Pricci's Saratoga Diary
For the next 40 days of New York racing, Executive Editor John Pricci will provide his insights on all things Saratoga for the 35th consecutive year in his original "Saratoga Diary." It debuted in 1977, the year Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown and Jatski was placed first in the Travers Stakes following the disqualification of Run Dusty Run. So keep up with the cold exactas, hot issues, and build your own stable of live horses, all from John's unique perspective, exclusively at HorseRaceInsider.com.
 

Sunday, July 26, 2015


Saratoga Simulcast Dairy: Meeting Across the River


July 26, 2015—For us, the racing odyssey of 2015 is set to begin; much bag packing and errand running will ensue.

But there’s business to finish; writing, posting and editing to be done, selections to be made, traveling to begin. Saratoga Simulcast Diary will return Saturday, Jim Dandy day, the price for witnessing Sunday’s Haskell Invitation Ball staring Cinderfella, aka American Pharoah.

Good for Garden State fans and horseplayers. The good people of New Jersey love their racing (inded they do, Mr. Christie) and the area deserves and could use this shot in the arm. Note that “The Boss” has attended Haskells past, in his usual low key manner.

If he’s in Oceanport on Sunday, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise. Surely it will lend itself to the special atmosphere. Non-Springsteen fans probably didn’t hear but he showed up at a local bar last week, jumped on stage and played a two-hour set. No big deal, of course; he’s been doing things like that his entire career.

And so the Derby has “My Old Kentucky Home,” the Preakness “Maryland, My Maryland,” and the Belmont its “New York, New York” but only Monmouth Park has “Born To Run,” ‘cause tramps like them…

Now, through the Saratoga 147 Racing Trip Diary on the season’s first Saturday:

Race 1: Didn’t take long for the “Graveyard” to claim its first victim--then the crowd had no right to make second-time-out trainer Mark Casse’s Moon King 2-5 on debut, no matter how fast he worked, right?

Wasn’t such a bad effort, although he did finish of the board. Barclay Tagg has awakened from his recent slumber and unveiled a real runner in Realm, outfitted with blinkers for debut.

Realm stalked Casse’s Moon King, crushed him, and opened ground impressively. Debuting Asmussen colt Hundred Years was going very well at the end. Another second time guy, bettors might be raising a glass the next time he races: Cent’ann!

Race 2: Don’t know where English Minister got this rep for feint-heartedness on the lead but if that were ever true, it’s not the case anymore since Michael Trombetta took her over. Rated well over the firm ground by Luis Saez, she widened when she was supposed to weaken; never got the memo I suspect. Show finisher Bam Bam was going very well at the end; upgrade next time she starts!

Race 3: Bill Mott looks loaded for bear and the meet’s first example of how the stats can mislead of one’s not careful. Just because he doesn’t have a reputation for first-time starting two-year-olds, back when Jerry Bailey was winning Saratoga riding titles, Mott’s specialty was winning on debut with youngsters making their first starts on turf. Just ask Harvey Pack next time you see him in Atlantic City.

He saddled the horse for owner Bill Mott? Indeed, if Site Read stays health, there are future stakes with his name on them. Same thing for bullet-train runner-up for Chad Brown, Life Imitates Art, who finished strongly while not enduring didn’t have the easiest of trips. Stable Mail, please.

Race 4: Graveyard claims another, setting up a preposterous $470K 50-Cent Pick 5. Bombs away--and it was the bomb for one prescient ticket holder. But this one had help. Irad Ortiz is riding well but made much too much use of odds-on Stay Tuned.

Yes, the favorite had the pole but Ortiz never tried to ease off the Jacobson-improved recent claim Bird Prince. Meanwhile, love it when smaller outfits [Danny Gargan] get the money, especially at a venue like this. Shaun Bridgmohan has a reputation as a strong finisher and it was well deserved here, powering the well prepared Hey Bro home.

Race 5: Breaking News! Todd Pletcher wins with first-time starting overlay in Saratoga. Indeed, Saratoga Mischief was very good, doing much of the work to get it done, but the one we're watching is runner-up Greenpointcrusader. A fast-finishing second, final quarter-mile in 24:01 for Dominic Schettino, debuting colt was taking giant strides at the finish; distance please!

Race 6: Dowse’s Beach was much the best taking 5-1/2 furlong turf sprint, winning with something in the tank and very likely to win on the raise for Christophe Clement…Don’t what the story with Liberal Spin, who trailed very badly, angled very wide entering lane, made a very nice rally but swapped leads repeatedly, clearly hinder Jose Lezcano. An HRI Horse to Watch, he’s back on the list--but I’m not sure what I can do with that?

Race 7: Paid Up Subscriber [Little Al Stall] and Clothes Falling Off [Kiaran McLaughlin] were involved in the finish of the young meet which, by the way, has seen some truly great racing over a fair surface. The former got through under a very heady Joel Rosario; the latter rallied very wide into the lane, seemed to idle, then re-surged. Besides, how can a horse named Clothes Fall Off not make it on to any kind of watch list?

Also, Callista finished extremely fast down the middle and Miss Cobblestone galloped out strongly passed the wire; note both.

Race 8: I have much admiration for course lover Plainview who doesn’t seem to slow down with age; remarkable race horse--moderate pace or no moderate pace…Trouble, thy name is Taghleeb: bobbling soon after the start, he was on the hedge and forced to steady at a critical juncture approaching the far turn. He finally got out and made a choo-choo move that carried him extremely wide into the stretch but continued to roll down the center of the course as much the best; watch!

The G3 Sanford: Or should that be The Rodeo? Either way, the very racy Magna Light, veered out sharply from left-handed whipping, came back in, and proved clearly best. However, he did impede the very promising Percolator twice, hence the cause for the DQ… This time Pletcher was smart and lucky, awarded the win with Starlight Racing colt, Uncle Vinny, his second and Johnny Velazquez’s second win on the day. We like all three money finishers.

The G1 Diana: Someday, bettors, myself included, are going to have a lot more respect for the well named Hard Not To Like, just up under a brilliant ride from Johnny, a riding triple. As Chris Clement said, the course was firm, the pace was fast and they still finished fast—a course record 1:45.22 fast.

It was a heart breaking nose defeat for the talented, still maturing Tepin; a tough day for Casse, who seemed insulted by analysts who doubted his filly’s ability to go nine furlongs. Favorite Stephanie’s Kitten never fired and gave an indication she didn’t appreciate the ground. Meanwhile, longshot mate Kitten’s Queen, her supposed “rabbit,” keeps outrunning her odds for apprentice Eric Cancel. Cancel was also second behind Plainview with the 22-1 Orino. Apprentice Mail, please.

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, July 24, 2015


Saratoga Simulcast Diary: Opening Day


Even if it were only the third time in 42 years I missed the Saratoga opener on-track, the excitement seems to radiate through the computer screen, right down to the ominous threat of a tornado. Thankfully, Saratoga Race Course and its wide open spaces were spared.

It was a good day for Chad Brown who scored with two winners, including Mrs. McDougal in the Lake George Stakes, and jockeys Jose Ortiz and Junior Alvarado both had a riding double. A new-hometown filly, Off the Tracks, won the traditional opening-day Schuylerville shipping up from South Florida.

Better yet, it was a good day for the HRI faithful who paid attention to our newest contributor, renaissance clocker Bruno De Julio, who told the readers all about the Florida filly.

Selfishly, and almost of greater import, was Bruno’s assessment of the correct, longer half of the uncoupled Wesley Ward entry, Banree. She completed a winning exacta that paid $122. Even I got off a recent slide, thanks to Chad’s Lake George filly, at $11 straight. Now on to the racing program:

Race 1: Johnny Velazquez won the opener with a Hall of Fame performance atop the well prepared surface lover, Sea Raven. Troubled at the break, JR never panicked, allowing the gelding to settle before initiating a vigorous drive approaching the three-sixteenths, nailing Royal Posse at the line… The first three riders, in order, were Johnny, Javier and Irad Jr. Could turn out to be the cold triple in the jockey standings following the Labor Day finale. They’re the three favorites, anyway--with only 39 days to go.

Race 2: Rick Violette, always adept with his Spa firsters, had to await an inquiry before his debuting Lemon Liquer was declared the official winner; he must have had South Florida flashbacks as he awaited the ruling—the result was allowed to stand. The New York-bred is a good-sized gray, a nice athletic prospect in that division… FTS Lady’s First was going well late at the finish from the outside and should improve big time next out for Dallas Stewart.

Race 3: Bill Mott’s Khaleesi Kat finished with a rush to take the meet’s first turf event in an exciting finish—and it wasn’t even his birthday [July 29].

Race 6: The well backed Todd Pletcher firster Anna House, shockingly, appeared in need of the effort, or something was amiss in an uncharacteristically poor performance from a Todd first-timer…Terrific ride by Jose Ortiz, squeezing through a narrow opening with Asmussen second-timer Just Wicked and exchanging bumps with Lady Devil, ridden by brother Irad Ortiz. The winner drew off nicely late after shaking clear, giving Jose a sweep of the first two maiden dashes.

Race 7: Javier Castellano got off the duck with the first of Brown’s two turf winners by giving Bishop’s Pond a good inside trip through the lane; probably could have gone around and won it anyway as a clear victress…If you have stable mail, be sure to include Trophee, who was in close, angled extremely wide into the land, was bumped twice but still kept coming. She was off the board but missed the place by a diminishing half-length; next time’s the charm!

Grade 2 Lake George: As it turned out, Mrs. McDougal didn’t have a straw in her path for the entire mile and a sixteenth for 3-year-old fillies—however, that’s not the ideal trip on turf. But clearly she got something out of the Grade 1 10-furlongs at Santa Anita; Brown had her prepared since that May 31 effort and Ortiz was relentless as he and the filly just ground the field down. If she ever gets covered up and allowed to sprint home to the wire, her best days probably are ahead of her. Nice filly…

Stablemate Partisan Politics lost even more territory after breaking from the extreme outside slip and was unlucky to lose the show photo from longshot inside rallier, Cara Marie, who saved ground through the straight beneath Paco Lopez. Place finisher Feathered is getting her turf act together but the best thing about her is her versatility. From what we’ve seen, she’s ambi-surface.

Written by John Pricci

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Saratoga Diary 2015: Uncertainty and Speculation


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., July 24, 2015--

Dear Diary: For only the third time in a four decade career will I miss opening day at Saratoga. Two years ago, we lost Nana at 4 a.m. on opening day. Eight years ago we were on a plane back from Las Vegas from meetings at which HorseRaceInsider.com was spawned.

Now residing 10 months a year in South Florida, we do what we can, when we can. This year our Saratoga Diary--the original Saratoga Diary having its debut in 1977. It was a time promoters called Saratoga the "August Place To Be." It was our first full year at Newsday.

For the next fortnight, it will need to be the Saratoga Simulcast Diaries, one which will include a stop-over on the Jersey Shore for American Pharoah's run in the Haskell.

There also will be visits with family, and friends who might as well be family, our arrival in Saratoga penciled in for 10 am Whitney morning, God willin' and the Creek don't rise.

An aside: Note the capital C in creek: According to legend, the phrase was conjured up back in the day when buckboards were the principal mode of transportation and Creek referred to a Native American tribe of the same name.

History shows that those folks had a serious aversion to buckboards with the top up, better known as the covered wagon.

So for me, Saratoga again will be the “August Place to Be.” Let’s mark 2015 the year of the Saratoga Sojourn, albeit a Saratoga Prime Time Sojourn

A Gulfstream Park patron asked us last Saturday if we were going to the Spa this year. After telling him my plans, he exited the elevator saying “I like your schedule.”

According to the present raceday calendar, I will be in attendance for Saratoga’s two biggest days: the Whitney and Travers programs. All the stakes should be interesting and challenging. Hopefully performances in the marquee events will be worthy of Saratoga's timeless lore.

After all, if Saratoga isn’t about history, and health, and horses, it isn’t Saratoga. In that event, it might just as well be Anywhere, USA.

The year 2015 will be different indeed. That's because many believe this is the year Saratoga is under siege from its new administration, to the extent there is a local movement to insulate Saratoga from the actions of the New NYRA.

I will withhold judgment until I see for myself what the old place looks like and how events transpire. Some strange stuff has been known to happen during the Saratoga race meet--both on and off track. Given the backdrop of two Congressional bills that promises to alter the way the racing industry conducts itself, events could get curiouser and curiouser as the days blend into nights.

As the late, great Joe Hirsch once counseled, back when Saratoga was a true, august place: “It’s not the 24 days of Saratoga that get you, it’s the 24 nights.” And this isn’t a town where Early Bird Specials were ever in vogue, unless it's the Del Mar simulcasts at the end of live racing, which is another thing the founders never could have envisioned.

In its history, the one given about Saratoga is its stability but that no longer is true. So much so that the Saratoga Springs City Council three nights ago felt it necessary to officially state their desire for greater jurisdictional determination over proposed changes to the state-owned track, still rated as one of America's Top 10 sports venues.

The organization’s board wants regular communication and input with NYRA, and they want the composition question of the NYRA’s Board's temporary status to be resolved.

The City Council considers the issues regarding the conduct of current day Saratoga Race Course to be a matter of “significant concern.” Of great interest is the impact that future plans would affect surrounding neighborhoods, traffic patterns, infrastructure and future race meet scheduling.

This year, dear diary, the unpredictability might even include a challenge to Todd Pletcher’s domination of the trainer standings, given the growth of the Chad Brown program to mammoth proportions.

Clearly, Pletcher and Brown are the favorites to come out on top in that category and, per usual, the jockey’s race, always entertaining, will be highly competitive, led by Johnny Velazquez, Javier Castellano, the Ortiz brothers, et al.

Saratoga generally is not the place where “the bug” thrives. But given the ability of Eric Cancel and guidance from his agent, Angel Cordero Jr., forever the “King of Saratoga” in our view, the young rider could make enough of an impact to put some pressure on the veterans, making that race even more interesting.

We will be making a stopover at Monmouth Park for the Haskell. Hopefully, American Pharoah will make another perfect performance with enough left in the tank to consider a run in the Derby of Midsummer four weeks later.

What’s Saratoga about, if it’s not about where the past meets the future?

Next Time: The Road to Saratoga Runs Through Oceanport

Written by John Pricci

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