Sunday, March 04, 2018


A Fountain of Promise, Class and Accomplishment


The problem with a day like yesterday at Gulfstream Park is where does one begin to assess everything that happened. Every division may or may not have been something impactful but, whatever it is, there sure was a lot of it. Too much, it can be argued.

What is not in question is that track management succeeded in their goal. The idea at the start of the “Championship Meet” was to celebrate the best in racing on three huge days; Pegasus World Cup, Fountain of Youth Stakes day and Florida Derby.

Two down, one to go.
But we’re hoping this doesn’t mean 15 races on Florida Derby day. That day, sunlight, or lack thereof, won’t be a problem. And neither will handle. The 2018 Fountain of Youth didn’t set any track records but it did set a handle mark, with one more race, of $28.5 million.

Quicker than you can say ho hum, consider the widespread, if sporadic, power outages in the Northeast, thanks to the storm of the same name that wrought windy precipitation. Incredibly, handle could have been higher.

A strong wind in Hallandale Beach on an otherwise Chamber of Commerce afternoon—cloudless sky, temps in high 70s--wreaked havoc with finishing fractions all day, the surface loose and dry on top, producing more than its share of stinging kickback. It played as if it were two seconds slower than par.

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Flying So High: GP President Tim Ritvo (4th
on right), helps mark McGaughey milestone.

It was the kind of surface where speed did well because late runners were spinning their wheels over it trying to launch a rally. The two path seemed ideal, but the glibbest part of the dirt appeared to be the outside. Main track winners needed to be dead fit.

We’ll go through the stakes in a flash—all eight graded events--and concentrate on the Fountain of Youth, in which juvenile champion Good Magic made an inauspicious 2018 debut in HRI’s 11th annual Kentucky Derby poll among staffers and contributors later on.

Hardly categorized as a spoiler alert, there was a change at the top, which also probably will be reflected in the national NTRA pool tomorrow evening.

Grade 3 The Very One Stakes: Figure players made Daring Duchess an overbet public choice but Holy Helena, classy going in, proved it coming out and indicating there is more in the tank. The $9.40 mutuel was the quintessence of value.

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Ken and Patti Reeves lead GP Sprint
Winner, Classic Rock, into the circle.
After all, if you can beat 12 males in the always hard-fought Canadian-Grade 1 Queens Plate, you should be able to win a Grade 3 in SoFla. She did and that’s two straight on the GP lawn with the promise of more turf stakes to come.

Jimmy Jerkens returned in a half hour later to win the listed Sand Springs with Team of Teams with an able assist from Johnny Velazquez, who completely undressed his rivals by gaining the softest of leads before sprinting to the finish. Improving filly; top horsemanship.

Odds-on favorite Celestine, now 6, has lost a step to time but, given the dynamics, even on her best day she may not have had the turn of foot needed to run down Team of Teams who re-broke after straightening away and flew home. Improving filly; great horsemanship.

Lots of lessons learned in the G3 Palm Beach. First, Speed Franco reacted to his most recent win in G3 Dania Beach; he’s better than that.

Crowd went overboard (5-2) on the very promising Hawkish, still green, a little too keen early, then made a balcony move on turn into hottest part of the pace before tiring. We don’t believe at this stage that he wants to be tactical: Take back and make one run.

Maraud was better than I suspected, and that’s my bad. A troubled-start third in G3 Pilgrim at 2; he was third in his GP debut before returning to win an optional allowances at Saturday’s trip. Got a great inside-position trip from Johnny—duh!

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Mitchell Leparoux, with Proud Papa Julien,
celebrating victory of Sadler's Joy

Graham Motion might as well just leave G3-winning Thewayjam here. The Herecomesthebride heroine won her third straight and second graded stakes at the meet. Jose Ortiz gave her a great trip, bursting through inside before drawing off as much the best.

Flying So High gave Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey a milestone victory; career win 2000. And talk about much the best! Forced to race wide throughout the flat mile, she won with a trip that doesn’t win at Gulfstream. And she still opened ground late to win by 3!

Ortiz cautiously dismounted the filly on far turn and she was vanned off. But she cooled out well Saturday night and, of greater significance, on Sunday morning. She’s everything McGaughey believes she is and, in our view, will be better around two turns.

Hogy is on his way to becoming a “people’s horse.” Now, under Mike Maker’s care, Hogy might be even better than his lifetime (49) 18-13-5 slate indicates. Career victory 19 was his first start beyond true sprint distances and he’s now 1-for-1 going a mile.

This field was no match for him when the running started through the lane and he was one of five winners for Irad Ortiz, which included the Fountain of Youth winner. Parenthetically, younger brother Jose had three.

One of those came in a high quality maiden race in which Bill Mott was at his best; getting Hofburg to win off a 182-day layup while making his two turn debut.

From post 11, Hofburg raced four-to five-deep throughout and still won, contextually even better than Flying So High’s ground-losing effort. Mott’s Belmont horse?

Classic Rock showed a dimension I didn’t know he had, the ability to overcome some adversity from off the pace. Fortunate to find a lane inside a drifting leader, he had an excellent turn of foot to separate himself from his G3 Gulfstream Park Sprint rivals.

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Chad Brown had reason to be concerned
HRI has learned that he’s right on time for his ultimate summer goal, the June 30 G3 Smile on the Summit of Speed program.

Even though he broke through with his first career Grade 1 win in Saratoga’s Sword Dancer last year, 2018 could be Sadler’s Joy’s year.

In winning the G2 Mac Diarmida in his 5-year-old debut, he was a Grade-1 type vs. many Grade 2 types, coming from last with a tremendous turn of late foot beneath Julien Leparoux--who could not have timed in better. It was an excellent performance.

The late spring goal is Belmont’s G1 Sword Dancer but there could be a dance in between, such as the G2 Pan American on the Florida Derby undercard, MAR 31. He looked great in the ring, a job very well done by Tom Albertrani, who had him conditioned and sharp.

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Irad Ortiz Jr., live for five, fulfills that promise
We will have much more on the Fountain of Youth in HRI’s Top 10 Derby Poll, which will be posted later Monday a.m., but I will leave you with this: Short horses can run good or run bad in doing so. In our view of Good Magic’s effort was the latter.

This does not mean he won’t win his second prep of the season, presumably Keeneland’s Blue Grass, but it doesn’t mean he will win, either.

Even though I loved Good Magic’s two company works and his solo blowout visually, they clearly weren’t enough to give him the fitness he needed for Saturday’s tiring, cuppy surface.

And that’s on me. Chad Brown stated he wanted Good Magic at tops for May’s first Saturday, not March’s. I should have given that more consideration. Obviously, he was being candid and not just lowering expectations


Photos by Toni Pricci

HALLANDALE BEACH, March 4, 2018

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, February 25, 2018


South Florida Diary


Dear Diary,

February 14: It’s been quite the fortnight; emotions ran a gamut longer than the Display Handicap. The highs were zenith sized but the lows? Nadir only begins to scratch the surface.

The lowest of the lows hit a nation when 17 people, most of them children, were robbed of a future that for most of them was bright. They had every advantage, fortunate to live in one of Broward County’s most exclusive towns, going to a model high school.

Until the morning of Valentine’s Day past, life was normal. People were living the lives like they do, the privileged, while others around them were just makin’ it to scratch. But that’s OK because where there’s life, there’s hope, right?

Clichés become so because their truth is self-evident.

But on this afternoon, all the lights went out as America, again, retreated into its violent past and hatred was visited upon a community after hatred was visited upon one of its own. He lost all perspective and too many innocents lost their lives.

February 17: My oldest daughter Jen is using South Florida as a stopover on her way back to the Shores of Jersey from LA, where she was credentialed to work NAMM, a trade show for the Musical Instruments industry, at which a handful of rock stars and top session musicians act as exhibiting artists.

This year’s honorees at the event were Jackson Browne and Melissa Etheridge, among others.

We are still enjoying our visit as this is written and I used the opportunity to make our first drive up to Payson Park this year. The training center is 90 minutes, with traffic, from home. Jen’s no horseplayer but has loved mornings on the backside since she was a baby. We turned Thursday into a take your daughter to work day.

The atmosphere more closely resembles European yards, with its rolling hills surrounding a training track with the kind of surface that muffles the sound of hooves, deep and safe. In short, it’s a place where, between business hours, horses can be horses.

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Payson Park: Good for Equine and Human Souls Alike

For dad, it was a chance to visit some of the people I first met back in the day in New York. Shug McGaughey took the day off, with top assistant trainer Robby Medina putting the classy stable residents through their paces.

But Bill Mott and Christophe Clement, two horsemen I admire for obvious reasons, were present and are always a highlight on any trip to Indiantown. Surprised to see Ken McPeek, readying his top class stock for an assault on Keeneland.

McPeek informed us that he is moving a large division to South Florida late this spring and summer, returning to a place where it all began for him. Indeed, McPeek was a graduate of McGaughey University when first starting out.

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Payson Trifecta: (left to right) McPeek, Clement, Mott

Any day now, Clement is expecting the arrival of the Generazio turf sprinters, has some nice fillies, could use a few good male dirt horses and might return to New York a bit earlier this year because of the newly resurfaced Aqueduct main track and newly widened turf course.

Mott debuted a professional special-weights winner, Penalty, on Saturday’s Hal’s Hope program, the colt numbering among Irad Ortiz’s hatful of winners on the day. He said his barn is coming around and should be peaking in about a month or so.

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"This is my baby." Elate's handler, Erma Scott,
has been with Mott 37 years.

We visited with one of our favorite fillies, Elate, while we were there and can report first hand that she’s growing nicely into her large flame.

Mott declined to blame the Del Mar surface for the mare’s Distaff loss, explaining that she was just tired following her monster efforts winning the Alabama and Beldame back to back. I asked if there was Saratoga Grade I in her future. He smiled: “I hope so.”

February 24:
A couple of good stakes highlighted Saturday’s Gulfstream program. In the Texas Glitter at 5 furlongs on the turf for three year olds, Salmanazar ran to his excellent recent works, never in serious danger through the lane.

The second and third horses might be worth following as Shangroyal was ready off the bench for Wesley Ward, chasing the winner throughout at the loss of ground but staying gamely to beat favorite Barbarossa narrowly, good race riding by Albin Jiminez.

Barbarossa was pocketed up nicely but never could shake into the clear. He kept chugging and narrowly missed in the tight place photo. The winner and third finisher were trained by Todd Pletcher, who also managed the brilliant turf sprint campaign of Texas Glitter.

Irish War Cry brought his B+ game into the G3 Hal’s Hope but it wasn’t good enough for Economic Model’s A game. After entering the stretch, these two came together as a team, quite literally, as the Ortiz brothers battled it out, Irish War Cry holding a narrow lead on the outside.

Economic Model, like most Chad Brow runners, never ran out of reserves, however, while the favorite tired in the final 50 yards. Sure to benefit, if a race like this were brought back, the thinking is that Irish War Cry would even the score.

February 25:
Shortly after this is posted it will be time to get ready as Toni and I travel up to Frank & Dino’s Restaurant in Boca. Owned in partnership, South Florida-based trainer Carlo Vaccarezza, who lives in Coral Springs, next door to Parkland, is the host.

The restaurant will be closed for business but open to the public and racetrack community for a fund raiser for the Parkland families affected by the Valentine’s Day mass shooting. We’ll be there to pay our respects and in support for the community.

The good news is that Vaccarezza’s sons, Nicholas and Michael, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, thankfully escaped with their lives but surely will be left with the scars the rest of their lives.

When I lived in New York, I thought 911 would be the last national tragedy that would hit so close to home. But this, dear diary, is America now, where the right to bear assault rifles, weapons of war, is more important than enacting sensible policy on gun control.

Photos by Toni Pricci

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, February 18, 2018


Through a Simo Saturday Notebook…


For obvious reasons, it was not a great weekend in South Florida, what with the events that transpired on Valentine’s Day at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

The 3,000 student campus is located about 40 minutes to the north and west of Gulfstream Park, where flags were flown at half-staff and where wall-to-wall and cover-to-cover reporting has dominated the media. Like mainstream media these days, for all the wrong reasons.

The racetrack community was fortunate, relieved to learn that in the aftermath of 17 murdered students, two of its own were spared. Senior Nicholas Vaccarezza and sophomore Michael Vaccarezza.

Vaccarezza the younger is better known to racetrackers and fans as Little Mike. The two pupils are the sons of Carlo and Priscilla Vaccarezza. Carlo, of course, is the South Florida-based trainer; Priscilla campaigned the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner a.k.a. Little Mike.

On Sunday, February 25, Carlo will close his restaurant, Frank & Dino’s, from mid-afternoon into the evening. The Boca Raton space will be opened to raise funds for the families affected by the senseless use of an assault rifle on promising young lives.

The public is invited. There is no charge for food and drink; just bring your checkbooks. For those not in the area wishing to help, the Marjory Stoneham Douglas Victims Fund has been established https://www.gofundme.com/stonemandouglasvictimsfund.

It is with profound humility and anger that we suggest the funds immediately be disbursed and shared among Washington legislators that they may become beholden to family victims of mass murder and all U.S. citizens, not the National Rifle Association.

DERBY STARS RISE AND FALL IN CHAOTIC GRADE 2 PREP


Actually, maybe there wasn’t enough chaos but more on the Risen Star results later. Suffice it to say that with the exception of the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra featuring a strong pace, the four remaining two-turn dirt races were won by the speed, all getting away with modest early fractions--seemingly a routine race shape in Fair Grounds routes.

Special weight maiden three year-old fillies went an opening quarter in 23.05. In a ‘two-other-than’ allowances, featuring the return of 2017 classics campaigner Lookin At Lee, two horses hooked up from the jump, one lasting for the win. The other finished fourth, losing by a neck and two noses. ‘Lee’ never got out of a gallop and finished “absolutely.”

In the G3 Mineshaft, The Player, sporting a new set of blinkers, wired an otherwise outclassed group by 4-1/4 confident lengths following an opening gambit in 24.27, looking ready for bigger game next time out.

Monomoy Girl proved much the best filly in the Rachel Alexander after Classy Act set what turned out to be, for the day, a blistering pace of 23.58 and 46.8, but ‘Monomoy’s’ battle with Wonder Gadot never materialized, the pacesetter easily holding the place.

The Demoiselle winner was a one-paced third, appearing better off galloping on or near a moderate pace at longer distances. The Oaks trip will prove to be more to her liking than the winner’s. Can’t say that winner’s drifting out late was an encouraging sign.

Completing the day’s track profile, rock bottom maiden claimers closed out the Pick 4—of course, as all tracks must stick it to rank and file horizontal players—with Two Date wiring this two-turn bunch, never seriously threatened at 19-1.

The Risen Star was a rare four-speed number as the first four runners raced around the oval, positions virtually unchanged. Snapper Sinclair, a laughable overlay at 41.70-to-1, led the way in 24.15 and 47.96. With winning Bravazo on his hip, the duo remained that way until the last jump in a head-bobbing thriller.

Noble Indy ran spottily in a somewhat disappointing performance but redeemed himself somewhat upon video review. Racing between/behind horses throughout, he got his first taste of dirt in three lifetime starts. His late rail rally looked one-paced but was actually a tad better as he galloped out ahead of the near dead-heaters.

The time of 1:42.96 given the opening quarter-mile was solid, and the final five-sixteenths was completed in a worthy 30.10 seconds. Favorite Instilled Regard raced outside Noble Indy throughout in a flat effort; Principe Guilherme lost ground throughout in a dull performance.

SAY HELLO TO SYNCHRONY, BUDDING GRASS STAR


Michael Stidham, enjoying an excellent early season, did a marvelous job getting his five-year-old set for best in his 9-furlong return from a lengthy layup. Confident handled by turf ace Joe Bravo, he stormed home to deny the streaking favorite Mr. Misunderstood a successful four year old debut.

Roughed at the break, he settled nicely inside, making a sharp turn move from 10th that carried him 7 deep into the lane. He was two lengths in front in midstretch and held the favorite safe, never threatened for the win. The time was a snappy 1:48.82, the last three furlongs in a sharp 36.35 with final sixteenth in 11.41.

ONE CARD, TWO COOL HORSES

And they both won! On a card featuring 12 starter races for various price levels for both sexes, the seven year old mate Chella won for the sixth time in 10 starts at 7 furlongs, improving her lifetime mark to 26-for-41. It wasn’t easy, having to overcome a wide draw on a surface that carried speed on the inside throughout the afternoon.

In the nominal feature, the $60,000 Old Hickory at 1-1/16th miles, old pro Page McKenney, who has earned his money the hard way on the mid-Atlantic circuit, swept to command into the stretch and raced away from a hearty bunch with authority. It was the gelded eight year-old’s 21st win in 54 lifetime starts, adding to his career earnings of $1.7 million.

MARYLAND, COLD MARYLAND


Eschewing President’s Day in deference to a Simo Saturday that aside from the Fair Grounds Louisiana Derby Preview program, three storied Laurel fixtures highlighted racing on the East Coast the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie, G3 General George and the storied but now ungraded John B. Campbell Stakes, nee Handicap.

Afleet Willy won an uninspiring edition of the Campbell, wiring four horses as the odds-on choice. But Fritchie winner Ms Locust Point is starting to act like a serious filly, so much so that the connections are going to take a hard look at Keeneland’s G1 Madison, where the waters will be much deeper.

Something Awesome won the General George in a neck thriller over Fellowship, both taking advantage of a hotly contested pace duel. The “house hose” was bred at Adena Springs and campaigned under the Stronach Stable flag…XY Jet won the Pelican in a laugher at Tampa Bay Downs. He’s now all dressed up and ready for his trip to Dubai’s Golden Shaheen.

Written by John Pricci

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