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

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Saratoga Wishes and Championship Dreams

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 22, 2017— This weekend should go a long way in settling some interesting good-for-the-sport controversies as it pertains to the opinion that “my horse is better than your horse.”

While it won’t be settled on the racetrack, where the record shows that Arrogate has proven better than Gun Runner—and most other horses in the world--racing fans will learn more this weekend and next.

With a victory in the prestigious Woodward Stakes on Sept. 2, Gun Runner would underscore the notion that this week's ranking atop of the NTRA poll is justified.

Lest we forget, polls are, in principal, projections based on accomplishment. The differences as they apply to accomplishment on the racetrack is at the very heart of what the game is about, horse racing at its essence.

While the Arrogate-Gun Runner controversy might not be settled ultimately until if and when they meet again, the helter-skelter that is the three-year-old colt division should emerge with a leader this weekend.

“The championship can go in so many different directions,” said trainer Doug O’Neill on Tuesday’s NTRA conference call. "If one of the Triple Crown winners should win then they would lead the way.

“This is going to be very exciting,” said the man who will saddle Irap in Travers 148, a colt with accomplishments and no stranger to competition among the glamour division’s elite. “There’s lots riding on it.”

All trainers usually say one of two things: The horse is doing great, training great; or will admit they are taking a shot to see just where their horse fits.

There’s no question Irap fits; it’s right there in the past performances; a couple of Derby wins, a Blue Grass, and a 20-horse wipe-out in Louisville the only time the division’s best were thrown into two gates placed side by side. And he’s a better horse now.

“He was always a big, strong and mature horse, but mentally it took him a while to figure it out.” O’Neill said. “He wasn’t mentally ready for a 20-horse field but the Ohio Derby definitely sent him forward.”

O’Neill has had huge success training three-year-olds up to big races. And he indicated that he loved his colt's most recent six furlong workout. “There’s a good cushion on Del Mar now; he galloped out a mile in one forty-two.."

Lack of fitness certainly won’t be the factor that gets him beaten. And if Always Dreaming turned out to be lone F, O'Neill wouldn’t mind seeing his horse stalk the Derby winner. There’s lots riding on Travers 148, indeed.

While the top two older horses are knocking heads in the rankings and the sophomore male division struggles to find its Alpha, older fillies and mares have a leader and a true equine star in Songbird.

Lest anyway forget, only Beholder’s nose separates Songbird from perfection. Yet many who believe that her West Coast rival, Stellar Wind, has been more impressive this year, has beaten better, and a worthier divisional leader.

Both mares are perfect in 2017, but the 2016 defending three-year-old champion is currently ranked third in the polls, two spots ahead of Stellar Wind. “I don’t have to defend her record,” said Jerry Hollendorfer when the topic was raised on the NTRA call.

Has he kept a close eye on Stellar Wind this year? “Well, she hasn’t made a mistake. I like to watch her breeze. I like to watch the Baffert horses…the Mandella horses. I think all horsemen enjoy watching the other good horses work.

So, is he irritated that observers have been wanting to see more from his filly this year? “Maybe a little bit,” admitted Hollendorfer.

“I don’t know what we’re looking at,” the trainer continued, “I think she’s better, and the rider thinks she better. She’s bigger, stronger and more willing to be rated in the morning.” And she's back [to her three year old form]?

“Yes. She had that one race, then we asked her to go a mile and a quarter. We’ve been preparing to bring her back to Saratoga and she’s doing better now than going into the mile a quarter…She went in forty-seven and two with a strong gallop out.”

Is there any concern that the Saratoga surface is not the exact same as the one over which she dominated rivals in last year’s Coaching Club Oaks and Alabama?

“I don’t usually complain about the hand I’m dealt. She’s won at seven different tracks. She makes adjustments.”

NEW RULES FOR HORSE SAFETY IN NEW YORK: The New York State Gaming Commission, New York Racing Association and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association are implementing additional [safety] actions immediately at Saratoga Race Course.

The methodology will include increased regulatory veterinary presence at the track during training hours, state-of-the-art monitoring of horses and comprehensive trainer education intended to share scientific findings of research into the types of injuries and kinds of risks that occur at New York Thoroughbred racetracks that can help prevent injuries.

"This is in addition to the existing industry-leading equine health and safety policies and procedures already in place at New York State racetracks,

“Our goal is to reduce the number of racehorse deaths and injuries to zero, and we have taken many productive steps toward reaching that goal over the past four years,” said New York State Equine Medical Director Scott E. Palmer, VMD.

“However, our work is never done and there will always be challenges that require reexamination and recalibration to effectively protect horses and their riders.”

HRI’s Mark Berner will have more on this next Tuesday in his “Inside New York” column.

Written by John Pricci

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