John Pricci 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, 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, June 06, 2009

Weight Can, You Know, Stop a Train

ELMONT, NY, June 6, 2009

3:15 PM: The first Grade 1 of the day and this one is on the turf for the distaff set at a mile, a.k.a. the Just A Game Stakes.

It didn’t take the crowd long to find the heavy favorite. Forever Together is the defending female turf champion by virtue of her three Grade 1 scores last year, including the Breeders’ Cup F&M Turf.

The champ was up against it from the start, with the course slowing things down up front as the field raced bunched throughout. Julien Leparoux is so good, so patient on the turf, that the fence opened up for him and she kicked through.

But Diamondrella’s momentum saved the day, the winner of five straight turf sprints moving up in class and distance and making it look easy. Clearly, she will be a force this season for Angel Penna Jr., having a break-out year. And the talented Rajiv Maragh continues his rise toward stardom. "Diamondrella was getting five pounds form the champion and she's a huge horse. FIve pounds is a lot of weight on a soft course," said Penna.

The major disappointments were to mares with European credentials. But Captain’s Lover remained one-paced when the running started and Modern Look never raised a gallop after stalking moderate fractions comfortably throughout, finishing last.

3:59 PM: Time for the three-year-olds to sprint seven furlongs in the G2 Woody Stephens in honor of the man whose five consecutive Belmonts never will be eclipsed. It featured the serious fast This One’s For Phil, undefeated Hull, who skipped the Preakness for this and Hello Broadway, run-off speed adding blinkers for the Peter Pan but back sprinting for Barclay Tagg who’s 5-for-11 when removing blinkers; today’s tack.

But it was Munnings, benefiting from a rail skimming ride beneath Johnny Velazquez, who finally lived up to the promise he showed while breaking his maiden in his debut at Saratoga last summer. The Speightstown colt finally put it all together, stopping the timer in 1:20.83, but it was Johnny’s ride that made the big effort a possibility.

Written by John Pricci

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It’s a Highway Out There, People

ELMONT, NY, June 6, 2009

1:17 PM: Speed, even on the turf? Well, that’s what always happens on soft ground; many don’t handle the conditions and many don’t have natural speed--or they wouldn’t be grass horses!

But leave a quality speed horse with excellent performance figures loose on the lead in a first quarter-mile in over :26 seconds, he’s going to tough to run down. Kent Desormeaux engineered it beautifully and scored with a natural double on Pennington at a generous 10-1. Jeremy Rose tried to shoot the rail with Slam Dunk, he got through to loom a threat but stayed one-paced through the lane.

A late runner finally scored, Sette E Mezzo, giving Desormeaux a natural triple, but with the aid of a realistic, contested pace. Garrett Gomez chased Le Grand Cru throughout, took the lead determinedly soon after headstretch, but tired late. So It Goes, an overlay at 12-1, also made a determined late rally.

2:33 PM: And, now, the all-graded-stakes Pick Six, beginning with the True North at three-quarters of a mile for older sprinters. The defending True North winner and defending sprint champion, Benny The Bull, still gets the headlines but doesn’t appear equal to match strides with Fabulous Strike.

The crowd agrees as Fabulous Strike opens at even money. And it will be interesting to see, too, if four-year-old Desert Key continues his laudably consistent development.

So, seen enough yet? :21.85, 43.62, as Fabulous Strike and Sixthirteen hook up on the turn, after the latter got a flat-footed start--and not that Eibar Coa wants to get in Ramon Dominguez’s head, anyway. But Strikey kept on going as Benny The Bull chased him home futilely despite the suicidal fractions. Final time: 1:07.85.

In giving the changes for the next race, announcer Tom Durkin informed the crowd that the track has been upgraded to fast. Ya' think?

Written by John Pricci

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Migliore: Looks Like Inside-Speed All Day

ELMONT, NY, June 6, 2009

11:35: Dixieland Star broke quickly from the gate, established his inside position in fast fractions, drifted a bit into the lane, allowing Inger Management to slip through on the fence to take the lead with a half mile in :45.36, then went unchallenged to the wire in 1:10.08.

No question the track has moisture in it but it played fast, and appeared to favor speed. Of course, these were the two favorites in inverted order, so the result was formful in any event. But so far, on this Belmont Stakes day when temperatures are expected to climb into the 70s later this afternoon, so good.

Second event, second speed horse who, after clearing, stayed on the fence and stopped the timer in 1:20-and-change for seven-eighths of a mile. Favorite Speight of Hand did not break with the field but, after recovering, had no real pop, anyway.

The race was interesting in that a horse finally came off the pace--sort of--but the track is inside favoring because the second horse, made a bold mid-race move on the fence, was passed at the quarter-pole, yet no one could make up any ground. Then, we heard it from the rider’s mouth.

“My horse was a little rank so I had to let him go,” said Richard Migliore from inside the paddock on this beautiful afternoon. “It looks like it’s going to be speed from the inside all day. Even if it does dry out more later on, it’s still pretty wet underneath.”

Having ridden about 4,500 winners, the guy probably knows what he’s talking about.

1:27 PM: So, while Calvin might have been idle in the saddle this week, seeing the sights, appearing on Leno-man--yes, he got a little confused, but this must all still be a whirlwind--trainer Chip Woolley has been making hay after training hours.

Woolley’s having the time of his life even though he heard all the bad stories about big, bad New York City. “There’s nothing like the Derby,” he was told, “and the people in Baltimore know how to treat you right. But when you get here, they could care less. It’s a whole different thing.”

Apparently, D. Wayne Lukas has been telling this same cautionary tale to every Belmont Stakes rookie that comes down Hempstead Turnpike. But there was Woolley, at the Belmont press party, dancing on the crutches and putting his cowboy hat atop every pretty female face in the crowd.

“I was told New York was nothing but tall buildings and the people are cold. But it’s a lot more than that, and the people I’ve met have been very nice,” Woolley said.

“Tell you one thing. No one’s broken into my truck since I’m here.”

And that’s exactly what happened a few days after the Derby in Louisville. The only thing of real value stolen was his GPS system and, believe it or not, Mine That Bird’s foal papers. That, of course, is a great souvenir.

But unless the thieves were intending to show up at some racetrack and enter the Derby winner in some claiming race like a common ringer, just to make sure that could cash a bet, the papers wouldn‘t have much value. Unless they could trick some unsuspecting fool on E Bay.

Written by John Pricci

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