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, August 07, 2010

For This Horseplayer, It’s Not Always About Price


August 6, 2010

Dear Diary,

Rumors began to surface on Thursday night, and when we awoke to catch Jeanne Wood’s “Saratoga News Desk” on Capital OTB-TV Channel 12 and saw trainer John Terranova sitting beside her, my shoulders sunk.

Terranova had confirmed what I had heard that, after a routine gallop Thursday morning it was discovered via an ultra sound examination of his potential champion filly’s ankle and suspensory ligaments that Franny Freud had suffered a career ending injury.

You hear horsemen talking all the time about the tremendous highs and lows in this game and how you try to keep an even keel, neither too high nor too low. But nothing prepares anyone who is tethered to a race horse for something like this. Sometimes this game just simply rips your guts out.

Terranova, as one might expect, was emotional when he related the story of what had happened to Wood. Obviously shaken, he said that after discovering the injury there was nothing left to do but to “call the owners and tell them this is it.” That’s when the trainer, in the midst of a career season nearly lost it but instead held his composure.

I am an unabashed Franny Freud fan. This uber talented New York-bred filly always continued to impress with her classy bearing and style, handling one sprint assignment after another under varying conditions.

Given the manner with which she won her last four starts, her attitude unique to the special ones was unmistakable. She was a worthy favorite for one of this country‘s most entertaining sprint for fillies of any age. And this is from someone who planned to bet against her today.

Why? Because if one hopes to be a successful handicapping practitioner, playing the races is all about price, not about horse. Counterintuitive, perhaps, but a fact of gambling life nevertheless.

I was very anxious to see Franny Freud tested in Saturday’s sub-feature because it would have been no walkover by any means. There is Champagne D’oro, second when hard used in the G2 Fair Grounds Oaks, but a game winner of the G1 Acorn at a mile before finishing a tough trip second in Franny’s Prioress.

But it was, and is, Bonnie Blue Flag that’s the most interesting. After getting off the SoCal synthetics, Bob Baffert speedster shipped to Lone Star for a seven furlong overnight stakes at today’s distance and ran off the screen, winning 6-½ lengths after a wide turn rally. The group she beat was suspect, but then she made them look that way, too.

Bonnie then came back in the Prioress and was forced to move early from her pole position, never getting a breather. At today’s longer winning distance she’ll be able to relax in the early going while using her noted SoCal gas to best advantage. Johnny Velazquez replaces Martin Garcia at the controls.

But I’ll miss Franny today, and it has nothing to do with receiving an anticipated shorter price on Bonnie. I’m fortunate to have a good relationship with many horseman who allow me a peak into their world. Losing a good horse hurts us all. I might love to bet on horses, but at times like this it’s only about the horse.

Can't Beat This Whitney Favorite

As romantic as the notion of watching the upset winner of a dominating favorite in a big race is, the idea that any rival has a chance to dislodge Quality Road from his rightful place as America’s most gifted race horse appears little more than a pipe dream.

If there is any chink in the armor, the thought is that it won’t be exposed until the furlongs number 10, and even that might be a stretch, so to speak, given his demonstrated ability.

On the Equiform performance figure scale, Quality Road is consistently the fastest horse. In fact, Blame, the early line second choice and a very promising four, is not in the same area code. But then here’s that question of distance.

Quality Road has had two starts at 10 furlongs, finishing third in the wet track Travers and second to eventual three-year-old champion Summer Bird is the Jockey Club Gold Cup, those three-year-olds finishing 1-2. While suffering those defeats, it remains unclear that a classic distance is not within his scope.

In the Travers, he was bogged down on the inside of the wet track, not the best place to be in that edition of the Midsummer classic. By all accounts, he had every right to tire badly but instead held very gamely, a worthy third against all odds.

In the JCGC, meanwhile, he attended the pace throughout from close range. Approaching the far turn, Summer Bird was poised and ready to strike, looking very much like the eventual winner. Summer Bird did not disappoint, winning on the handy side despite the reasonably narrow margin.

Again, Quality Road figured to tire from his early exertions but again he did not, holding gamely to the end, still trying at the end of the 10th furlong. That’s all anyone can ask, a horse shows courage when not competing under optimal conditions. Now 4, he rates to handle the assignment more easily.

What will make him even more formidable in the Whitney is competing at his optimal distance, 9 furlongs, 2-for-2 and compiler of a lifetime best figure at the distance.

Quality Road owns a track record at today’s distance at Gulfstream and another sprinting 6-½ furlongs off a layup last year at Saratoga. Quality Road is a winner of 7 of 10 starts with two seconds and a third. It may not be perfect, but it’s pretty damn good.

Written by John Pricci

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