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

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Six Await Racing Immortality


August 12, 2010

Dear Diary,

I think I’m going to enjoy Friday’s Racing Hall of Fame induction ceremonies a little more this year, West Coast bias notwithstanding.

(Thanks a joke, people)!

But there is some kidding on the square here, too.

Jockey Don Pierce and Buster Millerick, after all, both made their bones in the Golden State. Thoroughbreds Azeri, Best Pal and Point Given all came from out West.

To their credit, their campaigns weren’t limited, their connections taking them far and wide.

Randy Romero, of course, mostly plied his trade in the Midwest, notably Arlington Park, but needed to come East to ride the best horses of his career, Hall of Fame fillies Personal Ensign and Go for Wand.

Only Harry Bassett, a champion at 2, 3 and 4 and winner of the Belmont Stakes and Travers in 1871, is considered truly East Coast-based.

Romero is one of the most courageous people in the game, and a character guy, too. To survive, and thrive, after the sweat-box accident that nearly claimed his life alone is the stuff of legend.

But then there were the liver and kidney issues, possibly the result of a bad transfusion given during one of his many surgeries, that led to dialysis treatments thrice a week.

Romero took those treatments while simultaneously exercising horses for Dallas Stewart. Eventually, he gave up his morning job, but not after first riding 4,294 winners with 16 percent efficiency with purse earnings of over $75-million.

No jockey has paid a higher price for racing immortality than Randy Romero.

Don Pierce made his reputation as a money rider, winning all manner of big races throughout the 1960s and ‘70s. His “big horses” were all California based; Hill Rise, La Zanzara, and Princessnesian--the female who beat the boys in the 1968 Hollywood Gold Cup--among the many notables.

Pierce eventually hooked up with Hall of Fame trainer Phil Johnson in Chicago, followed Johnson to New York. That outfit seldom missed, making money the old fashioned way; through the windows.

Azeri, of course, was an equine monster, winning 17 of 24 starts including 11 Grade 1s. Older Female Champion in 2002, 2003 and 2004, she was voted 2002 Horse of the Year and retired as the all-time money-winning distaffer at over $4-million.

Best Pal was the “people’s horse,” winning 18 of 47 career starts, 17 stakes. He retired following his eight-year-old campaign with earnings of over $5.6-million.

Point Given was blessed with talent, of course, and is always in the conversation when the topic of best three-year-olds that never won the Triple Crown is broached.

Bob Baffert’s colt ended his career with victories in the Preakness, Belmont, Haskell and Travers, but his wide-trip Kentucky Derby fifth cost him a chance at immortality, but not out of the pantheon.

“Buster” Millerick won training titles at all of California’s major tracks; Santa Anita, Del Mar and Hollywood Park.

Millerick is most remembered for his work with the great Hall of Famer Native Diver, who ended a seven-year racing career as a winner of 37 races, 34 stakes, including his third straight Hollywood Gold Cup at age eight.

All You Need Is Faith…

In Te Domine, Latin for “In You, Lord,” won today’s feature, and there just might be something mystical going on here.

Last year, the New York Stallion Stakes, Statue of Liberty Division, was won by the Linda Rice trained Mother Russia.

Rice, Saratoga’s defending champion trainer, won the race for the second straight time with another horse owned by local connections; Blackout Racing Stables and Lawrence Zyra. It was the first horse Rice bought for this group.

“It was really nice to win it again, for another group of local guys,” Rice said after her filly overcame a very tough trip, steadying between horses throughout the two-turn route before unleashing a strong, wide rally.

“They are really nice people so it was really great,” she said.

With the prolific Todd Pletcher quiet the last several days, and with more of Rice’s races coming up in the entries, she has closed the gap to within four of Pletcher, 9 to Pletcher’s 13.

Local sensation Chad Brown splits these two with 11 and Bill Mott has quietly snuck up on all of them with eight, five off the lead.

With Rice’s help, and vice versa, Ramon Dominguez has tied Castellano with 19 wins in the jockey competition, four behind leader Johnny Velazquez.

It’s still very early in the game, but heated competition in these categories makes for better racing and more interesting wagering.

Written by John Pricci

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