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

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Fillies Make News at the Spa; Two Good, One Not

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, July 31, 2014—When women do well in this game, it no longer comes as a surprise--but it is unusual to see two Saratoga stakes swept by the female persuasion, albeit one doing the saddling, and the other doing the riding.

In the case of the former, Tom Voss is somewhere smiling, that’s because Elizabeth, the daughter of the late, great steeplechase horseman—who did some pretty good work on the Spa flat, too--saddled her first graded stakes ever this afternoon.

And she did it while the racing world was watching, saddling Makarri to win the Grade 1 A.P. Smithwick Memorial,although she was quick to deflect any compliments. “We can’t take a lot of credit for this horse, we’ve only had him two weeks,” Voss said after the race.

“My husband picked him out for his owners. [Makari] got off the plane and he seemed pretty straightforward. We took a chance and it worked out.”

Makari gamely survived a head-to-head late-stretch battle with runner-up Demonstrative, the two ding-donging in the straight after both cleared the final fence nicely.

It was a question of a head up or a head down. Demonstrative appeared to hit the finish post first but lost it on the re-bob when his head came up while the winner’s stayed down.

“The last jump always makes me nervous," said Voss. "I thought we got the bob last week and that we missed it this week,” she said. Either way, she’s happy to take this one.

“This is my first graded win and it’s exciting to have it be in Saratoga, a place we love so much.”

“He traveled like a dream the whole way, never missed a beat,” said jockey Jack Doyle, winning not only his first Grade 1 but his first victory in this country.

“I’ve had a couple of good winners at home [Ireland]," said Doyle, but never a Grade 1. It was brilliant to get that.”

Both will have a chance, if all goes well, to win another Grade 1 at the meet. The Smithwick, even at the highest grade, is still regarded as a New York Turf Writers prep, a longer event later this meeting.

In the flat feature, it was Rosie Napravnik doing what she does best, showing patience and timing a late run to be up in time, this time with Sinistra, the 27-1 upsetter of the Evan Shipman for New York breds going nine furlongs.

All Napravnik did was sit third, perched three wide throughout, put pressure on the leaders on the final turn, took a run at them, the bid stalling a bit, but later resurgent and the team wore down dueling leaders, Escapefromreality and Big Business, just before the line.

Alas, it wasn’t all good news on the distaff side. Lavender Road, scratched prior to the running of Wednesday's seventh race at Saratoga Race Course on the advice on the track veterinarian, but unable to get up after falling and delaying the start of the eighth race for a little more than an hour, was euthanized today after it was discovered she suffered a neck fracture.

On site observers yesterday reported that the filly tried to get up repeatedly, did so, but was unable to stay on her feet. Eventually, she was placed on a gurney inside an equine ambulance that carried her to Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital for observation where apparently the fracture was discovered.

This sad story just got curiouser and curiouser as yesterday wore on. It was feared at first that she suffered a cranial fracture when she struck her head on the outside rail when she collapsed to the track.

Yesterday, the media were informed about the possibility of head trauma and that the filly was being treated for heat exhaustion because her internal temperature was abnormally high. Wednesday’s outside temperatures were warm but far from being regarded as oppressive.

Today we were to learn more about the possible cranial fracture. Instead, the news was that she was euthanized because she suffered a neck fracture. Just before the stewards ordered her scratched, jockey Junior Alvarado made the suggestion to the track veterinarian that the filly be scratched because she was making noises in the pre-race warmup.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

They Said It All at Whitney Draw

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, July 30, 2014—It’s not often when two Travers winners and a Belmont winner meet after their three-year-old year and they will on Saturday.

And one of them, last year’s Belmont Stakes and this year’s Met Mile winner, Palace Malice, the top ranked horse in the country according to the latest NTRA poll, will try to put some separation between himself, Saturday’s eight rivals, and the glamorous three-year-old class with designs on a Horse of the Year championship.

He’s even money on Saturday and a little higher than that in the Horse of the Year future book; 5-2 co-favorite with dual classics winner California Chrome. If you like those odds—too short for me—get down now, not Saturday evening.

There were some interesting and fun quotes from the post draw, starting with Darrell Wayne Lukas, on Will Take Charge drawing the Whitney rail: “I hate to have an upset stomach this early in the morning. Not good. I never really have much luck on the rail in any big race.”

From Eric Guillot and his strategy with Moreno: “I’m going to tell you now: If you’re in front of me, you went too fast.”

Ken McPeek, on the $1.5 million purse: “The purse right now, it’s hard to turn your nose up at it. Even if you run third or fourth, it’s not a bad day at the office.”

Al Stall Jr., on the comparison between Blame and Departing: I say there is no comparison. There is only one Blame…If he doesn’t fare well [here], he’s going on the low road again.”

Dale Romans on running in big races: “I think this is the 10-year anniversary of Roses in May winning the Whitney, which was my first Grade 1. We’re creeping up on 30, but I’m not sure exactly—about as many as Wayne has won in one year.”

Todd Pletcher, on what’s made Palace Malice such a good four year old: “He really is an iron horse. He’s an uncomplicated horse. He’s hearty, he stays in the feed tub, you can train him however you want.

“[In the New Orleans Handicap] it was back in three weeks and we were concerned about that and he actually ran enormous that day. I think he likes the action.”

As do we all. The good news is that we’ve got three days to find an alternative to the even money favorite. The bad news is that may not be possible.

A turf sprint star was born in the Coronation Cup for three year old filly turf sprinters. The imported Stars Above Me was slammed so hard at the start that she had every right to not bother at all.

Instead, she dragged a confident and talented Irad to the lead between horses, she waited behind dueling leaders while saving ground at the turn, waited again for a seem to open on the inside, bursting through and drawing off. This is a filly with a future within the division; follow…

Brandini was much the best winning the second race, a state-bred maiden claimer, rallying wide on the turn then drawing off through the lane, looking very much like a repeater if spotted properly by 007 H. James Bond next time out.

That’s easier done than said because Bond is pushing all the right buttons this meet; 3-for-5 before having a 25-1 chance run third later on in the program; note...

Willet is simply, in racetrack vernacular, a sweetheart. The six year old mare obviously has her issues, making only her 17th start in the day’s third event. Winning as much the best, the New York bred mare improved her career slate to 8-6-1. Amazing job by part-owner, trainer Jimmy Iselin.

Meanwhile, Here’s Zealicious jumped up in the start just as her gate opened and was totally eliminated. Will be very tough vs. weaker set next out.

Rock Me Mama was much the best at 7 furlongs in the fourth, launching a strong, wide rally mid-turn before drawing off. It was her first start at a reduced level since claimed as a December two year old and should repeat if not pitched too high. Alaskan Bird was carried wide in the final furlong by a drifting Da Wildcat Girl and kept grinding; bet back in similar spot.

Myfourchix, bet early and often, did all the hard work in a state-bred special weight for juvenile fillies but succumbed late to the fast working Nonna Jo, racing well despite being washed in the the paddock and post parade. Perfect Freud finished well late when fourth in a useful effort; note.

First-timer Throckmorton, a gelded three year old making debut going a mile on turf in the finale, was loaded approaching the eighth pole but was completely trapped inside and never had a chance; bet back.

Written by John Pricci

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Big Weekend Everywhere

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, July 27, 2014—With apologies to any venue that puts up a million dollars for a Grade 1 event, and to call the William Hill Haskell Invitational a prep for the Travers is more than a little cheeky but many fans regarded Sunday’s War at the Shore as round three of Travers prep weekend.

What was supposed by many to be a triumphant victory by a sensational filly over males, or a competitive race rich in talent, turned into a romp for the brilliant Bayern, giving Bob Baffert a record seventh victory in this race and jockey Martin Garcia a record-tying third.

In the process, Bayern ran himself out of the Grade 1 7-furlong King’s Bishop on August 23rd here. Does that mean a run in the Travers off this devastating 7-1/4 length score in 1:47.82?

This was a Breeders' Cup Classic “win and you’re in” event, not by definition a stepping stone to the Travers. All Baffert would say after the race was: “I don’t think I’ll back him up after this.” Who could blame him

And while Steve Asmussen didn’t say it, I don’t think he or his connections want any part of Grade 1 colts anytime soon, although Untapable did get bumped at the start then raced wide throughout, legitimate excuses. But neither did she truly fire.

Rachel Alexandra? Can we officially stop the madness now?

What was so impressive about Bayern, even if the track was kind to speed later in the day, the surface was not aberrantly fast [the Monmouth Cup went 1.23 seconds slower than the track record for 1-1/16 miles; the Teddy Drone sprint 1.55 slower and Bayern 1.02 seconds off Spend A Buck’s 1:46.80] and the winner made two moves on the lead, arguably three, as the hickory third-finisher Wildcat Red tried him twice from close range but each time the winner repelled his bid.

The guess here is that Bayern returns to home base and races once between now and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. We shall see…

BACK TO SPA BUSINESS: One thing we can confirm is that if all goes well, the first three out of the Jim Dandy will be back; Wicked Strong, Tonalist and Kid Cruz. That final furlong should be, well, a dandy.

The hot duel up front and Rosie’s soft hands helped Coup De Grace find the Grade 2 Amsterdam winners’ circle. Three-year-old chestnut is now 2-for-2 for Larry Jones. With a couple of heady turf rides previously, it seems that any rust Ms. Napravnik endured since being grounded by injury is officially gone…

Indeed, that was quite a debut by Competitive Edge, apparently a well named juvenile that cost about five times the average Super Saver at the Keeneland fall sale (the freshman sire had another winner Sunday)…

“Every time we did something with him it was impressive,” said Todd Pletcher of the colt’s morning trials. “He did it pretty easily,” said Johnny V of the 10-1/4 length winner in 1:09.89. “It was definitely impressive.” Next up will be the Hopeful on closing weekend…

Lost in the Jim Dandy headlines created by Wicked Strong and Tonalist, Kid Cruz was a excellent third, going in the right direction at the finish. Close up to an early pace, he dropped back, as if the race was over for him, then came on again. This type of Z-pattern will augur well when he stretches out another furlong in the Travers...

While it is highly likely that maiden breaking Competitive Edge will be the Hopeful favorite, the day might have produced another future Grade 1 favorite in the King’s Bishop on the Travers undercard, such was the manner of The Big Beast’s allowance victory in 1:09, winning by a short pole after making a good field look completely overmatched. Tony Dutrow’s horses are simply running out of their skin.

C. Zee, second in the Amsterdam, ran too good to lose; note…Celebrated Talent appeared in need of his return from a layup and suffered through curious handling. Perhaps a stretchout next time, perhaps not, but bet back in a logical spot…Poppy’s Watching is another who should benefit from his return from a layoff, placing gamely; note.

It’s an amazing streak for Hall of Famer with Jonathan Sheppard; saddling a Spa winner every year for 46 consecutive years. The victory came on the flat but, appropriately, in a turf marathon at 12 furlongs. Only 10 more and he’ll tie Joltin’ Joe. Kudos!

Spa Business Booming: For the weekend, more than 63,300 fans clicked the turnstiles, 31,000+ both Saturday and Sunday.

On Saturday, 31,812 bet $5.7 million on-track, with total receipts of $23.3 million nationwide. The following afternoon, the first wet day of the meet, attracted 31,561 customers who bet $2.7 million live, with total receipts of $9.9 million. This was after 48 program scratches and no turf racing. All but eight of the scratches were weather related.

Written by John Pricci

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