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

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Saratoga Diary via Del Mar and Oceanport


July 28, 2010

Dear Diary,

…Now where was I…oh, yeah, Oceanport, New Jersey. Hey, I’m just saying.

But aside from talking business in the Adirondack foothills--which was pretty damn good on those four extra days that had folks buzzing for weeks--the tall headlines still were being made at [here it comes!] Monmouth Park.

It turned out that Rachel Alexandra’s victory was a controversy unto itself. Was it a good race; a bad race; a just-what-we-wanted race? Truth be told, probably all of the above.

I’m glad that Calvin loved the way Rachel came home; I’ll take him at his word. But Asmussen was right, now that I’ve watched the replay a number of times: It was more a clumsy lead change at head stretch than any attempt to lug-in.

And you know what, diary? It‘s true; she’s not as brilliant this year compared to 2009. Further, as Brendan O’Meara wrote here yesterday, the Woodward was Rachel’s Dubai.

But here’s the thing, too. Her races are different because she’s different. She’s more mare than filly this year, thicker through the barrel. And her stride is different, too, perhaps a tad less fluid but a tad longer, too. She’s more than just another pretty face now. She’s a woman.

Future plans are unknown and will be until Jess Jackson decides to jump off a fence. The connections will huddle very soon but when they do decide, please, no multiple choice races like last year.

Not only do they owe the NYRA for the hospitality and tribute they’ve received, but this time they should provide the association enough time to promote an event starring the event properly.

The reigning Horse of the Year beat colts twice at 3 before racing in Saratoga. But it was the Woodward, more than any other event, that provided the stage that won the sport‘s biggest equine honor. Payback is due here.

Meanwhile, the Personal Ensign will be this year’s stage, indicating whether she ultimately will point toward the Breeders’ Cup Classic, or the Ladies Classic, 10 furlongs or nine. That is the question.

Both Rachel and Zenyatta figure to run twice before Breeders’ Cup. Now if the Left Coasters decide they want to protect the undefeated slate, with a chance to go 20-0 with a Classic repeat, their mare is in the conversation for the best race horse of all time of either sex.

I wouldn’t know, regardless. I never saw Man o’ War; never saw Ribot. But I did see Secretariat, and while I could never imagine him getting beat on the square, it happened. They all get beat.

Except, thus far, Zenyatta.

As a racing fan, my ambitions are not as lofty as either of the camps in question. I don’t care if either runs in the Classic or not. If either were mine, I wouldn’t go hunting for Quality Road. I might not even want to go hunting for Blame.

What I want is to see these fillies race against each other, either in the Personal Ensign--advantage Zenyatta, or in the Ladies Classic. Right now, since very few are giving Rachel any chance to handle the big mare, nine furlongs is advantage no one.

Besides, Asmussen said this week that 10 furlongs just might suit the four-year-old version of Rachel, sounding very much like someone who preferred the 10-furlong poison to the Quality Road variety.

So give me the Ladies Classic, featuring two great race mares and an extremely strong supporting cast. And give it to me in prime time, under Churchill’s Friday Night Lights.

Haskell a Handicapper's Delight (read nightmare)

Meanwhile, the three-year-old race of the year goes this weekend--at Monmouth Park, again. Most years, I get a little provincial and refer to the Haskell as a million-dollar Travers prep.

Not so this year--although it very well could turn out that way. But on Sunday, the day after the Jim Dandy is run here, it will be Derby winner vs. Preakness winners vs. Florida Derby winner vs. all the young dudes carrying the news. As races go, it’s a fascinating puzzle.

The first impulse is to think: edge Super Saver. Speed does well in Monmouth two-turn races and Super Saver is all that. But then so is First Dude. Wouldn’t SS do better with a target, like he did in the Derby? And how will the speedy Trappe Shot react now that he has winning two-turn experience?

Lookin At Lucky, quite possibly the very best in the division, is fresh and likely will race a little closer to the early pace. His teacher, Bob Baffert, is looking for his fourth Haskell title.

Meanwhile, what’s up with the Monmouth racetrack? Heard rumors that they added dirt to the surface this year. All I can say for sure is that I was there all day on Saturday, June 12 and if there were any water trucks on the track at any time, I didn‘t see them.

Observe the Monmouth races and you are likely to see the track cup out beneath the horses’ hooves, as if running through a ploughed field. Resultantly, many dirt races this year have yielded chaotic results. Typically, however, we expect the main track to be on the quick side Haskell day.

Lake George Was Super

But not for moi. I was quite sure the winner of the Lake George was shipping down from Canada. Thought it would be Brian Lynch’s horse. Enter Roger Attfield: Twice.

Not only did Attfield get the money with Perfect Shirl at 9-1 with Johnny Velazquez, but his No Explaining (16-1) finished third. Splitting them was Exclusive Love at 57-1, also from Canada via Mark Casse’s shed, with Khancord Kid (27-1) completing the superfecta.

If it weren’t for the Dime Super, no one would have cashed the boxcar payoff on the Lake George super. Almost $123,000 was bet into the pool. The $2 payoff was posted at $303,014 which is sophomoric, of course.

[All payoffs should be posted in $1 increments, including straight wagers. All will get used it to sounding funny at first. Bring a newbie to the track, and then explain the win bet is for $2, the Trifecta is $1, and the Superfecta a dime.

Why, he wants to know? And I say, because it’s always been done that way. If odds are 9-1, why can’t the payoff read $10? Wouldn’t having uniform payouts take a little of the intimidating factor out of the equation?]

In the real world, the eight holders of Dime Super tickets collected over $15,000 each. As colleague Ed Fountaine asked when the results were posted: What can you buy for a dime these days? The question had me stumped.

Imagine, a chaotic horse race provides a chance to divine a big payday for a relatively small investment. Isn’t that what racing needs to promote, too?

Written by John Pricci

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