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

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Day 13: Whitney Day

August 4, 20112—When you win at Gulfstream Park in the winter and don’t beat a field of horses that have distinguished themselves nationally, you’re called a “Gulfstream horse,” a kind of one-track wonder.

Then when you win another graded race at a track like Prairie Meadows, you’re not taken as seriously as horses that win a race like the Donn or even, say, a race like the Grade 2 Alysheba.

It’s the reason why when you win a race like the Cornhusker before shipping into Saratoga for the storied Whitney, even if your energy figure was good--even if the race produced a next-out winner from a subsequent starter, don’t expect to get any respect.

But to open at 15-1 given his recent form and 7-2 morning line, the crowd seemed to go out of its way to diss Fort Larned. But after turning the G2 Cornhusker into a key race, they won’t ignore Ian Wilkes’ late developing 4-year-old next time.

Maybe it was the #9 post going a mile and an eighth, or the presence of Brian Hernandez Jr. in the boot--not Dominguez or Velazquez or Castellano—buy Hernandez, fans don’t give you a second look.

Well, they won’t miss any of those players next time because Fort Larned finally has arrived, and got the very quickly, too, 1:47.76 quickly. And now he’s a Grade 1 winner, as is Hernandez, not a bad Saratoga debut for the Kentucky-based rider.

“I always thought he belonged in the division,” said Wilkes. “You question yourself coming off a race like the Stephen Foster; you got beat, got your head handed to you. But this horse stays consistent.”

By winning the Whitney, Fort Larned earned an all-expenses paid trip to the Breeders’ Cup and is in the Classic if Wilkes can get him there the right way, and thus far he’s managed him beautifully in 2012. “Let’s enjoy today,” Wilkes suggested.

Ron the Greek, who always runs his race, was a wide-trip second, a head in front of stablemate Flat Out, with Hymn Book, racing closer to the pace than expected, was 1-1/2 ½ lengths back in fourth.

Welcome to the Big Time

Two excellent maiden-breaking juveniles made the scene on Whitney Day. Fortify, a Darley runner trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, ran off and hid from some well-meant juveniles, stopping the timer at 1:16.34 for 6-1/2 furlongs, winning by 5-1/2 drawing away lengths.

A few hours later, it was Palace Malice’s turn, and he did not disappoint. Breaking sharply for an outside slip, he just sat off the speed comfortably beneath Javier Castellano, was turned loose and opened a clear lead, winning by 3-1/2 just several hundredths slower for the distance, 1:16.48.

I’m sure the connections are hopeful there’s a repeat effort coming over the Spa surface early next month.

Everyone’s Just Wild About Harry

When Emma’s Encore, the well named 3-year-old filly, made it two straight upsets of Agave Kiss beneath Junior “Ice Man” Alvarado in the Prioress, there were cheers, hugs all around, and some tears, too, as The Chief, Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens, entered the winners’ circle to greet his filly after she upset the heavy favorite in the Grade 1 sprint for 3-year-old fillies.

Bets n’ Pieces

When is it permissible to bet against a wire-to-wire Preakness winner that’s sprinting six furlongs?

A) When it’s making its lifetime debut at the distance?
B) When the track is wet and the horse has not hit the board in either of its lifetime starts under those conditions?
C) When it draws the rail?
D) When it was beaten 22 lengths in its lone Saratoga start?
E) When the race is a stated prep for a 7-furlong Grade 1 later in the meet?

The answer is F) All of the above.

That’s the Shackleford story for Sunday. And while he indisputably owns a significant class edge over his competition, especially after having won the storied Met Mile in his last start, the factors outlined above makes it imprudent to take a short price on the early line 8-5 Vanderbilt favorite.

Even if much of the factoids listed weren’t true, it isn’t as if Emcee (2-1) doesn’t have the needed gas to beat him to the finish. Trainer Dale Romans apparently believes he will have a better chance with his classy 4-year-old going 7 furlongs in the G1 Forego. Otherwise, why would he even need a prep?

The Vanderbilt, however, given Emcee’s noted speed; his freshness; the ability to handle a track with moisture in it; recent bullet works and the fact he’s in receipt of six pounds (121-115) while sitting right off his rival’s left hip, all augurs well.

But the Vandy is far from only a two-horse race.

Rothko (8-1) owns competitive energy figures and is 3-for-4 at the trip, more important at the highest levels going three-quarters of a mile than seems intuitive at first blush.

It doesn’t hurt that he won his only start at the Spa, has a good (2) 1-1-0 slate in the wet and reunites with winning rider Leparoux—doing much of the winning for Steve Asmussen at this meet.

For his part, Justin Philip (10-1) loves wet footing, winning half of his six muddy-track starts. Poseidon’s Warrior (30-1) is by slop-freak sire Speightstown, has won five starts at this trip, the barn is 23% third time off the layup and his recent blowout 4th fastest of 67 in peer group.

Written by John Pricci

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