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, September 15, 2007

Rags to Riches Might Have Lost More Than the Gazelle

Elmont, NY--On a wet drive south from Saratoga, I was trying to remember whether the Belle of Belmont, a.k.a. Rags to Riches, had ever run on a sloppy or muddy track.

So, I called a friend shortly after 8 a.m. and she told me it rained so hard on Long Islands Gold Coast Friday night that it woke her up.

Then I thought, why worry? Track superintendent John Fast Track Passero (you can actually hear that reference on his voice mail) will take care of everything.

No sweat: The track would be hard sealed and rolled Friday after the races. With any luck at all it could be fast by post time for the ninth race.

Hell, it was fast for the opener.

But even if it hadnt been, a review of the Belles past performances belied any anxiety. I had forgotten. She won the Kentucky Oaks by nearly five in the mud at Churchill Downs.

That was a relief but its not like there wasnt cause for concern.

Because after making history in the Belmont Stakes, she hadnt been seen under tack in the afternoon since, what with aborted workouts, spiked fevers, schedule changes and the like.

And its not like Todd Pletcher has been very forthcoming on the subject of her health, either.

The reason why shes so important is precisely because shes a she. Darley and/or Godolphin has bought most of the good three-year-old boys. They even tried to buy iron colt Teuflesberg, but trainer Jamie Sanders really didnt want to sell. That cooled the would-be buyers.

So, at least we can look forward to watching him run a dozen or more times next year, anyway.

And maybe well get to see Rags to Riches at four, too. Michael Tabor indicated hed like to see that, and he pulls most, if not all, of the strings. Besides, on balance, broodmares are not as valuable as studs, for obvious reasons.

Who cares, if the sport wins.

Beating males on dirt, uncommon in this country, is a good start. If it comes in a Triple Crown race, at a mile and a half, so much the better. Especially since it hadnt happened in 102 years.

Of course, there are Rags to Riches four straight Grade 1 victories, and the manner of two of those wins. A third wasnt too shabby, either.

She certainly saved no ground in the Belmont. But it was the class test with the Preakness winner down the long Elmont stretch that etched her name in lore forever. In the aforementioned Kentucky Oaks, she beat those 13 fillies under a hand ride, looking like she could go around twice.

But the race that showed she might be special was the Las Vergennes. Horses of either sex just dont race five to six wide throughout an entire two-turn mile at Santa Anita and win. Ever. Until last Feb. 10, that is.

Before she can be mentioned in the same conversation with Ruffian and Twilight Tear and Busher and all the great fillies of history, she has to accomplish more. A lot more.

Saturday at Belmont Park was supposed to be a good first step toward whatever that ultimate destiny would be. What it turned out to be was an excellent first step for a filly coming off a 98-day layup and prepping for the Breeders Cup Distaff.

So lets dispense with anymore historical comparisons, please. Also, cease and desist, for the time being anyway, more Horse of the Year talk.

And what happens if Alabama winner Lady Joanne runs the table, winning Keenelands storied Spinster and defeats Rags to Riches and Lears Princess, the latter for a second time, at Monmouth Park?

Might she go from riches to rags? Clearly, she lost some stature by finishing second in the Grade 1 Gazelle, without an excuse to hang a hoof on.

Always prominent beneath Johnny Velazquez, she moved willingly to the front approaching headstretch without need of urging, took a clear lead leaving the three-sixteenths pole, but could not withstand the surge of Lears Princess, a high-quality filly that lost the Grade 1 Coaching Club Oaks and Alabama by a grand total of three-quarters of a length.

The losing margin was a half length, the race timed in a crisp 1:47.86.

Sometimes the best get beat, was the way Pletcher put it. I wouldnt switch places with anyone, and I look forward to making amends six weeks from now in the Breeders Cup.

Pletcher has cause for optimism. The defeat clearly looked like it was a question of recent conditioning, both physical and mental, an assessment not lost on the fillys trainer.

She didnt run a bad race, Pletcher said. Obviously the winner has been knocking on the door in some big races. Its been well documented that we havent had a real smooth three months since the Belmont. Id say some missed workouts, some temperatures, and this and that, hurt us inside the sixteenth pole. We were giving the winner seven pounds and she hasnt run in three months.

Then Pletcher added: I would never be discouraged. I still think shes the best three-year-old filly in the country, and one of the best weve seen in a long time.

Given the way things have been going for the Pletcher camp of late, the defending Eclipse Award winning trainer might have to be content to go one for two.

* * *

Bets n Pieces: The Green Monkey lived up to the hype. The $16-million two-year-old, the most money ever paid for an unraced youngster at auction, was said to be a bust. Well, so far, so bad. Not the raciest looking individual weve ever seen, the growthy three-year-old was well placed at the five-sixteenths pole, the exact spot where Johnny Velazquez asked him for more. But the Forestry colt remained one-paced, finishing a seven lengths behind Roi Maudit who stopped the timer in 1:09.10, fast ever over the glib, damp surface.

There might be a juvenile star filly among us, at least if the Grade 2 Matron Stakes is any measure. Proud Spell, 2-for-2 in fast time at her Delaware base for Hard Spun trainer Larry Jones, the Proud Citizen filly swooped up on the turn, took complete control at the sixteenth pole and won with plenty in reserve beneath the young but very promising Gabriel Saez. She has made the distance transition very well, winning more impressively with each start as shes stretched out from five to six to seven furlongs of the Matron. She will be trained up to the Juvenile Fillies at Monmouth Park, Oct. 27.

Tale of Ekati received a heady, ground saving trip beneath Eibar Coa to headstretch, angled outside, then back inside to the fence and won the Grade 2 Futurity by a stylish length over 4-5 favorite Kodiak Kowboy in 1:22.33. The race developed somewhat surprisingly when strong second favorite The Leopard chased the early pace of longshot leader Mythical Pegasus before fading at midstretch in a very disappointing effort. At that juncture Kodiak Kowboy jumped in front for a few strides before Tale of Ekati came along in the last hundred yards, where Coa took him in hand to the finish. Weve been very high on him since weve gotten him to the track. Were very excited. Well probably train him straight up to the Breeders Cup Juvenile, said winning trainer Barclay Tagg.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Frankel Ordered To Forfeit Two 2008 European Draft Picks

Commissioner of Thoroughbred Racing Kenesaw Mountain Rivera has found trainer Bobby Frankel guilty of illegal spying in last Saturdays Ruffian Stakes and has ruled that Frankel must forfeit two first round European draft picks in 2008.

Following the lead of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Frankel was ordered to reject two expatriates from the Juddmonte European racing operation, horses that usually come to Frankel each fall.

It was unknown at posting time whether the fine would include a Group 1 winner.

Commissioner Rivera ruled that Frankel had an unfair advantage when, after having a groom for trainer Lisa Lewis videotape Jerkens paddock instructions to his jockeys and learning that Jerkens had instructed the jockey aboard uncoupled stablemate Teammate not to go to the lead, his Ginger Punch was allowed to stalk a more comfortable early pace before drawing off to an impressive win.

Unlike New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Frankel did not try to conceal his advantage, telling the racing media in his post-race comments that we knew Teammate was not going to the lead.

Frankel was ordered to send next years incoming Juddmonte horses to the barn of Allen Jerkens, whose Miss Shop was second to Frankels Ginger Punch in the Ruffian.

Frankel has not yet presented his case to the commissioners office. Calls to Frankels Belmont Park barn phone were not returned.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Street Sense: A Well Oiled Machine

The leading candidate for Horse of the Year, Kentucky Derby and Midsummer Derby winning Street Sense, had his first workout since returning home to Churchill Downs following his victories in Saratogas Jim Dandy and Travers.

He continues to demonstrate that hes an equine machine. Working effortlessly, according to trackside reports, Street Sense worked five-eighths of a mile in 1:02.91 over his favorite surface.

The work might be pedestrian on its face but once again demonstrates how push-button this colt really is. Since hes been a two-year-old, Carl Nafzger has been teaching him how to run, how to distribute his energy efficiently.

Lessons learned.

Beneath Tracey Wilkes, wife of longtime Nafzger assistant, Ian, he finished in a fashion that every trainer covets: strongly and well within himself.

His opening quarter-mile of :27.20 was a laugher, even for a less accomplished thoroughbred. Then, like he does in his races, he picked up the pace on cue. His half-mile was timed in :51.20, as he willingly picked up the tempo from 13-second furlongs to 12-second furlongs.

Racetrackers call that 12-clipping, the measure of a top class racehorse under training conditions.

Then he did what he always seems to do: finish with a flourish; a final furlong in :11.71, getting stronger the farther he went. Given that he wont race again until Septembers final weekend, Street Sense went only as fast as necessary, fast enough to keep his condition and fast enough to remain sharp mentally and physically.

Many havent liked his last two races from a visual frame, not winning as impressively as he had in Kentucky, the thinking being hes just not as effective away from Churchill Downs.

There is evidence to support that notion. But theres reason, too, not to lose heart in his abilities. He needed to race closer to the pace in both recent soft-fraction starts. When the pace is honest to fast, his late run, like most horses, is far more effective.

The workout should bring a smile to lovers of the game and of good horses. Street Sense has only two starts left before he gallops off into retirement. No matter what he does in his prep, the Classic vs. the speedy and surging Any Given Saturday and, of greater significance, the older explosive Lawyer Ron will be exceedingly difficult on Monmouths speed-favoring oval.

But before beginning any meaningful analysis, remember this: Street Sense loves what hes doing, and doing what he does best: Winning.

Written by John Pricci

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