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.
 

Saturday, July 26, 2014


The Prep Killer


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NT, July 26, 2014—With “the Chief” somewhere in Hallandale Beach looking on, the “Prep Killer” emerged with a huge weekend.

“The Prep Killer,” a.k.a. “Peanuts” in the barn where he was growing up into a top assistant to his legendary father, H. Allen Jerkens, Jimmy Jerkens took a page from dad’s book and slew a pair of heavy favorites in Saratoga's two Travers preps this weekend.

But it had to be the victory of Wicked Strong, he of the occasional wicked will, that must have been the most gratifying of all--considering the addition of blinkers and all.

And, oh, what a difference a change of equipment made.

Jerkens has dealt with the temperamental colt in the run-up to, and through, the Triple Crown series. Crowds made the colt antsy, he tended to run very spottily in his races, turning himself off and on whenever it suited his fancy.

It was time to find out if a set of blinkers would work; get him in the game earlier, help him focus throughout a race.

In the G2 Jim Dandy, the blinkers carried Wicked Strong with a rush into contention despite a wide post draw, allowing him to reach near even terms with the speedy Legend soon after the leader entered the backstretch straight.

From there, Wicked Strong, under stout restraint from regular partner Rajiv Maragh, kept the leader in his sights, stalking him throughout, and when Tonalist loomed up alongside approaching headstretch, the winner came out to greet him and the real running began. In the end, the Belmont winner could not match strides with the Wood Memorial hero.

This week, trainer Christophe Clement said his colt would be fit enough to compete and compete him did, finishing 2-1/4 lengths behind Wicked Strong but 3-3/4 lengths ahead of third finishing Kid Cruz who, it must be said, was going in the right direction after the winner posted a clocking of a very solid 1:49.16.

“It might be my imagination but he always seemed to be running with his head cocked to the other side in his other races,” Jerkens explained. “I didn’t really notice that today. I thought he ran straight and true.”

“With the blinkers he wasn’t loafing down the backstretch,” said Maragh. “He was running into a nice rhythm and didn’t go on and off the bridle, which he was doing in his prior starts. He was more focused today, and more aggressive.”

“The way he works in the morning,” said the awed Jerkens, "I don’t think Secretariat worked any better than this he does. It know the talent’s there. It’s just getting him to put it all together.”

Clement had no immediate reaction after the race, was contacted back at the barn, and said that he needed to “spend some time with my horse” before assessing just what happened with regard to yesterday and next month’s Travers. Aside from finishing second, it was a good race to grow on.

As for Jerkens, he might also run Friday’s Curlin Stakes winner, V.E. Day, in the Derby of Midsummer. “We’re going to think that way,” he said. “V.E. Day has improved with leaps and bounds with each race. Those kind of horses usually have a lot of quality.”

Having learned from the best, he should know.

Depending on Perspective, No News Is the Good News and the Bad News

The unceremonious firing of NY Daily News handicapper and reporter Jerry Bossert, in virtually the same manner the NY Post handled its racing people last year, inspired much conversation both off and online.

Most opinions went something like: It’s symptomatic of what’s happening with to thoroughbred racing; the mainstream media doesn’t care except for four days a year-- which essentially boils down to two; Kentucky Derby day and Belmont Stakes day when a Triple Crown is on the line.

Q: So, what’s an industry to do about that?

A: Absolutely nothing; they like it this way.

It might be instructive to recall that it was Bossert’s Daily News piece exposing Aqueduct for the unkempt eyesore that it had become, despite all that VLT largesse. Were these mutually exclusive events? Who knows?

There is no way of knowing what the exact policy with respect to working press is in New York, or anywhere else for that matter, but there does seem to be a pattern at work.

Last year, when a hard-hitting column was written in the Saratogian at the conclusion of the meet, a top NYRA executive, accompanied by a local NYRA Board member, visited the newspaper to personally complain about the opinion expressed.

When the Post racing writers and handicappers were fired on the eve of the 2013 Belmont, one of them at the time was trying to broker negotiations between NYRA and Post executives, the goal being to recover advertising that was pulled following the critical story.

Earlier at this meet, the popular “Saratoga Special,” which never has written anything negative, ever, was pulled from areas around the racetrack where it previously was available.

The incident became a non-issue quickly when an agreement was reached, making the magazine-style publication available on track once again but in mutually agreed upon area.

Without objective coverage, what passes for reportage these days often is rewritten press releases, that is when industry media bother to make the effort at all.

Internet news disseminators have joined this bandwagon, learning to follow the money—their own—and tend not to trumpet any commentary that could be construed as controversial, thus becoming part of a problematic trend.

Prior to this stand Saratoga handle figures were included in a nightly recap. It still is available in the press box after the races but is not disseminated online. So much for promises of transparency made earlier by the current quasi-state controlled association.

Handle figures are still available but only by calling the communications office to request them. Generally, however, when the numbers trend upward, they are made public more readily.

Not releasing handle statistics was started by Churchill Downs Inc. not that long after the private company went public; bad publicity does little to enhance shareholder value, nor does it help racetracks scheduled to go up for bid in the future.

It will be interesting to see whether the subtle pressures that journalists occasionally face from the industry is a temporary development or the new normal.



Written by John Pricci

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