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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Sunday, June 04, 2017

BETS ‘N PIECES: Tripping Through a Saturday Notebook

FOREVER YOUNG: The big racing events of Saturday can wait: THE story of the day occurred in the second half of the early double at Gulfstream when Jerry Bozzo saddled 19-10 Cotton Tooyah to victory in a $20,000 maiden claimer.

Mr. Bozzo is 96, the oldest person ever to train a winning racehorse. We’re pretty sure that record in worldwide. Noble Threewitt was formerly the oldest trainer to saddle a winner when he was a young buck at 95 11 years ago at Santa Anita.

Bozzo, who will be 97 in October, is probably the only modern trainer to have graduated from MIT, the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I’m doing it because I’m enjoying it,” Bozzo said post-race. “I want to be around [horses].”

AND THE WINNER ISOscar Performance. It was good to see the most impressive American 2-year-old on turf last year finally rebound, even if it were at my direct expense. (Guess Good Samaritan and Ticonderoga will forever be pace-challenged).

I had serious doubts before yesterday. Goes without saying that Jose Ortiz and Brian Lynch deserve much of the credit, especially the former, for victory in the Grade 3 Pennine Ridge after removing Lasix. Firmer footing likely was the biggest difference-maker.

TWO FOR THE MONEY NYRA tracks and other venues that do the same--have it right when they post multiple-pools probable payoffs at their lowest denominations. Those having, say, a 50-Cent Pick 3 for a dollar, will have no problem figuring they will collect twice that…

With all the grief stewards have been getting, the Penn judges got all objections correct, especially the tricky PA Governors Cup where there were two separate claims. They rightfully disqualified Bold Thunder for knocking Richard's Boy off stride jumps before the wire while leaving third finishing Rainbow Heir as is. The Penn Oaks was not an easy call either, but Dynatail was allowed to preserve her hard earned victory.

The interesting thing about sprinters is that you never know when they will be at their best. Most are precocious from the start but often squander the opportunity. Case in point would be Limousine Liberal, winner of Churchill’s G3 Aristides.

Usually, when horsemen try taking a base on balls by running back a recent winner on short rest in a softer spot, bettors know it’s a good percentage bet-against play. That tack would not have worked Saturday--but maybe ‘Liberal’s’ getting really good now.

His tendency was runaway speed early in his career but now the gelded 5-year-old is more settled. He mid-moved strongly to victory with a wide Derby-day sweep to win the G2 Churchill Downs Sprint and employed similar tactics Saturday, spotting the field four pounds and more ground. The blinkers, added last fall, certainly haven’t hurt…

That’s where Penn National is nestled, and we’re happy they got good weather, solid support, and $3.2 million in all-sources handle. (Imagine what the churn might have been with friendlier takeout rates?)

Anyway, loved that they supplemented the four major stakes, including the lynchpin Penn Mile, with strong supporting stakes, some for Pennsylvania-breds. Good performances and horses throughout the card with SoCal and New York runners winning twice each.

Javier Castellano, almost always a difference maker, had a riding triple (for Todd Pletcher once), Irad Ortiz Jr. with a double, one for Christophe Clement in the Penn Mile.

The half-million dollar event for 3-year-olds went to Frostmourne and, despite some ground loss as an outside mid-pack racer, Frostmourne displayed quite a turn of foot, making a big finish late, leveling out strongly through the wire. Nice prospect.

Stellar Wind twice defeated last year's champion older mare and Saturday won a stirring stretch duel in a Grade 1 race honoring the great Beholder. Now five, she added a second G1 this year, having won the Apple Blossom this spring.

Deserved credit goes to Victor Espinoza who would not allow the streaking Vale Dori to steal off with an easy lead, pressing throughout and nailing her by a head at the line even as Vale Dori was resurgent on the inside. John Sadler was the saddler.

Guess my East Coast bias is showing in that I’m always generous in my praise of Lady Eli for what she had to overcome and I hadn’t realized that the imported Brazilian champion Bal a Bali also had to overcome then rebound from laminitis.

And to become the only horse in history to win the G1 Kilroe and Shoemaker Miles in the same year, the latter in 1:32.22? Extraordinary for both the 7-year-old and his human connections.

Richard Mandella is still aces-full when it comes to pointing at spots and Mike Smith has been having himself a year. He seems to be a Hall of Fame hybrid, combining Bill Shoemaker’s hands and Laffit Pincay Jr.’s timing, a pluperfect combination on Saturday.

Yes, the fast pace set things up nicely for a late kicker but Smith had his mount in the best possible position. The pacesetting Heart to Heart was pressed too hard and ran too hard to lose, but his Grade 1 remains an elusive title.

The rapidly improving Farhaan had the style to get there as well and indeed was finishing furiously at the end but racing farther back than anticipated, Flavien Prat leaving him with a little too much to do.

Written by John Pricci

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