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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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Saturday, May 12, 2012


Deja Vu? Mark Valeski Set for Bigger Game in Belmont


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 12, 2012—It seems like yesterday, only now it’s 32 years later. Every time I think about the Peter Pan Stakes, it’s 1979, the quintessential Peter Pan, a race that conjures up what this mile and an eighth exercise is supposed to be.

Nine furlongs at Big Sandy with only one turn to negotiate. And that means the most useful weapon a Thoroughbred can own if it wants to win this race; demon speed. He can use it any way he wants, just as long as he gets the job done fast.

This does not mean front-running speed, of course, because a whole gang of very good horses have won this race that weren’t strict front runners, horses such as Gallant Man and Slew o’ Gold, Proud Truth and A. P. Indy.

But in ’79 it was Coastal, brilliant enough to win the race with authority in 1:47 flat. So what, he was supposed to come back in 12 days and prevent the mighty Spectacular Bid from winning the Belmont Stakes and a sweep of the Triple Crown?

As McEnroe might say, you cannot be serious!

But stop Bid’s bid did he, needing 2:28 3/5 to do so, proving to a young handicapper that a very sharp and classy late developer can use the Peter Pan to win a Belmont.

Not sure why but it was Coastal that came to mind as I watched Mark Valeski work hard to get passed a very fast Right To Vote, who was doing his very best Bodemeister impression in an attempt the steal the race like a thief in the night.

But Right To Vote could not hold Mark Valeski, who sat well behind the leaders rapid fractions, safe, a race that took only an eye-opening 1:48.31 to complete. It wasn’t Coastal, but it wasn’t bad, either.

“We were very happy with this performance today,” said trainer Larry Jones. “They were rolling up front and he was staying close to them, so all was well. We just needed a real good race in him to see where we sat, and he answered the questions like we thought he should, and like we thought he could.”

Where Mark Valeski and his connections are is sitting on the cusp of a possible Belmont Stakes run, for which they are now amply prepared:

“We’re sure going to look [at the Belmont] because it sure looked like he handled this track well and, slowing the fractions down a little bit, he’s going to carry that speed a lot farther.

“He’ll probably be a forward factor in the Belmont,” Jones added, “especially if Bodemeister and them rip each other apart in the Preakness. We’ll see how the Preakness turns out and who’s left available.”

Right now, connections of the runnerup don’t seem to be thinking about a Belmont go. His pedigree is sprint oriented, but he’s already outrun that, finishing third to Union Rags in the Champagne at 2, his only other start going long.

“He ran huge,” trainer Eoin Harty said of Right To Vote, who set blazing fractions of :22.71, :45.35 and 1:09.52, getting a mile in 1:34.92. “I’m thinking ‘when is he going to die?’ He hung in there. I don’t know what our next stop is going to be, maybe the Dwyer.”

But the Jones boys, trainer Larry and owner, Governor Brereton C. Jones, seem to have classics on their mind: “We’re going to Churchill, we’ll see how he comes out, and whether we try to come back. We’re sure not going to rule it out.

“He hasn’t done much wrong yet and doesn’t seem to ever get tired. We’ll have to see about the mile and half. I’m sure it will be a question for him, as for many others in that race, if [the owner] decides to take him to the Belmont Stakes.” the trainer said.

“I knew I was on the best horse,” said winning rider Rosie Napravnik. “When I pressed the button, even with all the ground we lost, he was much the best and ran great today. It should set him up very nicely for his next race.”

In which he’ll try to emulate Coastal, who came off that sharp Peter Pan score in 1979 to upset that year’s Belmont, if the connections decide to go that way.

“We know where Belmont is,” warned Larry Jones.

Written by John Pricci

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