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

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Palace Malice Deserves Some Love



After Princess of Sylmar won the Coaching Club American Oaks, trainer Todd Pletcher talked about respect--the lack of respect afforded the upset winner of the Kentucky Oaks.

Now everybody thinks it was a real race, he said somewhat sarcastically.

Palace Malice was in that same stall, so to speak. Like the filly, he was the upset winner of the Belmont, benefitting from his position as the white hot pace right in front of him. And that final quarter in :27 and change, trotting horse time.

It's amazing how pace doesn't get the respect it deserves as a handicapping principle.

Well, the Jim Dandy pace was honest, an opening gambit of :24 following by another quarter in :23 and change. The pace was being set by "the best three-year-old in America," Moreno, and attended by Palace Malice. These two even got the jump on the speedy Freedom Child.

The two leaders separated themselves from the pack on the turn, opening their advantage into the lane. It looked like the two would test each other to the finish.

"He relaxed nicely and finished up pretty well in a very, very good time," the trainer said. "We got the race over the track. The horse keeps getting better and better and today was arguably his best performance yet. Hopefully, on to the Travers."

Moreno held very well and gave the Belmont winner a legitimate scare but the winner had too much conditioning; too much class. Moreno settled for third as Will Take Charge rallied strongly late under a well judged, strong finish from Junior Alvarado.

Coming up to the Travers, we're sure that Pletcher wouldn't trade places with anyone, unless it is himself.

Verrazano will likely be a slight favorite over Preakness winner Oxbow in Sunday's Haskell at Monmouth Park.

The hope, of course, is that they stay healthy and that the Triple Crown race winners, plus Verrazano, will meet in the mile and a quarter "Midsummer Derby."

Stay tuned.

The King Is Dead, Long Live the King

Victory #694 was so typical of what fans and gamblers alike have come to expect from Johnny Velazquez. After all, he already was a member of the Racing Hall of Fame before he eclipsed Jerry Bailey’s all-time win mark at Saratoga.

Back in the day, no one ever expected that Angel Cordero Jr., Johnny’s longtime friend, mentor and agent, would ever be surpassed. Then suddenly the 24-day Saratoga race meet was no more.

The meet was lengthened and with the help of Cigar’s trainer, Bill Mott, Jerry Bailey became the new King of Saratoga.

Until today.

And so in today’s fourth race for maiden allowance males going 1-3/16 miles on the Mellon Turf Course, Johnny bided his time in fifth, riding the race in front of him and the horse beneath him, in perfect position. Like so many of the great ones, Velazquez finds the sweet spot in ever race.

Soon after entering the stretch, Luis Saez opened out the lead he had so carefully nursed and at the furlong pole appeared that he might be home free. But Unitarian and Velazquez kept coming and didn’t stop until they hit the wire first.

Appropriately, the new Saratoga standard set by Velazquez came astride a runner saddled by Todd Pletcher. And while Castellano has come between the tandem in the last two seasons, there are plenty of winners for everybody in this outfit.

"I definitely want to say thank you to Todd. I've been riding for him since 1998 and we're still going," said Velazquez. "Just to be named after Jerry Bailey or Angel Cordero, who probably, in my eyes, obviously I'm a little biased when it comes to Angel, they are two of the best riders I've ever seen in my career. I'm humbled, and I'm happy."

"He's a great rider and he deserves every bit of this," said Bailey in winners' circle ceremonies. "I do hope he takes the time to enjoy and reflect on this, because it's major."

And if you were wondering whether it’s all becoming too easy for Team Pletcher/Velazquez, the 2-5 Prioress Stakes favorite, Kauai Kate, faded to last after chasing dueling leaders in the next race.

Somewhat appropriately, it would be George Weaver, a former Pletcher assistant that has raised his game significantly the last two years, won the country’s only Grade 1 for 3-year-old fillies at six furlongs with 21-1 Lighthouse Bay, deftly ridden by Joe Rocco Jr., his second stakes victory of the meet.

A couple of up-and-coming stars, just like Pletcher and Velazquez were more than a decade ago.

Written by John Pricci

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