The Sprint with Roy H., whose whole season was predicated on this race.

To get it done, Miller reached out for Paco Lopez for the winning Santa Anita Sprint Championship—another repeat score—and then this, assuring a consecutive Sprint title. Paco assured a perfect outside stalking trip and Roy H. was there when called upon.

Promises Fulfilled set insane fractions of 21.35 and 44.21 but Roy H. was on the leader at that point, Paco looking for competition. But the champ was even better than last year. Favored Imperial Hint, without his usual gas, made a late bid for third but never threatened. Whitmore tipped off the fence late to secure the place.

THE MILE: Omens Galore


In what turned out to be a stage setter for Juddmonte Farm and Frankie Dettori who rode him to victory in the Gr3 City of York, Expert Eye, under the supervision of European ace, Sir Michael Stoute, Expert Eye came with his devastating turn of foot to get up in the last two strides despite ground loss at the turn, nailing Catapult at the line.

Catapult ran too good to lose and it seemed like a good omen for trainer John Sadler, whose Breeders’ Cup futility continued but the fresh Del Mar Mile champion was loaded all the way, and vanquished all but one. Analyze it showed the courage he had lacked in recent starts, out-nodding premature moving Divisidero for third.

And it wasn’t a bad omen for Enable either, who would take the stage 30 minutes later.

THE DISTAFF: And the Fairest of Them All Is…

Monomoy Girl, the fairest all year. Indeed, no filly finished ahead of her this year, all but one of those in G1 company, but she was placed second in the Cotillion after intimidating rival Midnight Bisou throughout the stretch run. And what about her first run vs her elders, including the enigmatic Abel Tasman? No worries.

Her best was more than good enough against 10 rivals, stalking the pace throughout nine furlongs until Florent Geroux pulled the string at headstretch. And thus she put together what many are saying is the best season by a sophomore filly since Zenyatta. No arguments here.

Wow Cat from last of 11 and was a strong finish second by a half-length over always trying Midnight Bisou. Abel Tasman, put in the race early by Mike Smith, back up through the field and finished last for the second consecutive time. The filly runs like she wants to go home.

THE TURF: History, No Longer In the Waiting


Would Enable become the first Arc winner to win the Turf, score her 10th victory in 11 lifetime starts, finally give John Gosden his first Turf win since the inaugural and Frankie his 16th Breeders’ Cup victory? Yes, yes, yes and yes. But it wasn’t the easiest of trips.

Oh, she was close enough, had forward position, was in the better footing but never really looked all that comfortable, surrounded virtually every step of the way.

As the inside horses tired Frankie guided his filly into the 4-path at the turn, the momentum carrying her 6 wide into the lane, at which point her younger, class rival Magical got the jump inside as the two fillies set sail for the wire.

It was a great battle and the champion prevailed. “She conquered America,” and the Arc winner’s hex in the process, overcoming, injury, sickness and a tough race coming off one lone prep on synthetic over outclassed rivals that couldn’t warm her up on her best. It was nine lengths back to show finisher, the ever tenacious, stretch-running Sadler’s Joy.

THE CLASSIC: Now, Can California and Sadler Conquer Churchill Downs?

Hadn’t had much luck in the past, Accelerate was facing four in five rivals in his home state, was he soft going into his final prep or was he over the top? And there was the Sadler 0-for-44 factor. The best thing he had going for him was 10 furlongs and a white hot Rosario.

It turned out he needed every inch of that mile and a quarter and a contested pace in front of him. And it all worked out, the 5-year-old got his trainer off the Breeders’ Cup duck by winning his fifth Grade 1 of the year, his fourth at the classic American distance.

Catholic Boy never had a chance, virtually eliminated at the start, McKinzie, the other marquee three-year-old was not well enough prepared, wasn’t good enough, or both. Mendelssohn is brilliant but 10 furlongs looks like a half-furlong too far. Thunder Snow needs a rider to replace the whip-happy one he has, one seemingly overmatched against America’s best.

Mind Your Biscuits suffered through a wide trip but never really fired, West Coast hasn’t won in a long time now, Yoshida could not extend his big 9-furlong another strong eighth-mile and only trusty Gunnevera, who makes big runs in big spots, made a very good one right to the end but was no match for a faster rival, the best handicap horse in America.

Written by John Pricci

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Through the Breeders’ Cup Looking Glass: Horses & Races to Watch


PART 1: Future Stars Friday:

Said it before and will re-state: Love the new Friday concept since the future is what this game’s always been about: This year’s juveniles are next year’s Classicists.

A preview of the preview began in the Street Sense, the race before the Juvenile Turf Sprint. The embarrassment of 2-year-old riches continued for Mr. Baffert: Improbable is a stone runner and young Drayden Van Dyke has broken through in a big way…

On Tuesday, we’ll look at the aesthetics of Breeders’ Cup, handle business, live attendance, venues and the controversial Eclipse issues in several categories. But while the action is still fresh…


JUVENILE TURF SPRINT: BULLET-IN

As the schedule would have it, Baffert and Todd Pletcher go back-to-back. Credit the trainer who knew what he had, debuting Bulletin is a listed Gulfstream Park stakes in debut, which he won with authority.

On Friday, he made the start look bad as Javier—he has achieved one-name status—caught a flyer and the colt did the rest, powering away through the lane as clearly best over the filly Chelsea Cloisters who was ultra-good in defeat.

So Perfect finished with decided interest on the best part of the “good” course—the 3-to-4 path while another O’Brien trainee finished gamely inside; Sergei Prokofiev raced better than it looks on paper. Favorite Soldier’s Call was eliminate at the break; slow 2-3 lengths at start, steadied hard between shortly thereafter.

JUVENILE FILLIES TURF: Extremely R-eli-able


I hate it when in the rush to storylines, hyperbole becomes normalized. In the case of Newspaperofrecord not only will we admit it was justified but, just possibly, at this stage, Chad Brown-trained filly might be ahead of Lady Eli developmentally. It’s Sunday morning and Irad Ortiz has yet to let the undefeated filly run.

East finished strongly in the 6-path to snatch second in the final strides as Stellar Agent was an extremely good third rallying in the slowest, part of the wet course inside. Ortiz was also Lady Eli’s partner, a 2-3/4 length winner of the JFT but, for the record, this miss won hers by 6-3/4s, wow!

Words of wisdom on naming filly from owner Seth Klarman, via Bloodhorse Editor Alicia Wincze Hughes Twitter feed, for those still interested in learning tribe-free: "I think this is an important time for journalism....we believe in searching out facts and that society needs to get back to facts and truth.”

JUVENILE FILLIES: Cash Is Queen


In another year, and extremely likely now, Jaywalk’s totally comprehensive victory, coupled with her Grade 1 Frizette, her fourth straight win since adding Lasix, will earn a much deserved Eclipse. Talent-wise, however, is she Newspaperofrecord’s equal? Let the first Breeders’ Cup Eclipse debate begin.

The very talented runnerup, Restless Rider, will live to fight another day while show finisher Vibrance—on a rail that did not appear the fastest part of the drying dirt surface—ran an excellent race, giving way only in the final few strides.

JUVENILE TURF: Made in Great Britain

With William Buick driving furiously and timing his late move precisely, Line of Duty was very stout in the late stages for a victory that was more impressive than a chart might indicate. Buick saved ground, edged out for room midturn, wisely waited to angle 5-wide in the straightaway then powered home.

Uncle Benny stretched out nicely from sprints, as his pedigree indicated he would, a good, very well ridden 2nd beneath Irad. Show finishing pressed throughout pacesetter Somelikeithotbrown, ran too good to lose, narrowly beaten for it all.

The only quizzical moment was why the steward’s took so long to decide on a possible disqualification. The first two horses came together late--more of a brush than a bump—the outside coming in under right-handled pressure with the inside runner coming out first, under a left hand. More dramatic “thoroughness” than was called for in this spot.

JUVENILE WINNER “Would Not Get Beat”

That’s what trainer Baffert told anyone who would listen pre-race and Rosario took the words to heat, riding Game Winner in much-the-best fashion. Racing four to five wide at every stage, the undefeated three-time G1 winner would not be denied, once again lengthening stride as the wire approached.

Runnerup Knicks Go apparently in no fluke. He cashed the pace of the disappointing Complexity throughout, took command at headstretch and battled the winner until inside the final sixteenth. Longshot Signalman finished best of all—third—and galloped out in front before reaching mid-clubhouse turn in a promising performance.

The win gave Rosario—who would also take the curtain-closing Marathon with Rocketry—the very-early favorites for both the Derby and Oaks. Of Baffert’s four Juvenile victories, a healthy Game Winner would be the first to run back in the ensuing Kentucky Derby.

SATURDAY: Stay tuned

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, November 02, 2018


Breeders’ Cup XXXV: Most Contentious Classic Ever?


Today’s featured Breeders’ Cup Classic may be the second most important race run in this country each year but unquestionably is the most prestigious event for older horses in America.

The Classic usually features ‘the Big Horse,” that year who is looking to assert his superior credentials, horses such as, most recently, Gun Runner, or other past cracks like American Pharoah, Zenyatta, Curlin and yesterday’s Skip Away, Cigar, Alysheba. And all succeeded.

The credentials of Classic 35 are no less imposing, but none are impeccable. Cases can be made for or against all horses save for two 30-1 early line choices. That’s right, 12 of the 14 runners are in this mile and a quarter with a chance, to varying degrees, of course. It might be the most contentious we’ve ever seen.

It is highly probable that the Churchill Downs surface will be fast and dry by 5:44 p.m. Saturday. There will be no built-in excuses for anyone, until the latch is sprung, of course. But these horses will be partnered by many of the world’s best riders. Simply stated, it doesn’t get any better than this.

May all horses in the 14 Breeders’ Cup events—and any of the horses that step foot on the racetrack—have speedy and safe journeys so that all the vanquished may live to fight another day.

The HRI staff has shared their opinions on the lynchpin races of Friday and Saturday, the Juvenile and Classic, and thoughts on races of particular interest to them, for the purposes of, you know, cashing! To wit: Breeders’ Cup 35, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018

By TOM JICHA

Breeders' Cup Classic:
1. Catholic Boy—He just keeps getting better. Back to back Grade 1 wins on turf and dirt, both at 10 furlongs and workout reports are glowing.
2. Thunder Sky—Been pointed to this for months. Tight loss in JCGC can be excused. Race was intended as a final prep for this.
3. Accelerate—Has been beating mostly over-matched foes in short fields, all in California. Only road trip was a loss. Trainer 0-41 at BC.
4. McKinzie—The other Baffert came back sharp. BB liked him more than Justify in spring.
5. West Coast—Runnerup last year will be sharper than he was off layoff in prep.

Catholic Boy to win and using first and second in exactas with 2 through 5, extra tickets with Catholic Boy on top.

Play of the Day Distaff:

1. Blue Prize--Argentine took a while to get acclimated, as many do. Reminiscent of Bayakoa and Paseana. Could not be sharper now with three straight stakes win, two at Churchill. Presence of big names will inflate her price.
2. Monomoy Girl—Beaten to finish only once but this is her first against older.
3. Abel Tasman—Baffert has explanation for dismal last but he’s only guessing.
4. Midnight Bisou—Despite DQ win in last, Monomoy Girl has her number.
5. Vale Dori—Other Baffert is back in top form.

Blue Prize to win, saver on Vale Dori if better than 15-1. Box top three in exactas, extra tickets with Blue Prize on top of next three.

By MARK BERNER

Classic:
1- McKinzie returned with smart score and gets CD win six months late.
2- Accelerate, in top form and legitimate favorite, is the one to beat.
3- Mind Your Biscuits has been sharp all season; acid test here.
4- Catholic Boy looked good in Travers win and races well when fresh.
5- Yoshida won dirt bow in Woodward and could be this good.

The Play: Pick 3 races 10-11-12
Enable / McKinzie / Moonlit Garden, Awestruck, Divine Miss Grey & Berned

Play of the Day Dirt Mile:
1- Catalina Cruiser has tactical speed and will remain unbeaten in one-turn mile.
2- City of Light trained smartly and races well when fresh.
3- Firenze Fire stretches to best distance in third start off a layoff.
4- Seeking the Soul won last at same track and distance.
5- Giant Expectations starts slowly and has good late pace.

Tri: Catalina Cruiser & City of Hope / Catalina Cruiser, City of Hope, Firenze Fire & Seeking the Soul / Catalina Cruiser, City of Hope, Firenze Fire, Seeking the Soul & Giant Expectations.

Super: Catalina Cruiser & City of Hope / Catalina Cruiser, City of Hope, Firenze Fire & Seeking the Soul / Firenze Fire, Seeking the Soul & Giant Expectations / Firenze Fire, Seeking the Soul & Giant Expectations.

DD 4&5: Hembree, Disco Partner & Chanteline / Catalina Cruiser & City of Hope

P3 4-5-6: Hembree, Disco Partner & Chanteline / Catalina Cruiser & City of Hope / Mysistercharlie.

By INDULTO

The Classic:

1. Accelerate – Swept California G1 routes, versatile enough for post
2. Thunder Snow – Dubai WCup winner needed JCGC tightener
3. West Coast – Last year’s 3YO champ beaten by top two in last two
4. Catholic Boy – Travers Winner may still be improving
5. McKenzie – PA Derby winner should improve off the return

The Play: Box the top 2 (Accelerate, Thunder Snow) in the first 2 Super slots, over the bottom 3 (West Coast, Catholic Boy, McKenzie) in third and fourth slots
SPR: Top 2 // Top 2 // Bottom 3 // Bottom 3
SPR: Top 1 // Bottom 4 // Bottom 4 // Bottom 4
TRI: Box Top 3

Play of the Day Dirt Mile:

1. City of Light – Crack sprinter conquered Accelerate at 9f
2. Isotherm – Improved on dirt against Accelerate and West Coast
3. Seeking the Soul - Horse for Course and distance
4. Giant Expectations – Conquered Accelerate at 8.5f
5. Catalina Cruiser – Unbeaten WAYI winner

The Play: With 20-1 ML Isotherm in the mix, a Dime Super 5-horse box seems worth a shot. Saver WIN play on Isotherm at ML or higher.

By JOHN PRICCI

Classic:
1. Thunder Snow (12-1) was encouraged to move at leaders on turn in rapidly paced JCGC rounding 1-1/2 turns, ran leaders down but couldn’t hold last run winner but staying very well. Fresh, pointed, suited by dynamics. Watch paddock & parade for pre-race antics.
2. Mind Your Biscuits (6-1) will be meeting much tougher here but has the important winning race over surface he obviously loves and continues to defy detractors, actually improving with added distance as a five-year-old. Would be one hell of a swansong.
3. Mendelssohn (12-1) chased that extraordinary Belmont Park pace, was urged hard to get by the leader and understandably tired late. Will benefit from moderating tempo and two turns in third run off the layup.
4. McKinzie (6-1) was a sharp winner of the quickly run Pennsylvania Derby in return from long layup. Has continued series of rapid drills, Smith sticks, is eligible for another move forward and 3-year-old getting four pounds from elders.
5. Accelerate (5-2) benefits from outside draw, has high cruising speed and kick, is a worthy 3-for-4 at 1-1/4 miles. But his Awesome Again is a tricky read: Did he go into it soft and needing the race, or did Pacific Classic sap his reserves. Using defensively.

The Play: Five-horse trifecta box. Keying both Thunder Road and Mind Your Biscuits 1st and 2nd in Exactas with all named runners, extra tickets with ‘Thunder’ and ‘Biscuits’ on top. Thunder Road to win at 9-1 or greater. Saver win wager on Mind Your Biscuits at 6-1 or greater.

Play of the Day Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint:
1. Marley’s Freedom (8-5) moved up dramatically with the barn switch to Baffert, has the style that fits race dynamics and trip, is well drawn outside and owns excellent figures on all scales.
2. Chalon (15-1) was overconfidently handled in recent return from layup, resulting in wide trip and narrow defeat. Cozy draw, second-time Javier can trip out at a price, but must do so to win.
3. Finley’sluckycharm (10-1) is a two-time winner at the trip and a lofty 6-for-7 on this surface; has tactical speed, an outside draw with sufficient kick, exits key race with hot Kentucky rider.
4. Stormy Embrace (20-1) went to a new level with blowout win in 7F Princess Rooney then regressed in recent return from brief freshening in key race. Stalker will take catching at a very big price.
5. Mia Mischief (15-1) loves the local surface, owns competitive figures, stalk-and-pounce style sets up for money run, given outside draw at a trip she handles.

The Play: Key Marley’s Freedom 1st and 2nd in Exactas with Chalon, ‘Finley’ and ‘Stormy’, extra ticket with Marley on top. Trifecta and Superfecta keying ‘Marley’ over all others named, extra ticket in Trifecta. Marley’s Freedom to win at 8-5 or greater.

Written by John Pricci

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